How to Pray Better
What’s a skill or ability that you wish you had? I would love to be the best golfer in the world. Players can win big trophies and get paid a ton of money to play a game. Also, in what other sports can professional athletes drink alcohol while they play it!?
All of us have skills or abilities we wish we had. This includes the disciples of Jesus. We see all over the Gospels the disciples coming to Jesus and asking specifically for him to teach them something. The one we will talk about for the next month and a half throughout this Lent season is when they asked Jesus,
“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1)
The disciples wanted to pray better. They’ve seen Jesus go away to pray often and have witnessed many signs, wonders, and miracles. This has prompted them to say they want to pray like him. They say, teach us how to pray.
Why Don’t We Pray?
Prayer is a core practice for followers of Jesus. And yet, it’s something that many of us, myself included, struggle to do regularly. We want to pray more, so why don’t we? It could be because you don’t know where to start. How do we know if we’re doing it? We’re distracted. We can be encouraged today by the disciples’ questions because they also knew what it was like to be busy.
Jesus responds to their question in Matthew 6:9-13, “Pray like this: Our heavenly Father, may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come soon, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the food we need today, and forgive our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”
This prayer, known as the Lord’s Prayer, is mighty. During this new series, I will present the idea that prayer is like a toolbox. I used to think of prayer as a tool. It’s something I use when I need help. Prayer is more like a toolbox. Within the toolbox are different tools.
Some projects in our lives require different tools, and yet, most of us grew up only being armed with one tool, one way to pray. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Perhaps you don’t pray more often because you only have one tool, and it’s not equipped for the projects, the situation, and the circumstances in your life. We need to begin to see that prayer is a toolbox.
Right from the start, we learn something fundamental about the nature of prayer. This word for “father” is exceptional. It’s like the English word for “daddy.” It’s a very intimate word. There’s a lot of innocence to it.
I have three kids, seven, five, and one. All of them, at one point when they start learning how to talk, start off talking with words like “dada” and “mama.” As my kids get older, like Elijah (5), I’m still “dada” around the house. However, outside of the house, I’m just “dad.” He’s growing up. To my oldest son Oliver (7), I am “dad” over 99% of the time unless he is hurt or wants something, and then he slips by calling me “dada.”
When Jesus describes his relationship with God, he innocently calls him “dada.” It feels weird to say that, and I’m not suggesting you begin prayer by calling God that, but the idea is that we have intimacy with God. Our image of God is critical. Pete Greig wrote a book called “How To Pray,” and wrote in it,
“How we view God affects everything about everything.”
When Jesus teaches us to pray to our “Father,” he shows us an entirely different picture of God. He says we can come to God as though he’s our parent.
“May your name be kept holy…”
The next part of the line is: “may your name be kept holy.” We need clarification about the word holy. It seems strange to us. We tend to think of legalism. It means set apart. For something to be holy is to be set apart. Holiness is not based on what you do or don’t do. It’s a state of being.
We’re told the very essence of who God is holy. God is set apart. It means God couldn’t sin, even if he wanted to. It’s so far from his nature. It’s so against who he is. This is good news for all of us, and even better news if you had an absent parent growing up.
God is our heavenly parent; just as important, he’s holy. God can redeem what a parent being means.
The form of prayer that helps us express that God is a good parent is adoration. It’s a tool in the toolkit. The Book of Common Prayer describes adoration this way:
“Adoration is lifting the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.”
Adoration is about God inviting us to enjoy being with him. It causes us to step back and gain perspective. Adoration acknowledges our problems but forces us to look up instead of down. After I worship, my problems don’t look that big anymore. If we’re going to worship God, adoration requires us to lay down all of our burdens. It requires us to open ourselves up. This is our surrender.
How To Practice Adoration
How do we practice adoration? There are a few practical suggestions that I have. One prays the Psalms, and what I mean by that is a psalm a day. Don’t just read them, but pray them. This is great if you need to learn the words to say or help knowing where to start.
A second way to practice adoration is to sing songs. We sing songs every week, but not out of tradition. We began Madison Church in 2014 from scratch and could have had any traditions we chose. I encourage you today to start to sing. I want to challenge you to get your body involved. Close your eyes. Fold your hands. Raise your arms.
A third way to practice adoration is just to give gratitude. Nothing changes our perspective more than gratitude. Maybe this week, you jot down something you’re thankful for daily.
These are three practical ways we talked about the tool of adoration. These are three practical ways to use the tool.
I said I wanted to be really good at golf. Every year I set a goal to improve because I’m very serious about my hobby. I know that at age 34, my window for playing in the PGA Tour is shut closed and locked. I’m not even in the same room as that window anymore! It’s over. I’ll never win the Masters, but I’ll still have fun.
Last year, I got fitted for the first time. I tried different heads, shafts, and grips, and they assembled custom clubs for me. Each club costs about $200. The first time I swung this on a golf course, it lost value. It’s not new anymore. It’s used. And because I’m not a professional, sometimes I hit the ground a little too hard. I’m going to scuff it. It’s going to get scratched.
Every time I use this club, it loses value.
Now contrast that with the number one golfer in the world right now. Every time Jon Rahm has swung a golf club this year, he has made $7,000. If Rahm swings the same clubs I have, he makes $7,000.
Because of my hands, those clubs aren’t worth anything. In Rahm’s hands, they’re worth millions of dollars. It’s like that with the problem in our lives. When we give our problems to God and adore him, we put them in the right hands.