Word and Prayer
For many of us, prayer feels confusing and burdensome. We wonder whether we are "getting it right." Jesus' disciples felt the same way. "Teach us to pray!" they begged him. In order to understand prayer, we have to understand how it is related to Scripture. As Eugene Peterson says, "Prayer is never the first word. It is always the second word. God has the first word." Prayer always follows Scripture, just as we open worship with the words of a Psalm before we pray. God's words first; our words second.
Peterson continues, "Prayer is not something we think up to get God's attention or enlist his favor. Prayer is ANSWERING speech. The first word is God's word. Prayer is a human word and is never the first word, never the primary word, never the initiating and shaping word simply because we are never first, never primary." Think about it. God says to Abraham, "Up! Go!" ...and then Abraham goes. Jesus says, "Follow me!" ...and then the disciples drop their nets. Jesus says, "Peace! Be Still!" ...and then the wind and the waves cease. The same is true for you and me. In our relationship with God it is never up to us to get the ball rolling. God speaks; and we answer. We listen to God in Scripture; and then we pray.
For many of us, this is actually quite relieving, because for the first time in our lives, the pressure is off. We do not have to "come up with" prayer on our own. We do not have to pull out our journal and wait for prayer to "happen": to spring up from our mind, our thoughts, our hearts... and then be frustrated when we don't feel like we have anything good to say or write. If we have the Bible, we already have everything we need to pray. We simply pray the Scriptures, pray after the Scriptures, pray from the Scriptures. We don't grow prayer on our own. Prayer springs up from scripture as naturally as plants from good and watered soil.
"Teach us to Pray"
Thankfully, God does teach us to pray. He gives us the Lord's Prayer, he gives us the Psalms, and he gives us a wealth of tools from Church history to teach us to hear and to pray.
The Psalms are the best tools for prayer that we have. They have shaped the worship and prayer of the Church from the very beginning. Everything you can possibly experience in life is in the Psalms: joy, sadness, suffering, rejection, abandonment, confusion, depression, anxiety, anger, lament. The Psalms teach you to deal with God in every one of these experiences. And they teach you to pray for others when you are not experiencing those things yourself.
Guidelines for using the Psalms as a dynamic guide to prayer.
A year of daily devotions based on the Psalms.
The Daily Office
The daily office is a fixed time of listening to Scripture and praying (hearing and answering!). Before it meant the place one goes to work (or the TV show) the word "office" originally meant "the work that one did." In monastic communities, it was the "work" of every individual to pray, and so they devised six daily "offices" - six times, every 24 hours, for prayer. Most Christians are not able to pause six times a day, but we can pause for one or two times a day.
All Saints sends out emails with the content of the Daily Office two times every single day - once in the morning and once in the evening. You can opt to receive the full Daily Office (Scripture, Lord's Prayer, other prayers, Apostle's Creed, and Confession) or a simplified version with just the Scripture and a prayer at the end. If you're a visual person and your circumstances allow, you can also join the staff via live-stream at 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM Monday-Friday.
What is so beneficial about Daily Office is that it combines many of the other ideas and tools. With the Daily Office, all pressure is off. No more "figuring out" what to read and what to pray on your own. It is all given to you, right there - receive it!
"Morning and Evening" by Charles Spurgeon
Spurgeon was an English minister in London and one of the best preachers of all time. Now, most people know him for this devotional. It is what it sounds like: for each day, a morning meditation and an evening meditation based on a short passage of Scripture. You will be shocked at how much Spurgeon can glean from one short text. You'll learn to see that Scripture is, indeed, the "pearl of great price."
"Lectio Divina" (Latin for divine reading) is a method of reading, meditating upon, and praying Scripture. There are many variations of lectio divina, but here is one to try:
- 1. Reading Glasses
- The first time through, simply read the passage.
- 2. Magnifying Glass
- Hone in on a word or short phrase (the shorter the better) that will serve as your "one word." This word becomes the focus of your meditation and prayer. Spend five minutes meditating on this one word - no need to rush or come up with any novel thoughts. Then, spend five more minutes letting this word frame your prayers to God.
- 3. Mirror
- This time through, ask, "what is one thing this passage is calling me to be or to do? The Bible always works on us, showing us not only who God is , but who we are, and where we might need the Spirit to change us.
- 4. Telescope
- Every passage of Scripture looks in to the distance, forward and/or backward. This final time through, look for Christ! Look back to his first coming (his life, death and resurrection) and forward to his second coming (new heavens and new earth).
"A Simple Way to Pray" by Martin Luther
In 1535, a barber named Peter Beskendorf asked his old friend Martin Luther how to pray. In response, Luther wrote this book. In short, Luther says to pray the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles Creed. This book will make each of these come alive for you - who knew that praying "thou shalt not murder" could be devotional?
Centering Prayer is another practice used throughout Church history as a form of meditating on Scripture. For Christians, the goal of meditation is not to empty the mind but to fill it - fill it with Scripture. To do centering prayer:
- 1. Pick a single verse of Scripture.
- Pick a verse (Psalms are best) and then pick one word from that verse.
- 2. Settle in.
- Close your eyes, settle in, turn your palms upward in an open, praying position, and begin by saying the one word to yourself.
- 3. Return to the word.
- Every time your mind begins to wander from the word, gently return your mind to the word. You will wander a lot; it's ok. Imagine a ball resting on top of a hill. The wind blows, knocking the ball down the hill. Gently return the ball to the top.
- 4. Repeat
- Repeat for five minutes. Go longer when you get more comfortable.