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A Course on Christian Prayer

Some Scriptures Relevant to Prayer

The word "prayer" appears in various forms 375 times in the NIV Bible.

Genesis 2:7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Isaiah 30:15-16 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

Isaiah 26:3-4 You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.

Daniel 9:2-3 In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

Matthew 6:5-8 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Luke 6:12-13 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

James 5:13-16 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.



HITTING THE TARGET
Deepening Prayer
to Deepen Christian Living

Prayer is the root
of effective Christian living.



“Nine Marks of
Spiritually-Mature People”

(Based on polling
done by George Gallup and Timothy Jones
in The Saints Among Us,)


THE SAINTS

according to George Gallup and Timothy Jones
are 9% of the American population;
tend to be "Southern, non-white, and female;"
and possess a profound, constructive FAITH.

They tend to possess nine characteristics in common:
three marks relate to their vertical relationship, with God;
two marks concern their relationship with themselves;
and four marks concern their relationships with others.


Vertical marks:

1. They are consistent in PRAYER.

2. They have an ongoing sense of God's PRESENCE.

3. They've experienced God's POWER.


Personal marks:

4. Their HAPPINESS is above average.

5. They have a balanced SELF-REGARD.


Horizontal marks:

6. They spend time VOLUNTEERING.

7. They have a notable LACK OF PREJUDICE.

8. They work hard at FORGIVENESS.

9. They apply their faith to constructive POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT.

Are you among
THE "SAINTS?"


To take a Spiritual Assessment based on The Saints Among Us, click here.



INSIGHTS

The most important indicator in our study was POWER. Those who’ve experienced the power of God in life scored significantly higher across the board than those who haven’t.

God’s power, of course, can’t be manipulated. It moves when it moves. Fortunately, there was also a strong correlation between being aware of the PRESENCE of God and having experienced divine POWER.

Through the millennia, there have been many long-tested ways of cultivating a sense of God’s PRESENCE. Modern seekers can easily adopt techniques such as Centering Prayer, for instance, or the "Jesus Prayer" 1.

In terms of PRAYER, many operate with a limited definition of what it is. If PRAYER is merely “talking to God,” we may not consider ourselves to have a solid prayer life. But if prayer includes such activities as Worship, Bible and devotional reading, listening to godly music, or conscious service, we might find our prayer lives are richer than we realized. The Christian monastic tradition would surely agree that such activities constitute prayer.

In fact, my favorite definition of PRAYER is "any activity that makes us aware of the PRESENCE of God."

We also tend to discount our VOLUNTEERING. For instance, anyone attending a Bible study or Worship service who doesn’t get paid for it is volunteering time and talent.

A low score in HAPPINESS usually indicates personal or economic struggles. Pastors, ministers, and caring friends do well to pay attention to such, perhaps before even addressing more “spiritual” concerns.

The LACK OF PREJUDICE indicator is best addressed through intentional, ongoing, inter-racial interactions.

FORGIVENESS needs to be seen as a process, a discipline, rather than something that is “one and done.”

POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT is far deeper than simply wearing one’s faith label as a partisan identity. It requires reflecting from a specifically Biblical and gospel-driven perspective on the old question, “What would Jesus do?” Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), for instance, or Matthew 25, then take those words into the voting booth and public life with you.

The entire point is to grow in allowing God’s Word and purpose to deepen us in this life, as a blessing to this difficult world we share, and in expectation of the life to come.

The link between the Power, Presence, and Prayer indicators offers us a path forward. Regular, habitual prayer is something we can actually do!

Consider these things as part of a broader understanding of prayer. Prayer is talking to God, of course. But prayer is also more than just talking. Prayer is also:

Worship.

Bible Reading.

Intercession.

Reflection.

Contemplation.

Contemplation is alien to most of us, at least by that name. Contemplation is nothing more or less than "hanging out" with the God of scripture, sometimes in complete silence.

Here is my definition: prayer is any activity that makes us aware of the presence of God.

Prayer awakens us to His presence among us.

Prayer opens us to His power, when He moves in our world.

Prayer turns what to others may be just ordinary life into a life lived in His presence.



Practical tips


1. Remember the link between breath and prayer. (Genesis 2:7) Repeat a verse or phrase of scripture for a specified number of breaths, to center yourself. When your mind wanders, bring it back.

2. Memorize certain prayers (the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm) to repeat when you’re stressed.

3. Set an appointment to pray every day, then keep the appointment.

4. Find ways to integrate prayer into your “ordinary” activities.


The cumulative effect is a deepening sense of God’s presence, through prayer. We can’t command the lightning of God’s power to strike. We can put up a lightning rod, though. Cultivating a sense of His presence is like putting up a lightning rod.



A Pattern for Prayer

Reflect on a passage from scripture. Let its meaning lead you into God's presence.

Praise God's greatness.

Ask God's forgiveness for your sins and offer your forgiveness to others for theirs. God has promised to forgive you as you forgive others.

Lift Up the needs of others. Be specific. Name names. Pray for the sick, the lost, your family, church, friends, and for the world.

Share your own concerns, holding nothing back. Clear your mind and heart. Ask for what you need. Be honest.

