This week, as we consider our spiritual rhythm of prayer in pursuit of greater intimacy with God, we think about the new practices we can try or the old habits that we can recall. I challenge you to read through these and consider what you would like to try, add, and improve in your prayer life. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it’s a great starting point.
Praying the Day
Others might have a better term for this, but Praying the Day is how I think of it. It’s the kind of prayer where you are talking casually with God about what’s going on in your day. I also see it in two parts, general and specific.
Generally, Praying the Day would be when you are praying at intervals throughout the day, either intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe you do this intentionally by setting an alarm at the top of the hour, every hour, to check-in with God. Maybe you aren’t doing so intentionally, but you find your heart so desiring connection with God that you start checking in with Him during all of the different things you are doing. My experience with this has been intermittent, I generally find myself turning to God throughout the day unintentionally when I am doing those things daily that work on my spiritual self. It is of great comfort when I find myself naturally turning to God throughout the day, it feels as though I am in a relationship with God the way it was intended.
Specifically, Praying the Day would be described the same as the ancient idea of the Daily Examen. This practice was first made popular by Ignatius Loyola, and to practice you intentionally take time in the evening or before bed to think over the events of your day. Someone recently told me that, to them, this is perfect for the drive home from work. The Daily Examen is different from the anxious, why-did-I-say-that-dumb-thing reflection. This is walking with God through your day, event by event. Here are the five steps that Loyola encouraged people to walk through:
- Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
Praise is the kind of prayer where you express gratitude to God. These prayers are present all over the Bible, and are concentrated very densely in the Psalms. For example, Psalm 105:1 says, “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.”
Praise is talking to God about what you are grateful for. I can provide a few personal examples. Praise is as small as savoring a bite of delicious food and thanking God that it exists, one of my favorite practices. Praise can be riding a bike on a sunny day, feeling the sunshine on your face, and resting in gratitude that God put it there. Praise is delighting in the wonderful things that preschoolers say in Sunday school, and thanking God that they are true.
Separately, although it is certainly worth mentioning, prayer happens when you are singing a worship song that you are identifying with. We’ll talk more about worship later in this series. For right now, I can describe what this means to me. Sometimes, when I am listening to worship music or I am in a worship service, musical worship turns to prayer. It feels like my heart starts to turn soft, my shoulders relax, and I may even feel like the songwriter put every word there just for me. Every word becomes a prayer.
Intercession, simply put, is praying for others. This is one that I have muddled my way through. I have been learning from older and wiser Christians about this lately. My friend Toni calls it “standing in the gap.” In learning about it, this is what I have to share.
When it comes to healing, I know that in our services we don’t devote time to praying over the sick as other services do. But I also know that it happens often that Pastor Mike goes to hospitals and homes and prays with people who are sick. I do not believe these prayers need to be offered exclusively by pastors, though, because the Bible talks about the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-9). If you have accepted Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, I believe that praying for the healing of others in faith is a key practice that has earthly and heavenly consequences.
It is also important to pray for others to be saved. If we believe the gospel, it motivates us to want salvation for those we love. I can describe to you how I do this – if I know someone who has not accepted Christ is going through traumatic circumstances, my first prayer is that God would reveal Himself to them in those circumstances and call them to Himself powerfully. We can also pray against all of the factors that get in the way. There are hurts, hangups, and everything that makes hearts hard. We are called to engage in spiritual warfare on their behalf, asking God to clear the obstacles and call them forward. If it helps, pray through the Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13, asking God to clear out the stones, birds, and thorns.
Also, I think it is worth adding that intercession is often done well with great specificity – asking God to heal Jane and save John. However, we often don’t know the specific needs of our community. It is a valuable practice also to pray generally for things that have not yet been revealed to us. God may prompt you to pray for some person, some organization, or some family who needs it. For example, if you go on a morning walk, try praying for the family inside each house you pass.
We see the concept of fasting in a few different places in the Bible. Acts 14:32 says, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” Daniel 10:3 says, “I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” Also 2 Samuel 1:12, which says, “They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.”
