Prayer (Spiritual Disciplines Part 2)

Photo:  Smabs Sputzer

Oh, the Olympics...a beloved tradition in my family.  It’s such a thrill to see competitors from ninety-plus nations in one place, to root for the good ole U. S. of A., and to watch athletes live the moments they’ve trained for their whole lives.  My favorite events involve balance (gymnastics, snowboarding, figure skating)...athletes pushing themselves to the very edge of control.  It’s intense to watch someone flipping and flying, almost losing it but somehow finding their center of gravity and making the seemingly impossible happen. 

Spiritual disciplines bring this kind of reorientation for the Christian.  They are signposts we build into our lives to remind us which way is up as life continually upends us.  Without them, we can lose control and find the landing to be painful.  

In part one, we discussed practicing solitude (creating space to be alone with God), and today we examine what we do with our solitude.  For the Christian, the goal is not to achieve some blissful state of nothingness.  Instead, our solitude should sensitize us to God’s presence and the unchanging truth of the Gospel.  We experience this primarily through prayer and the study of Scripture.

It’s easy for our prayers to become dominated by superstitious, please-oh-please-God petitions to a cosmic vending machine.  It’s our nature to be consumed with our desires, and our prayers often reflect this.  To combat this tendency, we must let God’s Word spur and shape the way we pray.   

The Bible contains several common prayer themes emulated by the church for millennia.  We see prayers of praise (for God’s character and works), confession (of sin and need for God), intercession (personally and for others), lament (over sin and trials), and yet more praise.  Jesus echoes these themes in his model prayer.  Meditating on and applying each line of this prayer to our lives is a great start to cultivating a biblically shaped prayer life.   

Our Father in heaven,  (How has he shown himself as Father?)

hallowed be your name.  (What sets God apart?)

Your kingdom come, your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.  (What circumstances are we surrendering to God’s will?)

Give us this day our daily bread,  (What do we need?)

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  (How have we sinned?  Whom should we forgive?)

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil. (What guidance and help do we need?  What evil do we face?).

Following a biblical pattern lifts our prayers from the fog of our immediate desires to a clear-eyed vision of Christ’s character (and our identity in him).  This is true of much of Scripture but is particularly applicable to the psalms.  The psalms provide language to pray about every part of life, no matter how dark, in contrast to the strictly “positive and encouraging” culture of our day.  This article, this plan, and this book/app are great resources for praying the psalms.

Another simple “reorienting” method is praying breath prayers.  Breath prayers are brief prayers (a Scripture verse or hymn lyric) than can be recited while taking a deep breath.  These prayers can happen any time (a pause during work, a restroom break, an elevator ride) to practically reawaken ourselves to God’s presence and work.  A prayer I often use comes from Psalm 33: “Let your steadfast love be upon us even as we hope in you.”  Other good ones are Romans 8:1, Psalm 46:1, or Revelation 5:12.  The purpose is to take a deep breath, pray, and be reminded of the Gospel in the midst of whatever you’re doing.  

Biblical prayer is inseparable from studying Scripture, so we’ll examine that in part three.  

This series draws from Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder.