Do you know of Jesus’s parable called “the prodigal son?” It involves a young man who, desiring to live his own life, demands his inheritance from his father before setting out into the world. He quickly forgets the wisdom taught to him, squanders his fortune and is treated so poorly that he is reduced to contending with pigs for scraps of food. Suffice it to say, he wises up, remembering all of the privileges he had at his father’s house, and finally returns, willing to work as a hired hand. However his father, so overjoyed at seeing his boy approaching off in the distance, welcomes him with great love and celebration, restoring his position at his side. (Luke 15:11-32)
Often this tale is shared to warn of arrogance and reveal the graces of humility and repentance, but it can teach us about prayer also. What is prayer essentially? It is communication with God; honest, straight forward and unfettered. There is simply no way to have a relationship with your Creator, or anyone for that matter, without dialog. If prayer falters, so does communion with God and as the prodigal son experienced, our ears become deaf to the Father’s wisdom and reason, His whisper growing fainter and fainter until it`s only a memory from happier times of guidance and provision.
If you`ve read any previous entries in this series then you already know this, so let’s go over a few practical methods of prayer that many Christians use in their daily life. Firstly, though it may sound elementary, starting your day in thanksgiving must be stressed. This not only welcomes the spirit of God to work throughout the events to come, but delivers you from pride, as the Bible says that He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs 3:34) Some take 10 minutes, others much longer, but it really is up to how the Holy Spirit leads you.
What about once you’ve left the house, tent or sleeping bag? As lovers burn in their hearts the more that they chat or text throughout the day, so your relationship with the Holy One will grow in intensity as you practice the same thing. One method that pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling “Purpose Driven Life”, recommends is “breath prayers”. This style involves taking a word or short scripture from the Bible and quietly repeating it, your mind being set on God. I find that it helps not to become too rigid or dogmatic with this prayer technique, lest the thrill of the mystical overcome the desire to enjoy a relationship with Christ. Keep in mind that it`s main purpose is to build a godly foundation for your thoughts. If you need to spend more time, and the location is satisfactory, you can always stop what you`re doing and get more involved in the prayer.
Maybe that`s exactly what you want though; more involved time. The starved soul, lovesick spirit, mind muddled by tragedy; there are just times when we really need to hear from our Father. Thankfully, there are deeper styles of prayer that we see employed in the Bible as well as by pastors and mentors today. It is clear by scripture that Jesus did not consider an hour in prayer as some incredible feat (Matthew 26:40-41), in fact, 40 days of fasting in the desert was spent talking to God and requesting power and strength. We are told that after that time, Christ was attended by angels and he returned in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2) Daniel, a Jewish captive in ancient Babylon, prayed intensely, even going without food for 21 days, before an angel arrived in brilliance and informed him that his words had been heard from the beginning. (Daniel 10)
As amazing as these accounts are, it can feel so difficult to get there though, what with the many worries of bills, chores, human relationships, etc. weighing our minds down. That`s why extended prayer should not be rushed, and would benefit from some determined preparation of time and solitude. Many start off with soft, worship music while reading scriptures out loud to get the atmosphere right before entering with words that honor God as the maker of all things, moving next to repentance. There is nothing haphazard about this and it actually mirrors the model that Jesus himself shared with His disciples, known as The Lord`s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13) Next, you can begin to thank the Father for what you have, worshipping in song or openly speaking about your problems, alternating with moments of quiet reflection, listening, or reading scripture that corresponds to your need. My own pastor suggests a plan of 20 minutes of prayer (dialog), 20 of worship, and another 20 of reading the Bible, in case you feel clueless about how to start. As you continue on though, prayer should gradually come natural, just as conversation with a new friend becomes more effortless as you get to know one another and the insecurities about what he or she will think of you subside.
We will revisit prayer techniques some time in the future, as the list grows with the constant maturing of the church. For now, lets approach our Father with confidence through the grace of Jesus Christ and know that He`s waiting to restore us!