Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teenage son about Christian belief is a series of ten letters I wrote for my son addressing his doubts about Christian faith and answering his questions about what Christians believe and why. Each letter is preceded by an Introduction which introduces its particular topic.
Please share these weekly installments of Bringing Home the Faith with someone in your life, whether young or old, who wants uncomplicated and honest answers to their questions and concerns about Christian faith.
Letter No. 2: How to Pray
The apostle Paul gives the following advice in his first letter to the Thessalonians: pray without ceasing. (5:17) I have to admit that years ago this was one piece of pastoral advice I had no interest in following. I just didn’t enjoy praying. It was an effort for me. I prayed out of a sense of obligation and I was relieved when it was over.
But that all changed when I participated in a Moms In Touch prayer group at Caleb’s elementary school. Moms In Touch is an international group that began twenty-five years ago with a few moms who gathered weekly to pray for their children who attended a California junior high school. Now it has spread to schools all across the country. Prayer time is structured and follows the same pattern week after week. It begins with a verse of Scripture, followed by freely offered praise, thanksgiving, silent confession and, only when everything else has come before, petitions for one’s child and the school.
This structure was a revelation to me. Well, O.K., not at first. I do tend to resist when someone tells me I have to do something a certain way. But soon, the rhythm became liberating as I found myself in joyful communication with God. Prayer stopped being for me a “laundry list” of needs and concerns and a guilty effort. It became something I enjoyed because I felt like I was entering God’s heavenly sanctuary where I could stand in blissful communion with Him. This way of praying is what I want to pass on to Caleb.
If you are looking for a seminar on prayer, you won’t find it in the letter that follows. Nor will you find an argument for why we should pray or a full-blown discussion of how or whether God answers prayer. Great books have been written on those subjects. I leave the dissertations to the experts. Instead, this letter is about the mechanics of prayer: how to get started and how to keep going. My goal is to give Caleb a way to discover the joy of hanging out with God through prayer. From that perspective, who wouldn’t want to “pray without ceasing”?
Prayer is one of those things that everyone agrees is important to do, like eating your vegetables or brushing your teeth before bedtime, yet most of us don’t really think about prayer until we need something. Then, suddenly, we’re in full battle mode and we’re shooting off prayers left and right: “Dear God, please help me pass this test.” Or, “please don’t let me embarrass myself in front of the class tomorrow.” Or, “please make Grandma well again.”
Many people who pray in this way are like a small child tugging on his mamma’s sleeve, trying to get her attention while she’s talking on the phone: “May I have a cookie, please, please, please?” In a moment of need he is desperate to get God’s attention, but once the crisis has passed God is no longer on his mind.
Let me assure you that if you should end up praying like this, you will still have God’s attention. He is always alert and listening out for you, regardless of the quality of your prayers and the sincerity of your desire to be in contact with him. He is never tied up dealing with someone else’s problems and too busy for yours. In fact, he’s been right by your side all along, completely focused on you, just waiting for you to turn to him, to talk with him. But if prayer is only about tuning in when there’s something you want, or when you’re in trouble, you’re going to miss out on the power that comes from being in continual contact with God.
At its best and fullest, prayer is hanging out with God, all day long, all life long. I’ll be honest with you, that sounds as though it could be kind of boring. But let me tell you about King David’s experience with prayer. You may remember him as the teenager who slew the giant, Goliath, with his slingshot. If you are not familiar with that story,
check it out in the Old Testament: 1 Samuel, Chapter 17. David became a mighty warrior and the most famous king of Israel. He was also Jesus’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
We can tell from stories about him in the Bible that David was in contact with God 24/7. In fact, we have a record of many of David’s prayers. They’re called “psalms” and they are found in the Old Testament book by the same name — Psalms. Every night as we sit down to dinner I read one of these aloud to you and Dad. Try reading a few on your own. In many of them David is praising God for His power and might. See especially Psalms 100, 103 (my favorite!), 104, 136, and 147. David also thanks God for what He has done: see Psalms 18, 30, 40, 126. Many times David is pouring out his heart complaining about his enemies or in fear for his life: see Psalms 10, 13, 73, and 77.
I love David’s honesty with God. He doesn’t hold back when he’s scared, resentful or angry. And God isn’t put off by David’s feelings. I get a sense from the stories about David in the Old Testament that God delights in David’s company. I’m sure He delights in our company, too. When you read Psalm 23 you’ll see how confident David was of God’s presence. It’s a good psalm to memorize so that you’ll be confident, too…
Next week: Letter #2: How to pray continues.
Discussion Questions for Fourth Installment: How to Pray
- Is prayer something you enjoy? Does it come easily to you? Why or Why not?
- How would you describe the way you pray?
- If prayer is “hanging out with God,” what does that tell you about prayer?
- Try reading aloud Psalm 23. What can you learn about prayer from it?