Learning to pray, for me, was like learning to play golf. At first it felt really awkward. I thought everybody on the course was staring at me (and judging my performance). And it was very intimidating when I compared myself to all the great golfers I knew. But eventually I got comfortable playing golf with my friends.
Quite by accident I discovered that in golf every player has a unique swing. But there are fundamentals required in learning to hit the ball well. By practicing the fundamentals, you can develop a more consistent swing and become a competent golfer. Mastering the basics helps you hit the ball well. Confidently. Consistently. Routinely.
I also learned that before you swing the club, you need to have a proper “set-up for success.” The position of your feet, the bend of your arms, and your weight being distributed equally – are all very important. When you have a proper set-up, it’s much easier to make a proper swing.
The same is true of developing a consistent prayer life. Prayer doesn’t have to be awkward, self-conscious, or intimidating. But learning to pray requires mastering the basics and developing a proper set-up. You’ll never pray well without understanding what prayer is, why you should pray, how to pray, and what to pray for.
What is prayer? Henrietta Mears, the woman who made a deep and lasting impression on men like Billy Graham (The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) and Bill Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ), is credited with the following quote: “Prayer is a simple conversation with a loving Father.”
Prayer is what brings you closer to God. The closer you get to God the better He looks to you. And when you get closer to God you want to be more like Him and His Son Jesus Christ.
Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. Prayer is God’s central avenue of transforming your life.
Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. The Bible says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8 – NASB). The best way I’ve discovered to do that is through prayer.
Why pray? We pray because Jesus tells us to pray. Luke relates to us that Jesus taught His disciples “…that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1 – NASB).
Positioning yourself for success in prayer means allowing God to give you His point of view. God answer prayers, and He changes things through prayer. But the thing that prayer changes most is you. Because prayer does something supernatural inside you. It gives you God’s perspective on life while changing you in the process.
How Do I Pray? As a young disciple of Jesus Christ I learned a way to pray that has stayed with me throughout the years. It is an acronym, a mnemonic device, essentially a tool to help you remember how to pray anywhere, at any time. It’s represented by the letters A-C-T-S. Each letter stands for a specific aspect of prayer, arranged in a very natural order.
Adoration (worship of God). Adoration toward God reminds us of the His limitlessness ability and wisdom. Beginning your personal prayer time with worship and adoration toward God puts Him first in your thoughts where He belongs. It makes your problems, concerns, and needs come into proper perspective.
Confession (admission of specific sins). The closer you get to God, the more you become aware of your own sinfulness. Your sin – conscious and unconscious – distances you from God. Confession of your sin takes away the barriers between you and God. It clears the channels of communication between Him and you (1 John 1:9 – NIV; Matthew 6:12 – NLT).
Thanksgiving (gratitude for God’s blessing). Thanksgiving should always follow confession. You should be thankful that God has forgiven you. We don’t give thanks because everything is going well in your life or because you’re in a good mood. You should give thanks because God deserves your praise. When you give Him thanks you’re expressing gratitude for what you have. It keeps your focus from drifting to what you don’t have.
Supplication (specific requests for yourself and others). Supplication means “to ask humbly and earnestly.” If you’re faithful in the previous three prayer steps, this last step will not be just you asking God for “stuff.” It will include asking God to meet your needs and requests, but also to motivate you to pray for others and their needs and requests. And if you pray according to God’s will-He will answer (1 John 5:14 – NASB).
What Should I Pray For? Here’s a prayer list you can take with you wherever you go. I call it the “five-finger prayer list.” Hold your right hand in front of you, palm out. Look at it and then notice the following:
- Your thumb is the closest finger to you on your hand. Let it represent the people closest to you, those you live and work with. Your immediate family, your friends, and your coworkers. Pray for them!
- Your pointer finger represents the people to whom you’re pointing the way to Jesus Christ. It could be anyone you’re praying for to get to know Jesus like you do. Pray for them!
- Your middle finger is the most prominent finger on your hand. It represents the people who are the leaders in your life – your mentors, your teachers, your pastors. Pray for them!
- Your ring finger is the weakest finger on your hand. Pray for those you know who are “weak.” People who are sick or hurting or dying. The emotionally wounded and struggling people in your life. Never forget to pray for them!
- Your pinky finger represents you. You need to pray for your own needs, too.
You can use the “Five-Finger Prayer List” on your commute to work or while you’re exercising – any time. And it stays with you wherever you go.
When Do I Pray? We’ve already seen in Luke that Jesus taught his disciples to be people who “…should always pray…” (Luke 18:1 – NASB). The Apostle Paul wrote that we should “…pray without ceasing…” (2 Thessalonians 5:17 – NASB). In other words – pray all the time!
Pray “flash prayers” on the spur of the moment. Pray “arrow prayers” aimed at the situation you are dealing with right now – don’t wait for the right “feeling.” Pray pain-filled, heartfelt, desperate prayers. God knows your struggles. Have times of extended prayer – where you can take some uninterrupted time to be alone with God to “soak” in prayer. To pray in these ways is to “…pray without ceasing.” God hears your prayers whenever and wherever you offer them.
Make regular, routine prayer a part of your life. Let it be a “holy habit.”
Read more about Developing a Personal Prayer Life in my book Every Man Jack available on Amazon(www.amazon.com/Every-Man-Jack-Becoming-Wants/dp/1973680386) and Westbow Press (www.westbowpress.com), and wherever books are sold.