I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray. May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I! Amen.
– Martin Luther
A GUIDE TO EFFECTIVE PRAYER
The future of your life here on this earth as a follower of Jesus, of Hephzibah Baptist Church, and of the progress of the gospel in this community is tied to an effective prayer life. We have neglected this gift from God and this duty for far too long. That’s why I am asking everyone involved at HBC to commit to one hour of prayer each week. This seems like quite an undertaking at first, but I trust that you will begin to see it as some of the most important time you spend each week. It will be time that greatly impacts your life, your family, this church, and this community.
As we undertake the discipline of regular and devoted prayer, some instructions are needed. Martin Luther penned his instructions in the form of a little book, A Simple Way to Pray, written for his barber, Peter, in 1535. My own prayer life and my instructions for your prayer life have been greatly shaped by Luther’s little book, and some of what follows can be found in there. Review the advice and methods I have outlined and use them as much as they help you. What matters is that we each have a private prayer time that is disciplined, focused, and leads us into deep communion with the Father. May God pour out His Spirit upon you and upon this church as we pray.
Dr. C. Michael Wren, Jr.
First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room, or if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where my congregation is assembled, and, as time permits, I say quietly to myself word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.
– Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray
Prepare Your Heart for Prayer
In one sense prayer requires no preparation. Prayer is talking to God. Though occasionally we prepare our thoughts before we begin a conversation, most of the time we simply share what is on our minds. And in many cases prayer is conducted the same way. When a burden or a request is brought to mind by something that happens to you during your day, you can immediately raise your voice to the Lord. As the Apostle Paul says, we are to “pray constantly,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). However, the Bible teaches that this kind of in-the-moment prayer is not the only avenue for communion with God. As men and women created in the image of God, we need times of deep searching, communion, and intercession. Take for instance David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the way everlasting.” This is not the kind of project you take on while you are waiting at the stop light! Or think also about the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)–five separate petitions, five different subjects for one time of prayer. This kind of praying takes a little time. In spite of the busyness of our lives, or perhaps explicitly because of it, we need to set aside time on a regular basis for disciplined and devoted prayer.
In order to make the most of our time of prayer, we often need to prepare. Martin Luther said it well: the world, the flesh, and the devil have a way of chipping away at our soul, distracting us from the joy of Christ and from the urgent needs of the Kingdom of God. So use the truth of God’s Word as a tool to prepare your soul for prayer. Read a passage of Scripture every day and reflect on it as you pray. Martin Luther even used the Apostle’s Creed, a short statement of faith from the early days of the church, because it contains the basic truths of the gospel story within it. Time in the Word of God and with the truth of God will remind you of God’s promises and anchor your soul where it needs to be. If you spend the majority of your free time consuming media and hustling from one stop to another, you will not feel prepared to spend time searching the heart of God and interceding to Him. Prepare your soul first by reflecting on the Word.
Keep Prayer Fresh
People often complain that they don’t know how to pray, that they run out of things to say, or that their minds tend to wander during prayer. When these things happen, we find ourselves repeating the same phrases over and over. It feels like our prayers are not effective. They certainly don’t end up helping us ignite our passion for God. This is a struggle that every believer has. If this is you, you aren’t alone.
But your prayer life should not always be guided by your own thoughts. The Word of God is an inexhaustible resource to guide our prayer life, giving us direction as we voice our hearts to the Lord and intercede for our families, our church, and our world. As you engage in regular, disciplined prayer, use these tools from Scripture to guide your thoughts and connect your heart to the heart of God.
The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13, is a model prayer given by our Lord Jesus as an example of how to pray. As you pray, you can address each of the following five subjects during your prayer time:
- Acknowledge God’s Authority (“Hallowed be your name,” verse 9): Praise God for His greatness, sovereignty, and character (holiness, faithfulness, love, etc.) as you have encountered them through Scripture’s testimony and in your own experience.
- Submit to God’s Plan (“Your kingdom come, your will be done,” verse 10): Pray for God’s will to be done in your life, your family, and our church. And pray for the advance of the gospel in this community and around the world.
- Seek God’s Blessing (“Give us this day our daily bread,” verse 11): Pray for the needs and challenges you face today.
- Ask Forgiveness (“Forgive us our debts,” verse 12): Repentance is an essential part of walking with the Lord.
- Petition for Protection (“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” verse 13): Pray for God’s power to prevail over sin in your life and for His protection from the destructive power of evil that is at work in this world.
As Martin Luther testified, the Psalms can be a powerful tool for prayer as well. Read through a psalm, reflect on each verse, or even each word, and allow your thoughts to guide your prayer life. Consider this brief example from Psalm 73:1–not one of the more well known verses in the Psalms. Read the first verse of that Psalm and consider how you might pray in response to that verse:
God is indeed good to Israel to the pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.
Verse 1a: “Truly God is good to Israel. . . .”
Prayer: “Oh, God, you are good to me. You have given me so many blessings. . . .”
Verse 1b: “. . . to those who are pure in heart.”
