If you haven’t read my previous blog posts about my journey in discipline this year, I would recommend starting by reading my introductory blog here, as well as my January blog on the discipline of meditation here.
The Discipline of Prayer
If I had to guess, I would say that every single person reading this blog post has prayed at one point in their lives or another. In fact, many of us would probably say that we are very familiar with the discipline of prayer, and that we practice it regularly.
I certainly thought I was clear on the concept of prayer, so I didn’t think this month would be all that enlightening to me personally. Sure, I believed that there would be some new things I learned and I hoped that I would grow in the place of prayer of course, but now after reading the chapter on prayer and spending a month trying (and failing) to spend time focused on prayer, I realize that I know very little about how to actually pray. In some ways it’s very simple, as I’ve always believed it to be – it’s a conversation between a Father and his child. But there are so many facets to this discipline, and so many ways that I’ve been somehow over-complicating and under-emphasizing prayer in my life at the same time. So I’m excited to be able to share a little bit about what I learned this month with you, and I hope to hear about your experiences with prayer as well.
What is prayer, and how do we do it?
Richard Foster makes it clear in Celebration of Discipline that we should look at prayer through the lens of sonship and daughtership to God (p. 40). Prayer is simply a conversation between us, the children of God, and our Heavenly Father. Though I know this, and I could have said that to anybody that asked me about prayer before this month, I think that deep down I was approaching prayer from the perspective of a slave or employee of God, rather than his child, thinking that I had to say the exact right thing, in the right way, at the right time to get his attention.
But thankfully that’s not at all the reality. God is focused more on the condition of our hearts than the way that we present ourselves on the outside, as it says in 1 Samuel 16:7. His heart for us is that we would be fully submitted to him, that we would “think his thoughts after him” as Foster states (p. 37), so that we would know what to do in whatever situation we’re in to bring the reality of God’s Kingdom to this earth.
Of course I can say with full confidence that I’m not there yet, but that’s the beauty of being on a journey with God: there’s freedom to practice, to learn, and even to make mistakes. Our good and loving Father wants us to be the best versions of ourselves so that we can be salt and light in this world that desperately needs it, so why wouldn’t he allow us, and even encourage us, to practice this discipline of prayer even when we’re not “perfected” in it? That revelation, though incredibly simple, has been so sweet and freeing for me this month, and I’m praying that it is helpful for you as well.
What has this past month looked like?
My expectation going into this month of prayer was that I’d have a list of people to pray for and just try to be faithful to pray for them every day. But honestly I didn’t feel like that was where the Lord was leading me in this season. Instead I took a good amount of time just praying for grace, asking that my desires and thoughts would be aligned with his.
I also felt that he asked me to pray consistently and intentionally, in the morning and at night, for my future – for the city I would end up in, for the people I’d be around, and generally for what he wanted to use me for going forward. I don’t think I have any more direction necessarily, but what I do have is a renewed sense of hope for my life. I’ve been reminded that the God of the universe actually wants to use me of all people to bring others out of darkness and into the light. Grace upon grace.
The third way I’ve practiced this discipline of prayer has been more about listening than anything, which isn’t surprising seeing that Foster says “listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession” (p. 39). As I’ve been more consistent in praying during my personal time alone with God, I feel like I’ve simultaneously been more sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings as I go about my day. There has been a significant increase in me being reminded, seemingly out of nowhere, about people from my past, even those that I haven’t seen or talked to in years. In those moments I decided that the best thing I could do was pray for them. Coincidence or not, I believe that the Lord used these moments to stir my faith and to draw me nearer to him.
What will I take away from this month?
Now more than ever, I realize that I have a lot to learn about prayer. I want and need to take more time to study the subject – what did Jesus say about it, how did he model it for us, how do other people practice it successfully, etc.? I also need to simply make myself do it. I love that Foster said “I am so grateful I did not wait until I was perfect or had everything straight before praying for others, otherwise I would never have begun” (p. 38). There will always be more to learn, but the time to pray is now!
Practically speaking, I want to put more time into practicing some of the types of intercessory prayer that Foster suggested. One of those is what he termed “flash prayers” which is praying for the people that you come into contact with each and every day (p. 44). These are simple but powerful prayers, inspired by the Holy Spirit. I have done this sporadically before, and if anything it has helped me be more aware of what God wants to do in the lives of those around me, though I believe that he can and does use it for more than just my personal benefit.
Another practical thing that I want to do more regularly is pray for and bless the children in my life (p. 44). I have the privilege of taking care of a group of children at my church on Sunday evenings, and often in the midst of trying to make sure everybody is taken care of, I forget that I have such an incredible opportunity to minister to these kids – our next generation. I want to be more intentional about taking time to call out the gold in each one of them, affirm them in who God has made them to be, and generally just tell them how incredible they are! A small amount of affirmation can go such a long way in anybody’s heart, especially that of a child.
What’s next on the journey?
I am so looking forward to this next month. It will be all about fasting! Check back in at the end of March if you want to hear about my month focusing on fasting, and let me know how you incorporate fasting into your life.
And as always, I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences with prayer. I have barely scratched the surface on the subject in this blog, so we can continue the conversation in the comment section below.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this update blog, and I hope you have a wonderful March!