Elements of Prayer: JOURNALLING

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Journaling is a great way to maintain focus during prayer. It also gives a record of our prayers, which can be looked back upon. Distraction is big issues when it comes to prayer. It’s so easy to let our minds wander and find ourselves making a mental “to do” list for the day or thinking about a whole range of things which have nothing to do with prayer. The discipline of sitting down with pen and paper, or keyboard and screen can help to focus our minds and avoid, or certainly minimize the distractions. When we become physically occupied, it can help us to focus.

A Journal is also a place where we can return to see how God has answered our prayers. When we have a record of what we have prayed it’s easy to see how God has answered, especially when we begin to realize that God does not always answer us in ways we would expect. A journal can become a valuable resource for times of thanksgiving and praise.

There is no right or wrong way to journal. We bring our own personality and style to any journal. For some people writing out a whole prayer works best for them. For others, they may write as if writing a letter to a close friend or relative. Writing out a passage of Scripture can be a great way to journal. As you write you are forced to slow down and think about the words, which in turn can draw one deeper into the scripture and deeper into prayer. Some people even find doodling or colouring a great way to pray and journal. As they colour or doodle around a name or a situation they spend time praying.

It’s good to try different styles of journaling to find what works the best for you. Some styles and ideas will work better than others. Some methods will just not fit our personality but eventually our own journal style will emerge. Christian poet Luci Shaw describes journaling as “the catching and holding of joyful, crucial, exciting, significant moments in life”.  It becomes “a record of your spiritual travelling, your personal edging towards God.”

Take some time to sit down, reflect, pray and journal with the Lord.

Elements of Prayer: SINGING

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Singing may not fit with a “hands together, eyes closed” style of praying. But song can be a very powerful element in our prayer lives.

Saint Augustine is quoted as saying “when one sings one prays twice.” It has been repeatedly shown that music and song connects with us on a deeper level, a fact I witnessed a few weeks ago when I was in a room of people dealing with various levels of dementia, but who all responded to a singalong video when it began to be played. We connect emotionally not just cognitively with God through singing.

The Old Testament Psalms, Israel’s prayer book, are filled with the directions to sing. Forty-one times in the book we are instructed to “sing praises.” Singing can become a powerful way to pray. It was as Paul and Silas prayed and sang that the earth shook and their prison doors were opened. Paul and Silas were released and the Philippian jailer came to faith in the Lord (Acts 16). King Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him” (2 Chronicles 20:21) and as they sang the Lord defeated the Ammonites and the Moabites. There is power in singing the praises of God.

Practically, singing in prayer can be as simple as singing a favourite hymn or worship song, either on your own or singing along to a CD or iPod. Or we can choose to sing a song which comes from our own heart. We don’t have to have perfect words or even a wonderful voice, for it is to God that we sing, and to our heavenly father there is no sweeter sound, than the sound of his child singing to him.

So, as the psalmist instructs us, let us…

“worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs” Psalm 100:2
and” let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Psalm 150:6

Elements of Prayer: INTERCESSION

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If petition involves praying for our own needs, then intercession involves praying for the needs of other people. This is true but at the same time the scope of intercession is far bigger than just the needs of other people. Evangelist Ed Silvoso defines an intercessor as “a person who stands before God, pleading for his will to be done on earth while actively resisting the devil in the heavenly places until he flees.”

In intercession, we stand in the gap. In Ezekiel 22 we see God looking for intercessors… “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one ” (Ezekiel 22:30). Sadly, no intercessors could be found. When it came to the city of Sodom, however, God did find someone to stand in the gap. Abraham stood before God and pleaded for Sodom, with the result that Lot and his children were saved. Moses was continually drawn into the place of intercession as he stood in the gap for the Nation of Israel. We see that he regularly was called into the gap to plead with God not to destroy the stiff-necked Israelites. God listened and responded to Moses and on more than one occasion the complete destruction of Israel was avoided.

God may call us to stand in the gap of intercession for a nation, but often it is for family members or for situations which are close to us. A sick aunt, or a cousin in a difficult life situation may become the focus for our intercessory prayers. The needs do not always have to be big. They can be quite simple. Whether the need is big or small, intercession becomes an expression and extension of our love. John Calvin expressed it this way…

“To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them” John Calvin.