Prayer: “Lord, my motives are not always pure. Purify me! Search me! Cleanse me! Your grace covers my sin. Praise you, Lord Jesus!”
Verse 2: “But as for me my feet almost slipped. . . .”
Prayer: “Lord, I praise you that you rescued me from my own mistakes so many times. . . . Please save me from slipping today. Guide my spouse, my children, my friends as they walk with you. . . .”
You can continue this line of prayer through the psalm for as long as you feel led to do so, allowing the words of the psalmist to stimulate your reflection and prayer. And your choice of psalms does not have to be random, either. You can use the ribbon in your Bible to mark which Psalm you intend to use each day, if you intend to follow this method of prayer for some length of time. Or, you can use a formula to determine which Psalm to use. Consider this: there are 150 Psalms and, generally speaking, 30 days in a month, dividing the book of Psalms into 5 thirty day segments. In the first month of our prayer emphasis, use the first 30 Psalms. If you choose to use this method of prayer on October 4, you will use Psalm 4. If you come back to this method on the seventh, you will use Psalm 7. On the fourth of the following month, you would use Psalm 34. The month after that it would be Psalm 64, and so forth. The book of Psalms is massive. This method of prayer and reflection will not get old.
Praying Through Scripture
But if you still want fresh material to use in prayer, follow Martin Luther’s advice and find a section in one of the gospels or one of the New Testament letters. Read a paragraph or section and ask yourself: what is this paragraph teaching about God and His promises? Praise God for His character and work. Then ask this: what does this passage teach about humanity and my responsibility? Pray prayers of repentance, petition (request), and commitment. You can really use any passage of Scripture as you pray if you spend time thinking about its significance and its teaching about the character and the things He has done.
Use This Simple Guide
What I have given already should provide you with plenty of guidance as you develop a deeper prayer life and prepare to engage with the Lord for an hour each week. However, at times you may prefer to follow this simple list as you begin your time of prayer.
Ask God to . . .
- Give you a deeper desire to know Him and walk with Him.
- Help you put your relationship with Him before everything else.
- Give you a renewed sense of joy in Christ.
- Reassure you of the forgiveness found in Christ.
SEARCH HIS WORD
Ask God to . . .
- Give you a new hunger for His Word.
- Reveal the truth and beauty of His Word as you read.
- Help you apply the truths of the Bible to your life.
- Show you your sin and areas of your life that need to change.
- Teach you more about His love and the good news of Jesus.
SEARCH OUR RELATIONSHIPS
Ask God to . . .
- Show you if you have any relationships in your life that need to be repaired.
- Help both parties to forgive and mend the relationship.
- Bring forgiveness and harmony to other broken relationships in your family and in the congregation.
Ask God to . . .
- Forgive you of the sins He has revealed.
- Give you the strength to overcome sin and temptation.
- Grant you the desire to glorify Him with all of your actions.
Ask God to . . .
- Pour out the Holy Spirit on the people of HBC.
- Burden the church with a deeper sense of commitment to holiness and discipleship.
- Grant the pastor, ministerial staff, deacons, and other leaders spiritual wisdom and godly priorities as they make Christ known in Hephzibah.
- Ignite the church with a passion to share the message of Christ.
SEEK STRONG FAMILIES
Ask God to . . .
- Help spouses to put one another’s needs ahead of their own.
- Grant spouses the grace to resolve conflicts in a godly manner.
- Inspire parents to be spiritual leaders in the home.
- Give the church wisdom as it seeks to meet families’ needs.
INTERCEDE FOR THE LOST
Ask God to . . .
- Help you understand and appreciate the plight of the lost who do not know Jesus.
- Burden you with a desire to see lost friends and family come to Christ.
- Motivate you to share the message of Christ with those who need to hear.
- Bring to your mind individuals who need to hear the message of Christ this week.
INTERCEDE FOR THE COMMUNITY
Ask God to . . .
- Bring peace and preserve order in this community.
Grant wisdom to the leaders of our community, county, state, and nation.
- Bring to repentance those leaders who need a saving relationship with Christ.
INTERCEDE FOR THE WORLD
Ask God to . . .
- Work powerfully through missionaries here in the United States and around the world as they labor for Christ.
- Protect missionaries and their families and give them continued resolve to finish the race.
Grant courage and an expanded witness to the church in countries where persecution is intense.
In addition to the guide above, several helpful prayer lists are available to help you intercede:
- NAMB Prayer Connect: The Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board maintains a regularly updated webpage containing weekly prayer needs. https://www.namb.net/prayer/prayerconnect
- IMB Pray: The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board likewise maintains a webpage devoted to the prayer needs of missionaries and people groups all over the world. https://www.imb.org/pray/
- The Voice of the Martyrs: VOM, an evangelical organization committing to aiding persecuted Christians worldwide, maintains a regularly updated list of prayer needs among persecuted Christians all over the world. https://www.icommittopray.com/
- The HBC Prayer List: Published every Wednesday and distributed at the Wednesday night meal, this list is updated every week and contains requests concerning, church members, family and friends, people in the community, and ministry needs around the world.