By Scott McDermott-
How is your prayer life? Really? I am not referring to how much you pray, or even how long you pray. For all too many of us that seems to be where our minds go when we are asked such a question. So, let me phrase it another way. Do you find your prayer life compelling? Are you drawn to it each day because of the life it brings to you? You see, God never intended our commitment to prayer to be driven by obligation. God intended our commitment to prayer to be driven by something deeper and something richer.
I spent a number of years praying from the place of obligation rather than that richer, more meaningful place. And yes, I was faithful to it. I seldom, if ever, missed my daily prayer time. I even prayed for a couple of hours each day. Now, that’s commitment! If anyone ever asked me if my devotional time was intact, I could answer with a resounding, “Yes!” There was just one thing wrong. My prayer wasn’t compelling and it wasn’t life-giving. But one day that began to change. How? Well that answer is found in the response Jesus gave his disciples when they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
While Jesus’ disciples were undoubtedly looking for a model prayer much like John the Baptist had provided his disciples,
Jesus provided so much more. Sometimes one word can make all the difference in a conversation and that is certainly the case here. From the very first word of his instruction, Jesus interjects an important thought that forever changes how we typically think of prayer. What is that word? “Father.” In other words, prayer is about relationship.
Recognizing that prayer was about relationship opened up a whole new world for me. When prayer is about relationship, then prayer is not just about what I say to God, it is also about what God says to me. Day after day I had gone to God with my list in hand carrying my heavy burdens, asking God to move on my behalf, but not once did I ever pause to listen for a response about my request. That one word made all the difference.
It’s been over 30 years since I made this significant change in my prayer time. Each day I go to my prayer time just as I had done so faithfully years before, but now I begin my time in prayer by focusing on his presence and not problems. As I enter God’s presence each day, I usually begin by saying: “God it’s me. I have just come to be with you.” And I pause. Some days the pause is longer than others, but it doesn’t matter. I am setting my heart on the pursuit of the face of God. Time after time God’s presence never fails to show up in the stillness. It was there that I learned an important lesson about prayer. If prayer is about relationship, then prayer is also about presence. From that place of presence, God began to speak to me gently and powerfully. My prayer life has been transformed. Prayer has become life giving. Prayer is never about how long you pray, it’s about touching God’s presence every day.
So what does that mean for how I pray? Well, over the years I have developed a simple guide to help me practice God’s presence when I pray. I call it, “Fill your Prayer with Praise.” Each letter of Praise stands for something I want to remember when I pray. Praise, Repent, Ask, Intercede, Silence, Expect. Some days I make it through all six categories. Other days I just make it through one. It doesn’t matter. I just allow God’s presence to guide me.
Praise: I usually have a journal in hand during my prayer time (for me it is now all electronic). As I begin my time of prayer, I start by recording three ways I have seen God’s hand at work in my life the day before. I look for the moments I have sensed his presence or experienced his encouragement. I will make note of how God has used me the day before or how I have seen his presence at work in others. I cannot tell you how much I have gained from this. It has proven to be quite an encouragement to have my own written log of God’s faithfulness. If there is one important lesson I have learned from this, it is that God is with me no matter what, and I have proven it. We all have those difficult seasons in our lives, an illness, heartbreak, a sorrow, an unexpected tragedy. But I discovered that even in my darkest days I found his presence at work.
Repent: Here, I ask God to examine my life and to speak to me about the things he wants to change within me. I sometimes pray: “Lord show me where my heart is today?” I pause and listen. Sometimes there are people I need to forgive. Other times God makes me aware of my need for forgiveness. Yes it is convicting, but it is also healing and refreshing. At other times God uses this time simply to speak into the areas of my life he still wants to change. Despite what God does in this time, forgiveness, rebuke, or instruction, I am frequently reminded of God’s holiness and my call to live a holy life before him.
Ask: At this point I spend time praying over my life. God taught me a prayer to pray that he never fails to answer: “God show me how to pray for myself today.” I received so much from that little prayer. When I ask that of my Father, I just pause and wait. I can hardly believe the things that come to my mind in response to that prayer.
Intercede: This is where I pray for others. Here I pray for family, friends, coworkers, and the church God has given me to pastor. I sometimes write down some ongoing concerns so I don’t forget them, but mostly I just ask God to guide me in my prayer. But I pray for others just as I pray for myself. “Lord, show me how to pray for my wife today.” “Lord, show me how to pray for family today.” “Lord show me how to pray over my church today.” Once again, God my Father helps me as I pray.
Silence: As you see, I have already filled much of my prayer time with listening anyway. But at this point, I allow stillness tobe my place of prayer. What happens there? Well that is just it. You never know. There are days when it is just soaking in God’s presence. There aren’t any great visions or revelations. Some days I can’t say I even hear God’s still small voice. But it is okay. I am just here “to be with God.” This moment has become one of my favorite moments in my daily prayer. It is as if everything within me, my successes and my failures, my joys and my sorrows must all pause and bow before the King of Kings. And yes there are times when God clearly speaks to me. When He does, I write down what I am discerning.
Expect: I close my prayer time expecting that God will respond. This becomes my launching out point for my day. How will God answer my prayers? Where will I encounter him?
Scott McDermott is the Lead Pastor at The Crossing in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. www.drscottmcdermott.com.