Monday, June 28, 2010

How to Pray - Part 5 - Spoken Prayer

Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary use words." I would say the same thing about prayer: Pray at all times; when necessary use words. Sometimes it is necessary to use words in prayer. Words feel clumsy and inadequate when I am before my God, but sometimes they are the best we've got.

The standard acronym to classify the types of verbal prayer is ACTS: Adoration - Confession - Thanksgiving - Supplication. Just like a balanced diet has the five different food groups, the balanced life of prayer includes these four different prayer groups.  If your prayer life does not regularly include all four types, you should probably examine why.

Adoration is praising God for who God is. Confession is repentance for sins committed and good deeds left undone. Thanksgiving is gratitude to God for what God has done for us. Supplication includes both petition - asking God to do certain things for us -- and intercession - asking God to do things for others.

Some people believe that all four elements should be present every time we pray. To me that feels like sitting down to four course dinner every time I want to eat. Sometimes I just want a bowl of cereal or a sandwich. It is important to exercise all four types of prayer regularly, but not necessarily all at the same time.

These are not the "four commandments of prayer." Prayer is more natural than that. It is as natural as breathing or eating. That is why I do not use prayer lists. When I talk to a friend I do not refer to notes; why should I use them with God? I understand why people use prayer lists, but they get in the way of my relationship with God.

I figure that Jesus was right when he said that God knows what we need before we ask. I don't need a script to make sure all the bases are covered. I pray for certain people every day - those closest to my heart. I pray for others occasionally, "as the Spirit moves me" - literally. 

Most of all I do not worry about the people I pray for. Worried prayer is a contradiction in terms. If you are worrying, you aren't praying  - and vice versa. Worry and doubt counteract the whole purpose of prayer. If you can't pray in faith, then why pray? "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Prayer is entrusting our concerns into the hands of God. Authentic prayer is natural, spontaneous, and heartfelt. Ultimately it is surrendering our will to the Father's will. As Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but Thine be done." That is why so-called "unanswered prayer" is not an issue for me. I am always praying for God's will to be done; how could that prayer not be answered?

In the end even verbal prayer breaks down into groans for me. My memory and my words fail me and my heart pours out the unutterable desires of my heart. "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." The Spirit intercedes for me according to the will of God. And I know the Spirit's prayers will be answered.
Art is "Jesus Praying" Sandy Brunson

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