Category  |  Spiritual Growth

The Right Way to Pray

I admire people who record prayer requests in journals tattered from daily handling, those who keep track of every prayer and praise and then faithfully update their lists. I’m inspired by those who gather with others to pray and whose kneeling wears out the carpet at their bedsides. For years, I tried to copy their styles, to simulate a perfect prayer life, and to imitate the eloquence of the so-much-more-articulate-than-me folks. I strived to unravel what I thought was a mystery, as I longed to learn the right way to pray.

Eventually, I learned that our Lord simply desires prayer that begins and ends with humility (Matthew 6:5). He invites us into an intimate exchange through which He promises to listen (v. 6). He never requires fancy or memorized words or phrases (v. 7). He assures us that prayer is a gift, an opportunity to honor His majesty (vv. 9–10), to display our confidence in His provision (v. 11), and to affirm our security in His forgiveness and guidance (vv. 12–13).

God assures us He hears and cares about every single spoken and unspoken prayer, as well as the prayers that slip down our cheeks as silent tears. As we place our trust in God and His perfect love for us, we can be sure praying with a humble heart that’s surrendered to and dependent on Him is always the right way to pray.

Being Real with God

I bow my head, close my eyes, lace my fingers together and begin to pray. “Dear Lord, I’m coming to you today as your child. I recognize your power and goodness. . .” Suddenly, my eyes snap open. I remember that my son hasn’t finished his history project, which is due the next day. I recall that he has an after-school basketball game, and I imagine him awake until midnight finishing his schoolwork. This leads me to worry that his fatigue will put him at risk for the flu!

C.S. Lewis wrote about distractions during prayer in his book The Screwtape Letters. He noted that when our minds wander, we tend to use willpower to steer ourselves back to our original prayer. Lewis concluded, though, that it was better to accept “the distraction as [our] present problem and [lay] that before [God] and make it the main theme of [our] prayers.”

A persistent worry or even a sinful thought that disrupts a prayer may become the centerpiece of our discussion with God. God wants us to be real as we talk with Him and open up about our deepest concerns, fears, and struggles. He is not surprised by anything we mention. His interest in us is like the attention we would receive from a close friend. That’s why we are encouraged to give all of our worries and cares to God—because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

The House on the Rock

After living in their house for several years, my friends realized that their living room was sinking—cracks appeared on the walls and a window would no longer open. They learned that this room had been added without a foundation. Rectifying the shoddy workmanship would mean months of work as builders laid a new foundation.

They had the work done, and when I visited them afterwards, I couldn’t see much difference (although the cracks were gone and now the window opened). But I understood that a solid foundation matters.

This is true in our lives as well.

Jesus shared a parable about wise and foolish builders to illustrate the folly of not listening to Him (Luke 6:46–49). Those who hear and obey His words are like the person who builds a house on a firm foundation, unlike those who hear but ignore His words. Jesus assured His listeners that when the storms come, their house would stand. Their faith would not be shaken.

We can find peace knowing that as we listen to and obey Jesus, He forms a strong foundation for our lives. We can strengthen our love for Him through reading the Bible, praying, and learning from other Christians. Then when we face the torrents of rain lashing against us—whether betrayal, pain, or disappointment—we can trust that our foundation is solid. Our Savior will provide the support we need.

Serve Continually

When educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, researching how to develop talent in young people, examined the childhoods of 120 elite performers—athletes, artists, scholars—he found that all of them had one thing in common: they had practiced intensively for long periods of time.

Bloom’s research suggests that growing in any area of our lives requires discipline. In our walk with God, too, cultivating the spiritual discipline of regularly spending time with Him is one way we can grow in our trust in Him.

Daniel is a good example of someone who prioritized a disciplined walk with God. As a young person, Daniel started making careful and wise decisions (1:8). He also was committed to praying regularly, “giving thanks to God” (6:10). His frequent seeking of God resulted in a life in which his faith was easily recognized by those around him. In fact, King Darius described Daniel as “servant of the living God” and twice described him as a person who served God “continually” (Daniel 6:16, 20).

Like Daniel, we desperately need God. How good to know that God works in us so we long to spend time with Him! (Philippians 2:13). So let us come every day before God, trusting that our time with Him will result in a love that will overflow more and more, and a growing knowledge and understanding of our Savior (1:9–11).

Unfrozen

At a roundtable discussion about reconciliation, one participant wisely said, “Don’t freeze people in time.” He observed how we tend to remember mistakes people make and never grant them the opportunity to change.

There are so many moments in Peter’s life when God could have “frozen” him in time. But He never did. Peter—the impulsive disciple—“corrected” Jesus, earning a sharp rebuke from the Lord (Matthew 16:21–23). He famously denied Christ (John 18:15–27), only to be restored later (John 21:15–19). And he once contributed to racial divisions within the church.