In love, we step into the place of intercession, not just to pray for someone else but to engage in the battle with them. As we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in that prayer we can be confident that our prayers are in line with God’s will and we can have confidence that as we pray God’s Kingdom is advanced.
Who is God calling you to stand in the gap for?

Elements of Prayer: PETITION

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Petition is one of the easiest elements of prayer for us to grasp and understand as it is praying for our own needs. We naturally gravitate to petition because we know our needs and we are personally invested in seeing the answer to our prayers. It is not a struggle for us to come to the Lord with our petitions. On the contrary, the danger is that we can spend too much focus upon our needs.

But why do we need to ask an all-knowing God for what we need? Does He not already know what we need? Yes, He does but petition is for our benefit. It helps us to express and realize our dependency upon God. When we look at Jesus, we see that he was dependent upon His Father.  He had to come before the Father in petition and ask. If Jesus had to ask, then so do we! E. Stanley Jones put it this way…

“Asking is the symbol of our desire, some things God will not give until we want them enough to ask.”

We are encouraged to ask the Lord to provide for everything we need. But when we pray it is good to be specific. “God bless me!” is a vague prayer, but “Lord, give me wisdom as I talk to the store clerk today and give me an opening to invite him to the Christmas service.” is specific. It is a complete prayer and it is simple. With such a prayer, it is easy to see how God answers the prayer.

It’s important to be specific, complete and simple in our requests, but we must also be submitted to the Holy Spirit. Asking the Spirit to guide our prayers and to guide us to pray for what will bring glory to God is essential for effective petition. It shifts the focus off us and restores it to the Lord, which is where our focus continually needs to be.

So, let us come to the Lord with specific petitions for everything we have need of spiritually and physically and then watch and wait to see how He will answer.

Elements of Prayer: SILENCE

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Have you ever watched a married couple in a restaurant just sitting with each other, no one speaking, but both fully engaged with the other? Science shows that communication is more than words, just showing up is a huge part of communication. It’s simply a matter of being present with one another.

The psalmist encourages us to take time to be silent before God when he says “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  When we become still before God we let all the stuff which is swirling in our minds settle and we simply become present to God, like the couple in the restaurant.

“This silent worship is the soul’s fellowship with God in prayer – There is something in our lives, also in our fellowship, which can never be formulated in words, which can be the common experience, nevertheless, of two who share with each other everything that can be expressed in words.” Professor Ole Hallesby.

Waiting in silence, just being in God’s presence, is enriching and draws us deeper in our relationship with God. But while it sounds easy, it is challenging. We don’t live in a culture which experiences silence. Instead, our lives are full of noise, and in the busyness of life it is hard to get our minds quiet enough so that we can be still and know God. It takes time and discipline.

Practically it can be helpful to do the following. First, sit comfortably and relax. Secondly, focus your thoughts on God as Father, Son or Holy Spirit. When the mind wanders (and it will) a phrase like “I long for your presence, O Lord” helps return the focus to the Lord.

Waiting upon God requires our whole being and our full attention. It takes time, but its time spent with the Lord. So, take time today to be still and wait upon the Lord.

Legalistic Practice or Relationship Building

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Are spiritual disciplines, like daily prayer or scripture reading, harmful? Don’t they lead to a legalistic Christian walk?

Any spiritual discipline can become legalistic when the focus shifts from the purpose of the discipline to a focus on the discipline itself. The purpose of the disciplines is to build relationship with God. If we lose that focus then daily prayer can become just another thing to do in an already busy day.

In some ways, discipline has somewhat of a negative connotation to its meaning. But a helpful way to view these disciplines is to think about a professional athlete. They do not just get up one morning, head to the track and set an Olympic record. They have to spend a lot of time training and working out so that they can be in peak fitness. It takes time, practice and a lot of determination. It’s the time spent training that allows them to be their best on game day.

In a similar way, the time that we spend in daily prayer or reading scripture, builds us up. It’s like a spiritual workout which helps us to be spiritually fit and healthy. As we continue we grow in our relationship with our heavenly Father and our prayer times become richer.

When our focus shifts from focussing upon the Lord and our relationship with God, to making sure we complete the discipline then success is measured by how long we pray or how many chapters of the Bible we read. Our focus is no longer about relationship but about completing a task.

Developing a regular practice of prayer and Bible reading deepens our relationship with God and allows us to journey through the ups and downs of life with more confidence and comfort.

The key is to focus on the relationship not the practice.