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Sitting Down to Pray
As I sat at my kitchen table writing down the things I wanted to pray for during my prayer time, I made an unsettling discovery: my prayer list looked uncomfortably similar to my grocery list (which was not far away on the table as well).
All the things I needed – things I was out of – were on the list: rest, energy, (I was always out of those things when my kids were little), a healthy body, time (to get the laundry done or the packing for vacation done or whatever)…
All the things my family had asked for- what they wanted me to get for them – were on the list as well: that job or promotion, a good grade on the test, healing from illness, safety in travels…
Needs and wants. Tangible things that provided comfort and well-being; things that promoted my (our) personal interest(s). I felt uncomfortable. Could it be possible for my prayer time to reach beyond comfort and well-being? Hmmm…
Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to ask for what we need. Jesus instructed us to ask for “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Jesus was not only referring to literal bread, food; he was referring to all our daily needs. Yes! Pray for what we need – for today. Each day. Paul tells us not to be anxious about anything, but in every situation…present our requests to God (Philippians 4:6). Go ahead and ask.
But as I sat there at the kitchen table, I began to realize that prayer could be so much more than simply asking for personal comfort and well-being for myself and for those I loved. I realized that prayer could be something more than a grocery list.
Noticing a Pattern
Now that my radar was up, everywhere I went, I began to notice that a whole lot of other people prayed just like me. (You know how that happens…like when you hear a song on a TV commercial and suddenly you hear it everywhere you go. The song was probably already playing in the places you go, but now you notice it – whether you like it or not!)
I think somewhere along the way, the church has (unintentionally) cultivated a habit of prayer that looks a lot like a grocery list. As we pray, we walk up and down the aisles with our list, choosing what we want and tossing it into our carts. After all, what “good” (and I do say that tongue-in-cheek) Christian woman would show up to bible study or prayer group WITHOUT her “prayer requests” – her list? Right? We have been conditioned to believe that the right way (the only way) to pray together is to share all our needs for comfort and healing. (And let’s be honest: We spend so much time sharing those prayer requests that we often run out of time to actually pray.)
I’ll say it again: Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying we shouldn’t “present our requests” to God (Philippians 4:6), but I find it telling that we spend so much of our time praying for earthly comfort. What if we prayed for something more? What if we prayed more like Paul?
Learning to Pray Like Paul
In my search to find what that “something more” could be – in my prayer life as well as in the life of the church – I was inspired by how Paul prayed. Yes, Paul prayed for immediate needs; but Paul most often prayed for for spiritual things, eternal things, rather than temporal things (temporary physical things). I was also struck by the fact that Paul most often (but not exclusively) prayed for others rather than himself.
Just take a look at three of the prayers Paul prayed. The things he prayed for absolutely blow me away! I want to pray like this!
Ephesians 1:17-19 (NIV)
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Paul prayed that God would give the Ephesians (others) wisdom, revelation, and enlightenment so that they would know Him and know hope. Wow! Imagine what my prayer time would be like if I prayed such things for myself and the people on my list. Imagine how it might change our lives! Just imagine.
Ephesians 3:14-19 (NLT)
“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
Paul prayed that they (the Ephesian church) would be empowered with inner strength – that their roots would grow deep; that they would come to understand the depth of God’s love and be made complete. Powerful. Isn’t this what we want for the people we love? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves? I wonder what would happen if I prayed this for myself and my children…my grandchildren…for everyone I know? How might the world be changed if everyone experienced the love of Christ and were made complete in the fullness of God? I wonder.
Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
What if more people loved greatly? What if we had not only knowledge, but insight and understanding? What if we were able to discern what is best in God’s eyes? Life changing. World changing. What if we were filled with the fruit (the results, the evidence) of God’s righteousness. Why was I not praying these things for myself and the people in my life? What would happen if I began to pray more like Paul? What if?
Paul also prayed for:
The Salvation of Others – even for his adversaries! (See Acts 26:28-29 & Romans 1:10.) Who do you know that doesn’t know the salvation of Christ? Both people you love and your adversaries? Add them to your list. Pray for their salvation.
The Expansion of the Gospel – (See 2 Thessalonians 3:1) Let’s add getting the message out to our list, too!
Finally, Paul spent a lot of time GIVING THANKS:
-For the faith and perseverance of fellow believers.
2 Thessalonians 1:1
-That faith was being proclaimed around the world. Romans 1:8
-For God’s grace given to believers. 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
-For all things! Ephesians 5:20
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you see that even in the things for which Paul gave thanks, he focused on the spiritual, the eternal, and not the comforts of the here-and-now? What spiritual, eternal things can you start giving thanks for? Add them to your list.
Shifting Our Focus
My youngest son is on the autism spectrum. One of the characteristics he exhibits is that he likes sameness. He likes routine and repetition. It’s been hard to teach him about prayer because his preference would be to pray the exact same prayers every single day. Word for word. I’m sure God is sympathetic to his limitations and gladly receives his repetitive prayers. (I know them by heart and there’s something comforting about knowing that God knows them by heart too.)
Most of us can probably identify with this comfort in sameness even though we’re not on the spectrum. We like routine. We feel comfortable with habit. Routine and habit can be really good things. But they can also get us stuck in a rut if we’re not paying attention. We can develop habits that are hard to break; habits that limit our potential growth. I’m going to ask you to set aside your comfort; set aside the sameness, and embrace change as we consider how Paul prayed and learn to pray like him.
Let me say it one last time: There’s nothing wrong with asking for what we need. But what if we also prayed for something more? What if we prayed for others and not just ourselves? What if we prayed for spiritual growth and maturity and love and discernment and salvation and the advancement of the gospel? What if?
As you step out in faith to try something new in your prayer life today, this is my prayer for you:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13 (NIV)
To read more articles like this, find me (Lori Anderson) today on extravaganthope.com.
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If you haven’t used e-products before, I’ve (Cheryl…switching writers here) recently discovered and fallen in love with the Evernote App. It allows me to highlight and write directly on my pdf files using my Kindle.
Steps to Use Evernote:
1. Open your app store and download the free app Evernote onto your Tablet/Kindle/iPad.
2. Now, from the email we sent you, download the pdf (Everyday Prayer Journal) onto your Tablet/Kindle/iPad.
3. Usually, the download automatically opens, but if it doesn’t, open it.
4. Click on the share icon.
5. Click on the share button.
6. Choose Evernote.
7. Once the journal downloads into Evernote, you can click on the icons at the top of the page in Evernote to highlight, write and erase.
This video to shows you how to download this pdf into Evernote on your computer.
If you don’t think you are techy enough – I promise, it’s not that hard. Plus, once you start putting e-products on your tablet, you realize you can carry way more books with you anywhere, write directly on them (and erase) – it’s so handy, it’s addictive.