“Teach us to pray.”
The disciples made this simple, but profound, request of Jesus as they observed him praying. There was something in his way of praying that stirred them to want more for themselves. Their desire prompted him to teach his disciples what we now call The Lord’s Prayer.
As believers, we have all learned to pray this familiar prayer both personally and in corporate gatherings. Reflecting on this prayer in recent months has encouraged my soul and brought me into a closer relationship with the Father as I experience his presence in deeper ways. Since Covid I have personally been challenged in my own prayer life and have a greater desire to help others grow in this practice.
The challenges of that season, and the subsequent changes in our culture, have made me realize how critical it is to be in constant communion with the Father.
As followers of Jesus, we know we should pray. And as leaders in ministry, we know we want our people to not only pray but to also experience depth in prayer.
How can we help ourselves and the individuals in our churches grow in their prayer rhythms?
How do we teach the people in our congregations to pray?
Teaching people to pray needs to include different prayer rhythms that expand their understanding and practices of prayer. Foundational to teaching people to pray is to help them see that prayer is conversation with God. Dallas Willard states that prayer is, “conversation with God about mutual concerns.” As we talk about and model different ways to pray, we will help people grow in the way that they pray.
Let’s consider these three different facets of understanding prayer as conversation.
TALKING AT GOD.
The Lord’s Prayer was a prayer Jesus’ followers could repeat and provided a pattern to pray. Praying scripture is one way to talk to God in prayer. Another example is the childlike ways we come to God and ask for things that matter to us. Prayer lists and simple asks are included in these kinds of prayers. Prayers like this are more like a monologue, or a one-way street in prayer.
TALKING TO GOD.
This type of prayer includes additional dimensions of prayer like focusing on gratitude for what God has done, entering into petition or intercession, and even focusing on prayers of lament. This type of prayer creates a deeper posture of humility and surrender, but is still more of a monologue.
LISTENING TO GOD.
Listening prayer is creating a posture of listening to the Spirit. It’s a way of experiencing prayer as a dialogue instead of a monologue. Listening prayer encourages our hearts and provides ways for God to speak into our souls. Listening prayer is rooted in biblical passages, like 1 Samuel 3:9-10, where Samuel responds to God’s call by saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” and also in John 10:27-28, where Jesus states, that his sheep hear his voice.
As leaders, we have the responsibility and privilege of inviting people into a deeper life of prayer that doesn’t feel burdensome and helps them experience the presence and power of God.
What are some ways that we can help people create daily prayer rhythms? Here are some examples that can be used in different environments:
- Model different prayer rhythms in our worship services like praying scripture passages, providing times of silence to hear God’s voice, focusing on prayers of lament, and leading times of intercession.
- Provide ideas for small group leaders to create opportunities for various ways to pray during their gatherings. Examples include praying a Psalm or reflecting on another passage of scripture, spending time in intercession for others, or asking members in a small group to hold each other accountable for creating daily personal prayer rhythms.
- Teach about prayer in adult classes to expand people’s practices of prayer. Include practices like guiding people through writing a prayer of lament, encouraging individuals to start the day with times of silence and listening, ending the day with a prayer of examine to review the day, and reflecting on scripture as a way of listening to the Spirit.
Keeping prayer at the forefront in our congregants lives is a critical part of our role as leaders. Helping people approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4) needs to be a priority of our ministries.
I recently heard a retired pastor comment that early in his ministry he would have said that spending time in the Word was the most important habit a believer could cultivate. He now says that prayer is the most critical habit a Christ-follower can practice.
As we continue to lead in our various ministries, may we model a personal vibrant prayer life that helps others create daily rhythms of prayer that open them up to God’s presence, power and peace in more profound ways.