The issue arose when Peter (also called Cephas) had separated himself from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11–12). Only recently he associated freely with them. But some Jews arrived who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, so Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentiles. This marked a dangerous return to the law of Moses. Paul called Peter’s behavior “hypocrisy” (v. 13).

Because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the issue was resolved. Peter went on to serve God in the beautiful spirit of unity He intends for us.

No one needs to remain frozen in their worst moments. In God’s grace we can embrace each other, learn from each other, confront each other when it’s necessary, and grow together in His love.

An Enduring Happiness

Often we hear that happiness comes from doing things our own way. That, however, is not true. That philosophy leads only to emptiness, anxiety, and heartache.

Poet W. H. Auden observed people as they attempted to find an escape in pleasures. He wrote of such people: "Lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good."

The psalmist David sings of the remedy for our fears and unhappiness. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4). Happiness is doing things God’s way, a fact that can be verified every day. “Those who look to him are radiant,” writes David (v. 5). Just try it and you’ll see. That's what he means when he says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good” (v. 8).

We say, "Seeing is believing." That's how we know things in this world. Show me proof and I'll believe it. God puts it the other way around. Believing is seeing. "Taste and then you will see."

Take the Lord at His word. Do the very next thing He is asking you to do and you will see. He will give you grace to do the right thing and more: He will give you Himself—the only source of goodness—and with it, enduring happiness.

God’s Care for Us

My young grandsons enjoy dressing themselves. Sometimes they pull their shirts on backwards and often the younger one puts his shoes on the wrong feet. I usually don’t have the heart to tell them; besides, I find their innocence endearing.

I love seeing the world through their eyes. To them, everything is an adventure, whether walking the length of a fallen tree, spying a turtle sunning itself on a log, or excitedly watching a fire truck roar by. But I know that even my little grandsons are not truly innocent. They can make up a dozen excuses about why they can’t stay in their beds at night and are quick to yank a wanted toy from the other. Yet I love them dearly.

I picture Adam and Eve, God’s first people, as being in some ways like my grandchildren. Everything they saw in the garden must have been a marvel as they walked with God. But one day they willfully disobeyed. They ate of the one tree they were forbidden to eat (Genesis 2:15–17; 3:6). And that disobedience immediately led to lies and blame shifting (3:8–13).

Yet still, God loved and cared for them. He sacrificed animals in order to clothe them (v. 21)—and later He provided a way of salvation for all sinners through the sacrifice of His Son (John 3:16). He loves us that much! 

A Prayer to Point Us Home

One of the first prayers I learned as a little boy was “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” It was a prayer I learned from my parents, and I taught it to my son and daughter when they were little. As a child, I found great comfort in placing myself in God’s hands with those words before I fell asleep.

There’s a similar prayer neatly tucked away in the “prayer book” of the Bible, the Psalms. Some biblical scholars suggest that the phrase, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5), was a “bedtime” prayer taught to children in Jesus’s day.

You may recognize that prayer as Jesus’s final cry from the cross. But Jesus added one more word to it: “Father” (Luke 23:46). By praying that word in the moments before His death, Jesus demonstrated His intimate relationship with the Father and pointed believers toward their home with Him (John 14:3).

 Jesus died on the cross so we could live in the wonder of a relationship with God as our heavenly Father. How comforting it is to know that because of Jesus’s sacrificial love for us, we can rest in God’s care as His children! We can close our eyes without fear, because our Father watches over us, and has promised to wake us up to life with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

In Progress or Completed?

It’s satisfying to finish a job. Each month, for instance, one of my job responsibilities gets moved from one category to another, from “In Progress” to “Completed.” I love clicking that “Completed” button. But last month when I clicked it, I thought, If only I could overcome rough spots in my faith so easily! It can seem like the Christian life is always in progress, never completed.

Then I remembered Hebrews 10:14. It describes how Christ's sacrifice redeems us totally. So in one important sense, that “completed button” has been pressed for us. Jesus’ death did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves: making us acceptable in God’s eyes when we place our faith in Him. It is finished, as Jesus Himself said (John 19:30). Paradoxically, even though His sacrifice is complete and total, we spend the rest of our lives living into that spiritual reality—“being made holy,” as Hebrews' author writes.

The fact that Jesus has finished something that’s still being worked out in our lives is hard to understand. When I’m struggling spiritually, it’s encouraging to remember that Jesus’ sacrifice for me—and for you—is complete . . . even if our living it out in this life is still a work in progress. Nothing can stop His intended end from being achieved eventually: being transformed into His likeness (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). 

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