Thursday, March 31, 2016

How to Pray in 4 Simple Steps

As a young girl, I didn't grow up learning childlike bedtime prayers, or how to talk to God. I wasn't raised in a Christian home. My decision to accept Jesus as my Savior came at about age 16, but I didn’t truly make him Lord of my life until another decade had passed. My desire to pray didn’t fully develop until I had children of my own. 

In 1999, soon after the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, I sat in my car outside my children’s school with tears pouring down my cheeks. I was listening to a radio broadcast that discussed the Moms In Prayer ministry (at that time called Moms In Touch). 

The woman on the radio asked, “If you’re not praying for your child, who is?” 

My heart was immediately convicted and I knew that I needed to become purposeful and deliberate in my prayer life. I made a few phone calls and joined a local prayer team through the ministry. 

In all honesty, I knew how to ask the Lord for things I wanted, but I didn’t know how to pray. What’s the difference? One method focused on a presentation of a wish list, while the other was about communing and building relationship with the God of the universe. 

I was immensely grateful for what I learned through Moms in Prayer. As we met together as moms, we followed a simple 4-step formula of prayer. Not because it was a legalistic ritual, but because it was simple, Scriptural, and easy to follow. By praying through the four steps, a group of moms could easily stay on track, begin and end our prayer on time (we prayed for one hour each week), and cover our children with fervent, timely, and meaningful prayer. 

Each prayer group had a leader. That leader was responsible for selecting Bible verses each week that provided the framework for our prayers. One Bible verse was selected to enhance to each of these four steps:

1) Praise

During this portion of our prayer, we offered praise to the Lord for His character.  Praise turns our focus to the Lord and turns it away from other distractions, large or small. The Bible teaches that the Lord inhabits the praise of His people (Psalm 22:3). Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name”. Our praise serves as a vehicle into the presence and power of God.

A very brief sampling of Scripture verses:  Psalm 28:1-4; Romans 11:33-36

2) Confession

Every day we fall short, in some way, of pleasing the Lord. Let me tell you, some days are much worse than others, but we know that as human beings, we will never fully hit the mark. When we confess our personal sins to the Lord, we agree with Him that what we have done isn't in accordance with His will. The action we confess might be as simple as a momentary, angry hatred toward someone (like the driver who just cut us off), or a blatant, inappropriate act.  

Mind you, we didn’t verbally confess our sins in our prayer group. There is a time and place to “confess your sins one to another” (James 5:16), but in our prayer circles, all of our confession was silent. Always, we asked the Lord to bring to our minds things that we had thought, done, or said that were not pleasing to Him. 

Simply explained, with confession behind us, our slates were clean, and we could enjoy uninhibited communion with a holy God. God’s holiness means that He physically cannot be in the presence of sin. We couldn’t enter His presence at all without the saving work of Jesus Christ. Confession expresses our desire to “be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16) and our reliance on Him to grow toward holiness. 

Sample verses:  Psalm 51:1-2; Psalm 51:9-10; 

3) Thanksgiving

This was the portion of prayer where we specifically thanked Him for answered prayer. 

With a brand new prayer life, I’d often forget what I’d prayed. Since I didn’t remember asking, I didn’t remember to say thank you and give Him the honor and glory when He answered.  This deliberate time of thanksgiving helped us acknowledge the gifts, grace, and mercy that our Lord provides. It also acknowledged God as the Giver of all good and perfect gifts (James 1:17). 

Sample verses: 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 95:2-3

4) Intercession

Finally, as a last step to our prayer time, we would ask the Lord for the needs, wants, and for the desires of our hearts.  This part came easily, especially as a group of moms who had long lists of concerns for their children.  

It seemed I knew how to ask for what I wanted even when I didn’t know who God was.  But when this became the least emphasized part of my prayer life, I truly learned what it meant to spend time with my heavenly Father. It didn’t seem so awkward to ask for what I needed when I’d already acknowledged Him as my Heavenly Father and prayed through the other three steps. 

Sample verses:  Joshua 1:9; Zechariah 2:5; 2 Corinthians 3:5

I stayed involved with Moms in Prayer for a number of years and enjoyed every minute. My prayer life has grown since those early gatherings, and to this day, I meet with a weekly prayer group. Not only does joining with others offer great accountability, it provides the blessing of interceding for one another.  Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20) Once I experienced that truth, I never looked back. 

These four steps of prayer are nearly always a part of my prayer life, but I’ve also learned the blessing of silent meditation on His Word and character, waiting on the Lord for direction and guidance on decisions (John 16:13), and reliance on the Holy Spirit. A deeper prayer life didn’t come immediately, but is worthy of the practice it took to achieve. 

I continue to grow in my prayer life and trust the Lord will always reveal His greater glory in the process.  Nearly every day, I appreciate the teaching I received in the beginning phases of my intercessory walk. It was a valuable, foundational starting point that I hope blesses you today.

Your Turn:

Where are you in your prayer journey? In the beginning stages or at a deeper, more established point in your walk?

What is the best advice on prayer you’ve ever received? How has it helped your prayer life?

Be Strengthened Today, by His Word,

Psalm 119:28

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