I do not believe that fasting is a rote or mandatory spiritual discipline. I have found that the best place for the habit of fasting is as a spiritual rhythm a) when you are at a pivotal moment and you aren’t certain what to do next, as in Acts, or b) when your heart is overwhelmed with grief and helplessness, as in 2 Samuel.
I also do not believe that it is necessary to have nothing but water for 36 hours in order to cultivate the spiritual benefits. You can fast from all food but water for 36 hours, but you can also do things like giving up social media for a month, skipping a meal a day once a week, abstaining from rich foods for a week like in Daniel, or many other variations. I think the important thing is to look at what you are asking God for and make a sacrifice that reflects it. Again, we are not bound by mandatory sacrifice, but we can still share our depth of longing with Him.
This type of prayer is the most personal to me lately, so here is an example. I feel helpless and filled with grief lately about the issues of racial discrimination we have been facing. When wallowing one night in how I feel like there is nothing I can do, I remembered that I have a personal relationship with the God of the Universe. To the secular world it might still look like nothing, but I know that prayer is the most powerful tool at my disposal. That is to say, I recently started a new rhythm of fasting once a week for a twelve hour period. I use every hunger pang to remember to pray and ask God to intervene on these issues. This is the best thing I know how to do.
Lament is a wonderful practice that I was asked to try in 2015. Are you familiar with the book of Jeremiah? It is sad and somber. Jeremiah is lamenting the Israelites refusal to stick with God. Our challenge was to read some additional examples of laments and then write our own. The writings we read were mournful pieces, expressing sorrow at some aspect of brokenness in the world. It was incredible. It had never occurred to me to pray this way. We were asked to write one, but I wrote two. It felt so good to pour out the hurt that was in my soul onto paper.
Lament is a practice of mourning the sins of humanity, how we have turned against God and as a result a certain hardship has arisen. It can be either apologetic or just helpless. I highly recommend trying it. Pick something that hurts – poverty, animal abuse, addiction, broken relationships, – and let the words flow from your fingers. It allows for feeling that hardship and mourning in a constructive way. You can certainly do the same practice through speaking or singing, but I found that writing really encapsulated my feeling in a special way.
This is a very good way to get started when you want to pray words but just don’t have them. You can turn to a famous prayer in the Bible – there are lots of these in Psalms or different prophets, though there are also some great examples in Nehemiah and the gospels (Luke 1, Mary’s song, is a favorite of mine). I recommend reading the passage out loud, once and maybe even twice. Rest in the assurance that even though this was the prayer of another millennium ago, it is true for you now.
A similar practice is Lectio Divina, which is very similar. You read a short Bible passage several times, the first time savoring each word and allowing the Holy Spirit to raise a word or phrase to your attention. On subsequent read throughs, you see that word or phrase in context. It’s helpful. I have done some of this recently, and I find that the app Lectio 365 is very helpful. Preteen Pastor Rachel Johnson also recently filmed some examples to benefit our church family. It is a very peaceful exercise.
This is, at the same time, prayer and lack of prayer. Meditation asks you to be largely silent and turn your attention to God. In my experience, it has bothered me that I couldn’t sit still and that God doesn’t always say much back. I would also always wonder if the thoughts that were arising during Silence were from me or from God. I have learned a few things over the years, though, that address these frustrations with Silence and Meditation. First, that I can silent my head and heart for about ten times longer if I am walking or running, and I think that’s fine. Second, it’s okay if God doesn’t say much back because He is with me (though this one is still a struggle). Third, that whether the thoughts are from me or God Himself I can pray about them and set them aside. However, the number one thing that I have learned is that this takes practice. Some others also practice this through the practice of Centering Down, through a series of stretches, or through having the same habits to start their morning.
Once again, not everything on this list will be for everyone. I have done my best to provide personal examples of the ones I have tried. If you have a spiritual friend or a small group, you can also ask them about other ways of prayer that they have tried. They may have greater expertise than I in one of these practices of prayer, and I strongly encourage you to engage in discussions about prayer in community. I am so excited for you to try some new things!