I am the leader of prayer ministries for a large and growing ministry for ladies with chronic illness. I am currently leading a prayer study for the Sunday school class my husband and I attend. So prayer is important to me. But I do not consider myself an expert in prayer. As my responsibilities in the area of ministering to others in the area of prayer have increased, the knowledge that I still have a lot to learn has become foremost in my mind. I am a learner in the area of prayer.
I shared in a recent article that my husband and I have been walking through some difficult circumstances in our lives. I don’t want to go into the details again, so I’ll share the link for anyone who is interested in this story. https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/living-outside-my-comfort-zone/
God has been at work through these circumstances in both my husband’s life and my life, but in different ways. In my life, He has had me in what I would describe as theHoly Spirit School of Prayer.
During the same period of time, I have been preparing to lead the prayer study in our Sunday school class using The Battle Plan for Prayer Bible Study materials from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the movie War Room.. What I share today is a combination of what God has personally been teaching me and what I’m learning through the study of these excellent materials.
Now I have a more balanced understanding of what prayer includes. Up until recently, when I thought of prayer, what primarily came to mind was confession of sin, lifting our needs up to the Lord (supplication), and intercession for the needs of others. I always felt like I was falling short in these areas, especially in supplication and intercession, because the needs were so overwhelming that it would literally take “prayer without ceasing” to cover all of them daily.
These are important parts of prayer, but prayer is so much more. I knew in theory that worship, praise and thanksgiving were all elements of prayer, but in my mind they were separate things. I had even tried using the A.C.T.S. acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – during my prayer time, but I saw this more as a formula for prayer, with worship, praise and thanksgiving more as preparation for prayer than as actual types of prayer.
I had also read of the importance of using God’s Word in prayer, but in my mind and on my daily schedule Bible reading and prayer were two separate things. As we have walked through this difficult season, I’ve begun to understand each of these things as a part of true prayer.
At it’s root, prayer is communion and communication with God. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are to pray without ceasing, he was not talking about what I used to think of as prayer. He was saying throughout the day we are to stay in open communication with God. The main way God speaks to us is through His Word, so we are to read His Word expecting Him to speak to us. And we are to respond to what He shows us in prayer. Bible reading and study are meant to be a part of our prayer life, not separate from it.
This season of my life has caused a major change in my daily quiet time. Instead of seeing it as composed of a series of things I do, I have begun to see the whole quiet time as a part of prayer. Praise and worship are no longer preparing my heart for prayer – they are prayer. Overcoming discouragement by looking for God’s blessings in the midst of our trials and expressing my gratitude to Him is also a part of prayer. And when I pick up my Bible or open a Bible app on my iPad to begin reading and studying, I do so with an attitude of prayer and expectancy.
One thing that has really helped me gain this new understanding is prayer journaling. I’m not new to journaling. I remember many years ago as a new Christian getting up and reading my Bible and writing in my journal every morning before leaving for my job as a kindergarten teacher. And through the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks and journals from this habit. But again, I saw this as separate from my prayer life.
When we began walking through this season where the cry of my heart daily became “God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12b NIV), I began prayer journaling. I now begin my quiet time with a prayer for God to speak to me through His Word, and as He began to do so regularly I grew into an expectancy that this would happen.
Now, as I read God’s word, I do so with a pen in my hand and my current journal open so I can put in writing the things God in showing me. This isn’t really much different than the journaling I’ve always done, but I no longer stop there. Those insights now become prayers of worship, praise and gratitude to God, of confession of sin, of honestly telling God where I am and asking His help, or of commitment to obey something He has shown me I need to do. Often as I’m reading a Scripture, someone with a need comes to mind and I intercede for them. Or I read a verse that gives a burden for Christians facing persecution for their faith and I turn this into a prayer. Or I read a passage that reminds me of how messed up things are in our nation , and I pray using that passage for our nation. Whatever God speaks to my heart during this quiet time in His presence is turned into a prayer of response.
As a result of this growing understanding of all prayer includes, and of learning to make prayer an important part of my day and not just an add-on to my Bible study time, I have been walking through one of the most difficult trials of my recent life, one where my normal response would be fear and anxiety, in almost constant peace. There have been days when staying close to God was a battle – life as a Christian in this fallen world is like that. But by staying in communication with God by talking with Him throughout my day, walking in meekness and submission to His will and purposes in our lives, and resisting the devil and his lies, I’ve experienced God’s peace and strength as seldom before.
As I was praying this morning about this article, a picture came to my mind of someone throwing a large stone into a lake. When the stone breaks the surface of the water, it creates a ripple effect, with concentric waves of water moving out from the spot where the stone landed. This is a picture of the effect of true prayer in our lives. True prayer isn’t just something we do as a part of our daily schedule, or even throughout the day as we become aware of needs. True prayer is like breaking the surface to enter into the presence of God, and the result has a ripple effect. It changes every part of our lives and even spreads out to touch the lives of others.
I love this!! I too have used many of the tools you mention through the years as part of my walk with God. I love how you name each of these things as PART of prayer and of living a life of prayer. You describe prayer journaling beautifully and I am blessed and encouraged by your post. Thanks for sharing what God is teaching you here. Keep writing, sister! #livefreethursday
Thanks for your sweet comment Kelly. Sometimes God does a important work in my life that I feel is only for me. But I so strongly felt the things He’s been teaching me about prayer needed to be shared that the last two mornings I wasn’t able to accomplish anything until I got this story down on paper. Grateful to know your heart was touched.
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Dear Barbara, thank you for sharing your journey and what the Lord is teaching you about prayer. You are so right that it can’t be reduced to a formula. Breaking the surface, starting to permeate our lives, draws us ever closer to His presence. Blessings for comfort and peace.
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Thanks for your comment Alice. I didn’t even realize I had begun reducing prayer to a formula until God opened my eyes to this truth. I understand prayer so much better now, and yet I feel I still have a lot more to lern.
Hi Barbara, I love your comparison of ripples on the water to prayer. I fully believe that we won’t know all our prayers can accomplish until heaven. That’s one more reason it’s so important to keep learning, as you pointed out, and continuing to go deeper. I really appreciated your comments on how you’re listening more. This is something I know I need to do more often. I usually share my prayer time with kids and other distractions and finding the quiet and concentration to truly “hear” what God has to say is difficult. It is so easy to rush through prayer time and end up feeling that I just spit out my thoughts and didn’t take time to listen to what God had to say. Thanks for the reminder that I should keep trying.
Thanks, Heidi. It was a new thought to me, one that came after prayer on how to concude the article.
Thanks for sharing Barbara!! And thanks for taking up this new study in our class!! I knew it will be good but its sooooo much better than I expected!! Wow. I too love the comparison with ripple effect!! Wow I’m entering God’s presence and things begin to happen!!! I planned to pray for one thing- yet He reminds me a sin I need to confess, or a blessing I need to give thanks for!!! Special thanks for your idea of prayer journaling. I never tried it before. Now I had 2 sessions of prayer journaling and I’m OVEWHELMED with excitement and goodness and new revelations!!
I too used a formula. It helps but how much sweeter to feel all the parts of the formula coming together in one organic natural fellowship with supernatural!!! So much more joy from prayer time=Bible reading=study=sharing of my soul etc.!
I’m loving the study too, learning so much about prayer as I prepare for the lessons. The idea of the ripple effect of prayer was such a clear revelation to me. I had been working on the article, but felt like I needed something to close it effectively. I had no idea what to do, so I prayed, and the picture I described came to mind. That’s really not a normal thing for me – in the natural, Mitch is the one who sees things in pictures, and they come to me in words.