Prayer Calendar: Getting Past Salt and Pepper Prayers

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The other day I was talking with my friend Ron Swanson regarding the way most of us North American Christians pray. He used a phrase that I just can’t get out of my head. He said we often treat prayer like salt and pepper – an add-on, a little seasoning on top of the meal we have made.

Is this really the way we pray?

Sadly, if we are honest, we probably have to admit – yes prayer often feels like salt and pepper. We get busy doing our own stuff, and then perfunctorily sprinkle a little salt and pepper prayer into the mix.

Could we find a way to get past salt and pepper prayers?

I’ll be the first to admit, this is often where I land.

I want to pray. I know I need to pray. I know there is power in prayer. I know prayer moves the heart of God. I know that God desires a deep connection with us through prayer. I know prayer is one of the few practices that Jesus specifically taught his disciples how to do. I know lots about prayer. However, there is a huge difference between knowing lots about prayer and praying. There is even a wide chasm between desiring to have a better prayer life and actually praying. Sadly, I often fail to act on the knowledge and desire that I have. I often fail to pray deeply and passionately. I simply, sprinkle a little salt and pepper on what I am already doing.

If you are like me, you don’t really want to hear one more person give you another guilt trip about prayer. So, I will try and avoid that here. You don’t need to read another book on prayer. We’ve all read several of those, and have been temporarily encouraged; but then have found ourselves struggling along again.

Instead, I’m wondering: Do we need to re-imagine prayer?

Mark Buchanan in his book, Your God is Too Safe, writes a chapter on the loss of imagination. He uses kissing as an example – if you describe a kiss in it’s sheer physical form it almost sounds repugnant. It takes imagination to turn it into something incredible. He talks how we can rip the heart out of a communion service but explaining every last detail. He reminds us that one of the missing ingredients in our faith is imagination.

Is this what we have done to prayer? Taken the heart right out of it because we don’t have the imagination to see it in deeper, bolder, and more mysterious ways? I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to go on a journey of re-imagination.

So, let’s imagine prayer as:

  • listening
  • breathing
  • food
  • life-blood
  • war
  • visiting the King
  • surgery
  • hanging out with our best friend
  • 911
  • I have several more, but you add your metaphor here

At some point, these metaphors all break down. However, could they also breathe fresh life into the old bones of our prayer lives? It’s worth a try!

To see the latest prayer calendar, click here.

Prayer Calendar: Surprised by Prayer

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I have always been part of a church. Literally. I will sometimes tongue-in-cheek suggest that my mother probably left the delivery room of the hospital and went straight to a prayer meeting at  church with me in tow. I have never known life apart from church. That means that prayer has always been part of me. Not that I’ve practised prayer perfectly but have known of it comprehensively, or so I thought.

This will be my last prayer encouragement to you as the Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst. At the stroke of midnight on July 31, I will “retire” from this role and ride off into the proverbial sunset. As the EFCC champion for prayer, I’ve done a lot of teaching and modelling of what a praying life might look like, but along the way I’ve also been a learner.

Here are three lessons that I have learned in my tenure as prayer catalyst, things that I thought I “knew” that have now become experientially part of my prayer reality.

  1. Listening to God in prayer is as important as talking to God. No, I don’t hear audible voices but I do sense nudges and whispers that direct me in God’s way for me. I have proactively adopted the spirit of the boy Samuel when he says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
  2. God wants us to ask him to act on our behalf. For me personally, I came to the realization that I simply don’t have because I haven’t asked. God loves to give to his children. I’m still learning but I’m trying to ask more. I’m trying to ask with the “shameless audacity” of the woman of the parable in Luke 11:5-13.
  3. My prayers do influence the actions of God. That means prayer is powerful. I still don’t know how that interfaces with the sovereignty of God but I believe the truth of it. Paul seals the deal for me in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. Paul believes that he escaped death “as you help us by your prayers.” He goes on to say, “Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

As I close I give you the verse that I adopted in the beginning as the theme verse of my prayer ministry.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Prayer Calendar: Just Pray

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I’m a teacher at heart. That part of me always wants to express itself. When it comes to prayer, I’m most comfortable writing about things like why you should pray, how to pray, when you should pray and of course, what to pray.

