Last week, when I was quarantined with the flu, I had a wonderful Skype conversation with former student AnnaClaire. She attends college in Arkansas, and coincidentally was also quarantined with the flu. In the course of our commiseration the subject came up about prayer. For today’s blog post I’ll share with you some of the things I told her when she asked about how I organize my own prayer life.
HOW I ORGANIZE MY PRAYER LIFE
Regardless of how much time I have for prayer, I have found it beneficial to divide my prayer time into two fairly equal parts: 1. Relational Prayer and 2. Requesting Prayer.
By “RELATIONAL PRAYER” I mean a time of “heart-to-heart” conversation with God. It involves putting God in His place, putting me in my place, and positioning myself properly under His leadership. To help me maximize this time, I generally follow this outline: ATCS.
Adoration. Letting my mind dwell up in heaven, in eternity, and on God’s character, attributes, and worthiness. Enjoying Him apart from the personal benefits to me.
Thanksgiving. Here, my my thoughts are still focused on God, but trickling down to where I live — appreciating Him for all the good things He has freely and generously given me.
Confession. After contemplating God’s greatness and goodness to me, my own weaknesses and unfaithfulness inevitably become apparent. This is a time for putting me in my proper place. I acknowledge my sins and apologize for how they must hurt His heart — and then I experience relational restoration with Him as I sense Him wiping my slate clean. [One word of caution about confession: I’ve learned to be careful to not overdue confession. I can easily slip into self-loathing, which only serves to keep my mind focused on me rather than on God and how mercifully He treats prodigals like me. He’s promised to forgive my sins just for the asking with no penance required, and so I need to take Him at His word and not obsess over my failures.]
Surrender. Here, I spend some time mentally dedicating myself to His service. I surrender my FISTS (Finances, Influence, Skills, Time, and Stuff), I surrender my day’s Calendar, my Appetites, and my To Do List. I ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to put on the Armor of God, and to be prepared to finish and die well. I also review one of my Life Resolutions each day and ask for God’s enabling to accomplish them.
So that’s “Relational Prayer.” It’s my favorite part of prayer and never a chore — when I devote the proper time and attention to it, I find it’s very satisfying. Heartfelt, relational prayer like this seems to be uncommon in our times. If you’ve never prayed like this before, I recommend you try it!
“REQUESTING PRAYER” is the kind of prayer most people today likely think about when they think of prayer. But this kind will be less relationally satisfying when the focus is limited to merely asking God for stuff that we want. For many this is little different than giving Santa your wish list, or giving God a shopping list. Others may approach it as if God’s a cosmic vending machine, ready to give us whatever we order. Prayer like this can easily be self-centered. When I talk about “requesting prayer” I’m not talking about this.
For me, “requesting prayer” is about telling God how much we need Him, declaring our dependence on Him, and asking for His will to be accomplished both in us and through us. It’s not wrong to ask for things, indeed, His word commands us to ask Him for things For example, James 5:16: says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” But it’s the attitude of our hearts that is critical here. When I pray God-honoring prayers of request, I sense that God is using me to help accomplish His plans for the world. And like Relational Prayer this kind of prayer is also satisfying. Mostly because it’s not about us.
So this brings us to this issue: there are literally million of people and things I could request prayer for. So how do I decide what to pray for and how do I organize my prayer lists? Tomorrow, I’ll explain how that works in my prayer life.