Have you ever felt uncomfortable praying? It’s pretty common. That can show itself in hesitance to pray aloud in a small group or even the fear of praying “wrong” in private prayer. Many people feel there is a code to prayer that they have not been able to break.
As a leader, you want to help people dialogue authentically and regularly with God. How can you take the stress out of prayer?
Our experience of God was never intended to be rote: a dutiful prayer asking for things or a set outline covering all our bases (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). It was meant to be honest. It was meant to reflect where we are right here, right now, and what we are feeling and thinking. Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane and again on the cross where incredibly raw and real:
At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Consider the practice of Brother Lawrence: “The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”
One of the revolutionary things about Jesus coming to earth incarnate was the communication that we are engaged in a true relationship. Jesus broke the barrier between us and God, and we can now enter his presence through faith in Jesus, our mediator. What we have now is not simply a set of duties or a book of rules. It’s a real, live relationship with another person. What do we do in relationships? We talk, we listen, we laugh. We spend time in each other’s presence… sometimes without any agenda at all other than enjoying one another.
Now in the context of a relationship with the creator and Lord of the universe, how does that differ? Certainly, we worship. He is far above us. Yet he is also near, and we had best not remove the relational element. That forms the very core of our worship of God.
5 Aspects of Powerful Prayer
Whether it is private or corporate, these 6 attributes can help tear down fear and intimidation that can surround prayer and create transformative engagement with God and the body of Christ.
1. From the heart
Sometimes the “shoulds” surrounding prayer hold us back from honest dialogue with God. One reason the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:7-13) is so powerful is that it broadly covers deeply personal areas of life. Sure, you can use the exact words Jesus provided—they work! You can also use the prayer as a prompt to talk to God from your heart sharing your thoughts, fears, and hopes in each area.
ACTION: Write out the Lord’s prayer in your own words using examples from your life. Try doing this daily or weekly and note the changes as you talk to God from the heart.
Matthew 6:8 reminds us that God already knows our struggles and dreams alike. So why is it so hard to admit them in prayer? When you feel like you can’t say “that” to God, rehearse that God already knows and he cares even about “that”. Choose to be honest with God and yourself in prayer and watch how your prayer life changes as a result.
ACTION: Find a spot where you are all alone and write down the things that you struggle to talk with God about. Be vulnerable—you can destroy the paper right away if you like. Think through why you feel like you can’t say “that” to God. Where did that come from? Write down how it feels to be honest with God.
You know you are close with someone when you can share your disappointment, anger, and unmet expectations with them. Those are extremely intimate details of your life—especially your spiritual life. Are you allowed to tell God you’re mad at him? You sure are! Your heavenly Father can handle your disappointment and anger and the Holy Spirit longs to minister to the deepest part of your heart.
ACTION: Reflect on a time when you processed your disappointment or anger with God. How did that time of prayer affect you? What happened as a result?
As King David so beautifully illustrates throughout the Psalms, prayer is a place to lay it all out before the Lord and it is a place to practice perspective. When you rehearse the greatness of God, all that he has done and all that he holds in his hands it breeds a beautiful humility that provides needed perspective. Our troubles are real, they are momentary, and they are in the hands of a loving God.
ACTION: Reflect on times when you were in awe of God. Where were you? What was happening in your life at the time? How can you build space to experience the wonder of God regularly?
Relationships take work. That is true when it comes to our relationship with God too. You can try new spiritual practices and ways to express yourself to God. This can be everything from changing your prayer routine or reading a new devotional to incorporating prayer and worship in creative ways, like art or dance. Don’t worry if you don’t get results right away—just try something else.
ACTION: Brainstorm ways you could further open yourself up to experiencing the presence of God in prayer. Make a plan to put your ideas into action.
Every person is different and we all reflect God in different ways. So why is our typical approach to discipleship the same across the board? The Discipleship Difference lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.
Guide for Discipling covers the 8 areas that Jesus helped his own disciples to grow. There is a section on dialoguing authentically with God in the Experiencing God chapter. There is room to choose the area that you feel God is asking you to lean into and offers you guidance in to help you determine your next steps toward Jesus. To learn more about the 8 areas of discipleship download the free Map of Discipleship.