I write prayers in two ways: stream-of-conciousness and outline form. The first is fairly common: simply write out your prayer. It helps me stay more focused, and it's amazing to look back on what you've written over the years and see how God answers. The outline form is maybe less mentioned, but I use it even more frequently now. I start with finding a verse, usually in my daily readings, that stands out to me in one way or another. After writing it down, I write out my four categories: 1. You are, 2. I am, 3. You promise, 4. I ask. Then I fill in the columns from first to last, and it looks like this:
"He has done all things well. he even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak." - mark 7
- often forgetful of Your power
- redeemed by Your good deeds
- no longer deaf and mute
- to work all things together for good for me
- to make all things new
I ask for:
-trust in those promises
- more of Your literal healing here around me
- focus on the things that matter
This one is about as simple as it sounds: listening. For so much of my life, I viewed prayer as "speaking to God." I probably would have told you it was a conversation, but I didn't actually apply that principle to my praying. I didn't actually start prayers with "Hi. How are you?" I often do now. Listening is hard because He usually speaks softly. Sometimes I just sit there. And that's okay. As Mike Donehey said, "Teach me, how can I view prayer not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself?" But sometimes God does speak. And that's amazing. Those are the words, phrases, or Scriptures that I write on a little card and carry with me throughout the day. Because those are words I don't want to forget.
This one is newer for me. Tony Kriz, one of our speakers in chapel this week, told a story about a time he was having lunch with a lesbian friend who didn't want to even talk about Christianity because she and her girlfriend had been screamed at by a Christian as they walked through a park. Rather than saying, "Oh, that guy was wrong, Jesus wouldn't do that," (which is true), his response surprised me. He essentially said that as much as he dislikes that person's behavior, that person is related to me in Christ. And he asked for forgiveness on that man's behalf. The next morning, as I was reading through all the laws regarding sacrifices in the Old Testament, I realized that the priests were essentially taking on the sins of their entire people, not just themselves. Other examples, like Nehemiah 1, are all throughout the Scriptures. So I've come to view confession in an entirely different way. Yes, there is obviously a need for personal, individual confession of my own sin. But I also need to consider my other identities as a Christian, as an American, as a millennial, as a TWU student, etc. I can confess those sins as well, because according what God has done through all of history, I believe He will hear and forgive.
When praying in groups, I often find myself distracted when someone else is praying. Anything can distract me: their voice, their shoes, my imagination, my thoughts about what I'll have for lunch the next day. And at the same time, I started wondering why I was even praying in groups: why didn't we all just pray individually and have a lot more prayer happening? So I started to pray the same words as the person I was praying with. Chances are that a lot of other people do this, but it was new to me. Now, when someone prays, "Father, come fill us with Your Spirit today," I silently mouth those same words as soon as I hear them. I've found that this little practice has immensely helped me not only to focus, but to pray in different ways and words than I would have done on my own.
This is perhaps the most simple and/or traditional form of prayer: reciting, mainly Scripture. My most common recited prayer is the Lord's Prayer, not surprisingly. But some days its a psalm. Some days it's Nehemiah 1. Some days it's from the Book of Common Prayer or the Valley of Vision. Some days it's a Hebrew blessing. There is beauty in praying the same words that fellow believers have prayer for centuries. And there's even more beauty in praying the prayers Jesus himself taught us to pray.
There are so many other forms of prayer, through music or singing or many other means. But these are a few that have helped me in the past few weeks, and I pray they will help you as well. If you have more ideas or habits, comment below!