A Primer on Prayer

prayingAside from the relentless enticement of the Holy “Spirit of grace and supplication” I can’t account for how much I’ve always loved spending time with the Lord. Sure, there’s discipline involved, but for me, it’s been more the desire, that clearly comes from him, than discipline. I wondered if after I “retired” from pastoring I would continue taking daily prayer walks, having what I call, “Concentrated Conversations with God,” and interceding for friends and pre-friends. It’s sort of part of the pastor’s job description to pray a lot, so when I didn’t have a job to describe, would I keep doing what I used to do while on the church payroll?

I admit that, during the period that I call “The Great Sadness,” which included loss of marriage, ministry, house, money, and health in one fell swoop, there was a bit of a lapse in my prayer routine. I did pray during those days, but my prayers sounded more like the petulant protests of a spoiled child than the praises of a grateful son. As my pain and cynicism subsided they gradually morphed back into two-sided life-giving conversations again. That’s not to say that petulance and doubt have no place in the prayer life. If you doubt this, just do a speedy scan of the Psalms, many of which are aches and pains put to poetry. Anyway, I was actually sort of surprised that there is such a thing as a prayer life after pastoring. In fact I’ve found that in many ways our conversations are more genuine and more profound than ever.

I’m concerned about the prayer lives of many Christians with whom I engage. I don’t see many prayer meetings in churches anymore and it seems to me that many spiritual leaders and church members have paltry lives of prayer. Most of the teachings that I hear on the subject of prayer focus on how to get what you want from God when you want it in the way you want it. In my opinion this emphasis tends to be more formulaic than formative.

This summer I took a few young spiritual leaders with whom I have a mentoring role with me to a prayer retreat center in the Santa Cruz mountains for a brief prayer practicum. We spent the day discussing some salient Scriptures on prayer and practicing what we discussed. We learned about prayer from the Word and from each other, and then applied it on the spot.

We had such a great time that I thought I’d share the simple outline of passages that we used and then do a two-part audio podcast unpacking it a bit. This basic primer might serve as a reminder to those who are well versed on the topic and immersed in their own lives of prayer. I trust that it will also be a good foundation for those who are just beginning on that journey.

Speaking of foundation, I recommend my Foundations 101 chapter on prayer for the new Christian and Foundations 201 chapter on a more mature level. At the end of this post I’ll recommend some of the books on prayer that have meant a lot to me over the years.

Prayers come in different shapes and sizes

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 1 Timothy 2:1-8

18 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 people19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:18ff

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Revelation 5:8

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. 1 Samuel 12:23

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. Colossians 4:12

How they prayed in the early church:

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. Acts 1:14

… they raised their voices together in prayer to God… “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Acts 4:23-31

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them (Paul and Barnabas) and sent them off. Acts 13:3

How Nehemiah prayed:

Nehemiah 1:4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah 1:6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.

Nehemiah 2:4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king…

Nehemiah 4:9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

Nehemiah 6:9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

How Paul prayed for people

Ephesians 1:17-19a

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him–since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened–so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe ….

Ephesians 3:16-19

I pray that according to the wealth of his glory [the Father] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere 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.

Colossians 1:9b-12

[I ask] God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects–bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

How Jesus taught us to pray

  • Our Father
  • Who art in heaven hallowed by your name
  • Thy kingdom come
  • Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
  • Give us this day our daily bread
  • And forgive us our trespasses
  • As we forgive those who trespass against us
  • And lead us not into temptation
  • But deliver us from evil
  • For yours is the kingdom,
  • The power,
  • And the glory forever

Some books on prayer that I recommend:

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