For our first week in this work of learning how to pray, I wanted to reflect on chapter one of A Praying Life, and give some guidance on how I’m using the Field Guide to daily prayer.
A PRAYING LIFE
Chapter one: “What Good Does it Do?”
“Praying exposes how self-preoccupied we are and uncovers our doubts. It was easier on our faith not to pray. After only a few minutes, our prayer is in shambles. Barely out of the starting gate, we collapse on the sidelines—cynical, guilty, and hopeless.” -p.3
In my community group Tuesday night we were very honest about our difficulties in praying. I want to tell you all, church, that I know this isn’t an easy work for us. Praying in order that we can locate ourselves in the heart of God (which is how I put it in the sermon last Sunday) requires a bit of wrestling. We need each other if we’re going to do this well, and we need to be patient. If you feel awkward in the work of praying or discouraged in the beginning, give yourself the room to improve over time. We aren’t grading this. What’s most important is that when we pray we are reminded of where we stand with the Lord, that he loves us dearly no matter our circumstance, and He is working in the world to make all things new, including us.
We should be honest that our old praying life may get in the way of this new praying life. We are used to wishing for things, daydreaming about things, whining about things when they don’t turn out, becoming discouraged by the things we want and can’t have. These are all prayers, but they’re so self-concerned that there’s no room for the prayers we are called by God to pray. Prayer will expose us and will fight with our self-sufficiency and self-concern. Just know you’re in for a battle, and when you take the Lord’s Supper again this Sunday it will be in part to have the strength to choose the Lord’s Prayer over our own. God will provide the strength we need.
FIELD GUIDE FOR DAILY PRAYER
So whether you choose to pray in the morning, at night, or both, I love that this can be integrated into our current Community Bible Reading plan. You can read that day’s Psalm under the Psalm reading section of the daily plan, then read the Old Testament and New Testament passages we have for community Bible reading, where the guide instructs you to read the Scriptures for the day.
I like having suggested words to pray. I read the words then take some silent time to think on them. This morning it said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.” (John 4.23). I read the Bible verse and am silent. I read it again and ask the Lord to make me a true worshiper. I thank God that he seeks us. I take my time.
Then the confession. I read it then take silent time to confess my weakness of heart. I don’t try to confess every single sin. That’s impossible! Instead I think of one or two that are grieving me. That’s important. What sin is actively grieving you? What engages your heart, what do you feel the most ashamed or sorry about? I focus on the relationship I’m building with God - he desires that I share with him my most heart-breaking failures. Sometimes you might be moved to tears here. If that’s what it means for you to pray honestly, DO IT. It’s okay to be emotionally moved. It’s good for us.
The Invitatory is a natural response to God’s patience and mercy. What kind of God can love someone like me? What kind of God embraces and welcomes a sinner like me? He is holy and righteous and deserving of our praise. So I read the written prayer and I take a silent moment to really own the words.
The Psalm I choose is from our Community Bible Reading. Psalm 134. Short and sweet! I think about what’s going on in Psalm 134. The Lord who made the heavens and the earth blesses us! That is remarkable, hard to believe. I need to remind myself of it. I have a journal that I write in regarding the daily bible reading. In my journal I write, “The Lord blesses his people. He invites me to lift my hands, even though my hands are one means of living for myself. They do labor that I use to serve myself, they write sermons that I am tempted to use for my own glory. God knows that I sin with these hands, and yet he invites me to not be ashamed of them in worship.”
The reading. Same as the Psalm, I read the chapters in the Old and New Testament and write anything the Lord brings to mind. I’m just looking for a couple of things God is teaching me in the passages I’m reading.
I recite the Apostle’s Creed and think about how many voices have translated these words. I am a part of a global church.
I pray the Lord’s Prayer and expect that God is bringing his Kingdom. I always slow down a bit as I read “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” I am reminded that prayer makes our feet move. I have to run toward forgiveness of others if I run to my heavenly father for my own forgiveness.
I pray the intercession and remember many of you. If I told you I would pray for you this is where I pray for you. Sometimes I pray through the list of people who attend our church, and the specific needs I know about. Some of you are in the middle of big life changes - I’m praying for you in those things. I’m also praying for those who are visiting and in the process of trying to find a church. I pray for them by name and ask God to lead them to the right church. I pray for my daughters and for Laura, that they will be protected from evil and that they will grow in their love for Jesus.
I pray the collect and wonder if I recognize how much grace I receive from God every day. The prayers of my heart he answers without me ever praying them.
I read the benediction and imagine the Lord himself reciting them over me, because He does just that. I’m ready for my day, not because I have guaranteed that I will now have an awesome day, but because I have given the day to my Heavenly Father, who knows better than I what to do with it.