Chapter 1 – Introduction
Back to Basics and Beyond
This year as I hit my 70th birthday, and begin my 40th year in ministry, I have experienced an incredible time of personal renewal. In a sense, it has been a time for a return to basics: feeding myself from the Word, hearing God’s voice, sharing my story, connecting with the body, and rediscovering my passion and excitement in prayer. It feels like both a return to kindergarten and finishing a Master’s degree.
It is my hope and prayer that this book will bring some clari-fication about the nature of prayer, and through some practi-cal exercises help the reader to revitalize and “fan into flame” your own prayer life. Just as swimming cannot be learned in the classroom, so with prayer. One learns to pray by praying.
If you are like me, you may want to hurry through the chap-ters and skip the exercises. Please try to slow yourself down and enjoy the journey.
As I reflect on my experience in prayer over the past 44 years, I find that prayer has at times been filled with passionate ex-citement, and at other times has been dutiful, lifeless and bor-ing. I can testify to “mountain-moving moments of faith” and deadly occasions of doubt. One of my favorite prayers from Scripture is “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mr 9:24 NIV). During my best prayer times, prayer is a natu-ral as breathing. But sometimes it has felt much more like try-ing to breathe under water.
Different methods, models and approaches have served well: (ACTS, Lists, Prayer Journaling, Praying the Lord’s Prayer, Using the Psalms, praying the Jesus prayers). Discipline and method have, too often, transformed themselves into mind and spirit dulling routine.
Out of curiosity I did a search on the Indigo.ca website. The results of book titles on assorted Christian subjects were staggering: Fasting – 68 books; Discipleship – 2,255 books; Evangelism – 2,575 books; Bible Study – 12,196 books; Prayer – 24,621 books.
So, why bother to write another book on Prayer? I am a committed life-long learner and am convinced that the one area where most Christians feel “inadequate” is that of pray-er. The revitalization that has marked my life over the past 5 years can be yours as well. We need to learn to “fan into flame” the fire of prayer. Every fire goes out if we don’t pay attention to it. The priests of the Old Covenant were com-manded: “The fire must be kept burning on the altar continu-ously; it must not go out.” (Le 6:13 NIV). Then how much more should we, as New Covenant priest, be sure to keep the fire burning.
A few questions for reflection.
This is the point where you STOP reading, and reflect. Tak-ing notes in a journal may help. Share your answers with a friend. Make yourself an action plan to “renovate” some of the old prayer habits. Commit yourself to positive change.
1. What is one of the most memorable prayer moments you have had? What made it so memorable? How long ago did it happen? Are there any memorable prayer moments in the last 4 weeks? Describe one… if there are any?
2. Where do you shine most (private prayer, small group prayer, public prayer)? Why do you think that is? Which could use some “renewing”? What steps might you take to improve that area?
Some Questions About Prayer
Prayer can become puzzling. If we are honest, it raises as many questions as it offers answers. Some of those answers and puzzles we will answer through the pages of this book; others you will need to take to the Father; some may remain unanswered this side of Heaven.
1. Why pray? Isn’t God going to do what He wants any-way?
2. Can prayer actually change things?
3. If I don’t pray, would God’s will be frustrated?
4. What other questions do you have about prayer?
Some Great Quotes on Prayer
There are a great number of quotable quotes on prayer. As you read through those below, note one or two that speak to you most. Copy them out, post them where you can see them, write them on the fly-leaf of your Bible, write a song. I leave it to you.
“God does nothing on earth save in answer to believing pray-er.” – John Wesley
“Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made a burden” – Corrie ten Boom
“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficul-ties.” – Oswald Chambers
“God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forc-es against evil…. The prayers of God’s saints are the capital stock of heaven by which God carries on His great work upon the earth. God conditions the very life and prosperity of His cause on prayer.” – E. M. Bounds
“Prayer is not a “spare wheel” that you pull out when in trouble, but it is a “steering wheel” that directs the right path throughout life.” – Unknown
“When the devil sees a man or woman who really believes in prayer, who knows how to pray, and who really does pray, and, above all, when he sees a whole church on its face before God in prayer, he trembles as much as he ever did, for he knows that his day in that church or community is at an end.” – R.A. Torrey
“The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” – F.B. Meyer
Teach Us To Pray
Jesus’ disciples knew something of prayer. As Jewish men, they had been taught by their parents the prayers of the faith. But somehow, they saw in Jesus a quality of prayer that made them hunger for more. Their request to Jesus is recorded both by Matthew and by Luke. “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disci-ples.” (Lu 11:1 NIV). I have a personal preference for the Luke version. Matthew records “teach us how to pray”. I am not convinced that we need a “how to”, and much as we need to be taught “TO” pray. There are already a great num-ber of HOW TO books on the market, including those on prayer. (I’ll even recommend a few at the end of this book).
Most of my readers will understand that “one-size-fits-all” is never quite true. Because God created me with legs too short for my waist-size, I know the cost of alterations. My prayer is not a model for yours, because you and I are created differ-ently. Friends of mine represent varied approaches to prayer, but they each do pray. This book will share some understand-ing, offer some principles, and provide some exercises to get you to “taste” some new flavours.
At its most simple, prayer is a conversation.
When I teach this concept, I love to do a demonstration showing a one-sided conversation. People so readily recog-nize the difference between dialogue and monologue.
Have you ever listened (perhaps even eaves-dropped) on someone having a phone conversation? You hear one side, and your imagination fills in the blanks of what the other is saying. What happens when someone is sent to “voice mail”? A monologue. What does your prayer time sound like to an eaves-dropper? Dialogue, or monologue?
Television’s Judge Judy says: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak!” If we are to have a conversation with our Father, what are the most usual ways in which He speaks? Most often God speaks through Scripture, or quietly within our mind.
Pick one or two prayer subjects. Mention them to God and ask for His input, then quietly listen. Read some Scripture (I often go to the Psalms) and listen to God’s answer or direc-tion. Take what you hear and add it to your conversation with God. Keep exploring (back and forth) until you feel the conversation is done. Thank God.