Give Thanks, whatever the situation may be. In Christ there is always light.



A Way of Meditative Prayer

1. Sit comfortably and breathe slowly and evenly, paying attention to each breath as it comes and goes.
(See Genesis 2:7)

2. With each breath, repeat the phrase: The Lord is my shepherd. When you find your mind wandering, gently bring your focus back to the breathing and prayer.

3. Set a timer and do this for five to ten minutes during the day, to center your soul on the God of scripture.



A. C. T. S.

Adoration: praise and worship God.

Confession: laying your sins out before God, and asking His forgiveness.

Thanksgiving: thanking God for His blessings and protection.

Supplication: bringing our needs, hopes, and fears before God, for His guidance and fulfillment.



A Pattern for Intercessory Prayer

Begin with a few moments of centering in God's presence.

Say "Lord, I lift up ___________ ___________ (insert name or names of those you're praying for) before You."

"I pray You will fill them from head to toe.

"I pray for all who are in their lives...

"And for all whom their lives touch, in avery aspect of life."

(Repeat this formula using the names of all who need it. This prayer let's us "break through" and pray for many, while lifting up specifically a few.)


Lectio Divina

(Reading Scripture as Prayer)

by Norman Stolpe

Recognizable forms of this ancient way of praying the Scripture go back to St. Benedict in the 6th century. The roots can be found in the 4th century Desert Fathers and mothers and trace back to the calls to meditate on the Word and glory of God in the New Testament and Hebrew Scripture. Lectio Divina is not a Bible study method, prayer formula or pietistic duty. Rather Lectio Divina integrates the Bible and prayer for the shaping of interior life and sharpening acuity for recognizing God’s personal presence.

The Desert Father Abba Poeman (“The Shepherd”) speaks of repeated exposure to Scripture shaping the heart to match the heart of Jesus just as water dripping on a stone will smooth and shape the stone. Nineteenth century Russian mystic Theophan the Recluse wrote that praying with Scripture is to stand in the presence of God with the mind in the heart and to gaze unswervingly at God throughout life. In our generation, Henri Nouwen compared meditating on Scripture to a cow chewing its cud, extracting all of the nutrition from which the whole being of the cow is formed.

Lectio Divina starts with the intention of total saturation with God. Without that, it can be reduced to a rigid technique. The four steps may be followed in order, and for many people that is the way to begin to learn to read and pray in this way. However, as the method of Lectio Divina fades into a way of life, the four steps blur and flow into each other. As the praying reader engages God through Scripture, every reading from private study to public rendition becomes an opportunity to attend to and converse with God.

A variety of creative questions and promptings have been used with Lectio Divina to go with specific passages, settings, groups and individuals. By becoming familiar with the classic four step rhythm individual praying readers, spiritual directors and group leaders can modify the process to best approach the intention of intimacy with God. The basic process is to read a Scripture passage, usually four times, with a particular focus each time. After each reading take time to reflect on that particular focus in a relaxed leisurely fashion before going on to the next step. The four classic steps are lectio (read), meditatio (meditate), oratio (pray), contemplatio (contemplate).

The Latin terms come from Benedictine origins in Italy and are included here because they are so commonly used, not to make Lectio Divina seem exotic. It is actually quite simple. Select a Bible passage. It should be brief with a single focus. It may be suggested by the Sunday lectionary of readings for worship. It may come from a personal journey though a particular book of the Bible through which one is reading. It may be chosen for a specific season or occasion. A story in a Gospel. A Psalm. A paragraph in an Epistle. An event in Hebrew history. Many variations are possible for each step or moment in the process, so do not be concerned about being correct or matching the way someone else does Lectio Divina.

lectio (read)
Read the passage carefully and slowly. Pay attention to details and flow. What is happening here? What cultural and historical information is important to understand this passage? Why is it included in the Bible in this book of the Bible? What words and ideas stand out? What lesson is to be learned or instruction followed?

meditatio (meditate)
Read the passage again and put yourself into the story or message. Imagine you are the first reader or the writer or that you are a participant in the events described. Imagine yourself as each person involved. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel? What sensations are you aware of? What emotions and reactions do you have? What similar experiences have you had? To what does this connect for you today?

oratio (pray)
Read the passage once more. What would you want to discuss with God from this passage? For whom does this passage prompt you to pray? Into what situations and needs does this passage prompt you to purposely bring God? What does this passage prompt you to express to God? What is God saying to you from this passage? Confession and praise, doubt and questions, faith and insight – whatever comes into your conversation with God is prayer. Remember that in a conversation you listen as well as speak.

contemplatio (contemplate)
Read the passage yet again. In what way is your attention drawn to God? Focus there. With a silent voice and a silent mind wait with the intention of being alert to recognize the presence of God. This is not analytical but experiential. If you mind wanders, go back to the passage and your intention to watch for God. Don’t waste energy on criticizing yourself for distractions. When you realize they have come just let them go and gently return your focus to God. This moment is the wordless intimacy of lovers. Bask in each others’ presence and love.



Endnotes

1


 The Jesus Prayer is:

"Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Savior of the World,
have mercy on me, a sinner."

For a more recent translation, see
www.JohnCunyus.com/chaoschange.html





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