The Privilege of Prayer"Open your heart and mind to God, sharing with Him from where you are and then take the quiet time to listen for His response."
One of the greatest privileges of the Christian life is the opportunity to pray. Prayer is one of those things that sounds incredibly simple—until it’s time to do it. Ever have the experience where you’re with a group of people and a leader asks if someone would like to pray? Yikes! Why is it that most of us will sink back, avoid eye contact, hoping that we aren’t singled out and called on to pray out loud? If we’re honest, it’s because we think we might do it wrong. Maybe we don’t know what to say, or how it really works, and so we dread what others hearing us pray might think. Sometimes that same fear or uncertainly even keeps us from praying while we are alone as well.
What is Prayer?
Well, I’m hoping to relieve a little bit of that fear, because prayer really is an incredible foundational spiritual discipline that we all need and I would say is the most powerful tool we have in creating true, lasting, life change in ourselves and others. Honestly, you really can’t mess it up. Prayer is simply a conversation with God. Merriam-Webster defines prayer as “an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought.” However, I think their definition falls a bit short because an address is one-sided, and prayer is a two-way conversation with the Lord. There are countless passages of Scripture about prayer—some commanding God’s people to pray, some of them instructions on how to pray, some of them prayers of the people we get to read. We even get to read the prayers of Jesus on multiple accounts through the Gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). And then there are countless times we see God speak or act in response to those prayers throughout the Bible.
When we first start out at prayer, it can seem tedious to add into our daily routines. We most often associate prayer time with meals, maybe bedtime or during a church service. It can seem at first to be empty or superficial in a way that feels like an unnecessary obligation. However, when we begin to understand what a privilege it really is to pray, our perspective might change.
I have four small children and they do not like to take naps. Now, I know as their parent that naps are important to their day if they are going to remain healthy, happy kids, but they don’t know that yet. They fight like crazy when it’s time to take a nap. Me on the other hand, I’d love to take a nap! Just about any day at any time if you gave me the opportunity to take a nap, I’d gladly accept the offer! Why is that? What’s the difference? It’s not just that I’m older and tired, even if that’s a bit of the reason. It’s because I understand the value and power of a nap. I know that I can be refreshed, renewed and ready for even more in my life if I can squeeze in that little rest. My kids can’t see beyond the moment they are living in and they’d rather keep playing in the moment that lay down for a nap. They think of naps as obligations, wasted time and unnecessary acts. Do you see the correlation here? As you mature and grow, you move in many things from an obligation to a privilege. You move from having to do something to getting to do something. Prayer, to those who are just starting out, can seem like an obligation or something hard to understand, but when we have been at it for a while, we begin to see the benefits of this regular conversation with God. Most mature believers would tell you it’s a discipline they could no longer live without!
A few years back, I heard a lecture from Dr. John Drury at Wesley Seminary that really changed how I view the act of prayer. He said prayer is this eternal conversation that we have the privilege to join into on occasion. Dr. Drury explained that we pray to God, with Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, I know the theology of the Trinity can be hard to understand and I’m not going to try to tackle that here but know that prayer involves all three persons that make up God as we know Him. First, there’s God the Father, the Almighty Creator, Sustainer and Governor of the universe. This very big God wants very much to hear what you have to say, which is incredible. Throughout Scripture, God desires to hear the prayers of His people (2 Chronicles 7:14). Then, there’s Jesus Christ, the Son, the Savior of the World. We know that He lived a sinless life and died a gruesome death on the cross, but was then resurrected back to life, defeating death and paying the price for our sins. Now, here’s a question for you: where is Jesus now? Scripture tells us that He is seated at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34). We may not fully understand where that is exactly, but the even more important thing to know is what He is doing while He’s sitting there—He is interceding for us! Interceding is intervening in prayer for someone else. Jesus is next to God the Father praying for us, and when we pray, we get to join Him in that prayer! How cool is that?! Then there’s the third person of the Godhead, but by no means lesser, the Holy Spirit. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit testifies on our behalf, that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). We belong in that conversation with God. Not only that, but Paul goes on to say in Romans that when we don’t know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf, with groans too much for words (Romans 8:26). So, the Holy Spirit makes up for what’s lacking in our imperfect prayers. He perfects our prayers. He completes our incomplete prayers. So, we have no reason to worry about having something to say or saying the right thing when we pray. Do you see what an awesome privilege this is? We don’t have to pray—we get to pray!
Hopefully that helps to understand prayer and to alleviate some of the fear of praying. Practically speaking, if you’re new to prayer, just talk to God. This can be out loud or even just in your head. He knows our every thought, but even still, He wants to hear from you. One of the best simple tools I’ve heard for beginning prayer is to use the ACTS prayer. A—Adoration—letting God know how great you believe He is, C—Confession—owning up to areas you might have fallen short of what God would like for your life, T—Thanksgiving—giving thanks to God for His faithfulness in supplying your needs and finally S—Supplication—sharing with God what it is you need from Him today or what others around you may need. That’s just one tool that can help guide you as you pray, but there is no right or wrong way to pray.
How Can I Pray?
You might want to try taking a posture of prayer, such as sitting on your knees or folding your hands, because when we move our bodies in a particular way it can help us to focus our thoughts and words a bit more. There’s also no wrong place to pray. For me, I often say my car is my prayer closet, because there are many times that’s the only alone space I get in a day and I can listen to some worship music, lift my prayers to God and meet with Him in that way on a regular basis. Some people use the Psalms to pray, since so many of those are just songs of prayer anyway. In those books, we can see that it’s OK to pour out any of our emotions to God because He understands; whether we are joyful, distraught or downright angry, God knows and cares and wants to hear from your heart. We can be fully honest and don’t need to sugar-coat anything with God. Some people use pre-written prayers and simply read them rather than trying to come up with their own words to say. Again, the point is there is no right or wrong way to have a conversation with God in prayer, no exact words to say or perfect tool to use or exact posture to be in or even specific place to be. The only important part is that you open your heart and mind to God, sharing with Him from where you are and then taking the quiet time to listen for His response. That’s the simple privilege of prayer.
For Further Study:
- Lectio 365 App: I use this regularly as a daily devotional and prayer guide. It uses the practice of lectio divina or reading or listening to Scripture prayerfully.
- The Book of Common Prayer: and old book full of powerful prayers used around the world.
- The Book of Psalms: as I mentioned above, these songs in the Bible are incredibly helpful to guide your prayer. Try choosing one and just reading it out loud as your prayer. You’ll see what I mean!
- The Lord’s Prayer: when in doubt, just use the prayer Jesus taught in Matthew 6, often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer, Jesus shows how to honor God, ask for God’s will to be done in our life, for God’s provision, His forgiveness and guidance.
Captain Jason Bigelow has served as a Corps Officer (pastor) in Marion, IN, and as a Divisional Youth & Candidates Secretary in Peoria, IL. He, along with his wife, Dana, and four children are currently on the move to serve as a Corps Officers in Oak Creek, WI. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Indiana Wesleyan University. Jason is passionate about redemption and seeing people restored to wholeness through the power of the Holy Spirit.