And on it goes from there.

I’ve wrestled with three possibilities for this month’s prayer devotional:

  • Unheard Prayer – Psalm 66:18
  • Praise, Prayer and Pain – Psalm 66:13-17; Acts 16:25
  • Answered Prayer – 2 Corinthians 1:10-11

Yet, I don’t sense the personal freedom to pursue any of these with you here. I encourage you on your own to read and pray these verses to see what the Spirit of God might teach you.

Instead of teaching you about prayer, I feel compelled to urge you to just pray!

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:18-19)

 

Prayer Calendar: Ritualistic Prayer

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The word “ritual” doesn’t play well in a Free Church tradition. I hesitated even using it but couldn’t shake it loose. I use it with this definition, “a customarily repeated often formal act or series of acts.”

Why the negative connotation?

Maybe it’s because we associate ritual with churches of questionable beliefs, or maybe we think that praying something over and over again causes it to lose its freshness or even meaning. Maybe it’s because of the throw away world in which we live. With diminishing attention spans, we’re easily bored. Use something for a while and then on to the next thing. Instead of change being an important part of life, it has become so much the fabric of our lives that repetition won’t be tolerated. Whatever the reason, “ritual” is in need of a new press agent!

In the midst of our complex and ever-changing world, I find myself longing for simplicity. Ritualistic prayer is one of the ways in which I find it.

Let me explain.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them what we call the “Lord’s Prayer”, to be repeated or recited regularly. In Jesus time on earth the Jews prayed repeated prayers three times a day, a practice that Jesus himself may have followed.

Before I preached last Sunday, I publically prayed two prayers, one for myself and one for the congregation. This is my “ritual” every time I preach.

  • “Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (from Psalm 19)
  • “Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.” (from Samuel)

I start off almost every day with three ritualistic prayers with our triune God in heart and mind.

  • “Heavenly Father, I pray that this day I will love you with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength and that I will love my neighbour as myself.”
  • Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I will take up my cross and follow you.”
  • “Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Why do this?

  • It’s meditative; it causes us to think deeply about scripture and where it connects with life. Notice that all of these prayers are directly from scripture.
  • It’s focusing; it causes us to focus on God and what he wants.
  • It’s centering; it causes us to center attention on what is important and best in the midst of life’s complexity.

Prayer Calendar: Cleansing Prayer

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Our Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst, Dave Acree, contributes to our monthly EFCC Prayer Calendar. To subscribe to that, click here.

“Too much” or “too little” often wins out over “just enough.” We humans don’t do “balance” very well. Take sin for example.

In years past we tended to make too much of sin. We saw sin everywhere. Not just biblically identifiable sin but also culturally determined (by the church) sin, like going to movies or drinking alcohol or shooting pool down at the “hall.” We became so burdened down by sin that life became almost unlivable and our non-church friends (if we had any) saw us as holier-than-thou hypocrites, not something they wanted to be part of.

In times present, we tend to make too little of sin. We’ve managed to do away with most of those culturally determined sins but even the biblically identifiable ones are often now seen as too narrow and binding and perhaps in need of some redefinition, or just ignored. We don’t much like to talk about sin anymore.

In years past confession, or cleansing prayer, was a regular part of our prayer menu, both in public gatherings and in private prayer. Not so much in times present.

If you haven’t read Psalm 51 recently, you should. It’s good for the soul. There’s something cleansing and refreshing about confession of sin. Of course, that means we have to recognize and own up to our sin.

Maybe that’s why 1 John 1:9 is one of the first verses from the Bible we have people memorize. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Back in the 15th century, Ignatius, developed what he called the “examen.” Let me recommend a modified form for you today. At the end of each day think back to where you saw God at work and thank him for it. Also, think back to where you walked away from God’s path and sinned. Confess it and be cleansed.

We all need a daily “prayer bath.”