When discussing the “spiritual” things, we often find ourselves going off into “lala” land thanks to the idiocrasy of Hollywood. The spiritual has been so thrown out of its reality by movies and imaginative novels that people have a difficult time coming to terms with it. All we mean by “spiritual” is what is also referred to as “immaterial” in the world of Philosophy, (or metaphysics). In reality, the “spirit” is that part of our humanity which comprises our unique identity as an entity separate from others and unique in the cosmos. It is combined with our physical body (which includes our material construct and emotions) and our mind (our raw, ‘mechanical’ ability to collect data and turn it into information for our spirit’s use) to form who we are. However, our spirit is that which God intended for us to be. It is what we are to be in God’s eyes, where our spiritual selves, directly tied to Him, controls the mind and the body.
In discussing the Spiritual Disciplines, we are talking about training our spirit to bring into submission to it the body and the mind. We seek to strengthen the spirit and place it in control. In those whose spirit is dead, there is no real conscience, just emotion or “rationale” driving their behavior. In those whose spirit is alive but not the driving force of their existence, the spirit is nothing more than a conscience for them. However, for those who are spiritually reborn, the spirit fills their life with joy and peace due to it being fully in charge and connected with the creator. This means that our fullest potential, our truest identity, and our maximum ability is put forward to make the most out of living in this world. To achieve this, the Spiritual Disciplines are practiced in order to unite with our Lord, and to allow Him to form us as He made us to be, and to live with the spirit first.
While meditation is the practice of creating the right environment for our spirit to come forth and to allow us to hear and receive from God, there must also be a process where we give to the Lord in return. Communication with God is key in strengthening our Spirit, and as we all know, if the conversation is not going both ways, there really isn’t any communication. This is where the second spiritual discipline comes into play, and is the most well known even among non-believers. That is prayer.
What is Prayer?
Prayer is the act of speaking directly and personally with God. While one can certainly hear the Lord in prayer at times, it is meditation where we seek to listen for the Lord. In prayer, however, we are focused on speaking to the Lord, seeking to raise our voice in praise, worship, and humility. The practice of prayer is as old as humanity, as it is something only humanity can do (as it is with most of the Spiritual Disciplines, arguably all of them). It involves simply speaking with God, and requires nothing but a devoted heart and an honest mind with a desire to seek God with all one’s heart, mind, body, and spirit.
The objective of prayer is to train one’s spirit to interact with God on a regular basis. Like meditation, prayer can place us on the proper “wavelength” with God. It allows our mind and senses to become more aware of His presence, and it sets our hearts to connect with our Lord. Prayer comes in many different forms based on what the purpose of the prayer is, however, these are certainly not something set in stone. These different forms or types of prayer just simply are the way they are. It is important to understand that the objective of prayer is interaction with God. It is not to get what you want. It is not to beg God to do good things. It is not to rescue our souls. It is to interact with God, and to train our spirit to connect with Him. The rescuing of our souls part came from having faith in God. Now prayer is just us building upon what has already been given through grace.
Where is Prayer in the Bible?
Well, to put it quite simply, it is everywhere in the Bible! In Genesis 25:21, “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless…” In Exodus 9:29, “Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.” This goes on regularly, including king David in 2 Samuel 24:25, “David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.” And also Solomon in 1 kings 8:28, “Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.”
Prayer is the way that every major player in the Bible connects with God to pour out their heart and seek the Lord’s blessing in their life. Many of the Psalms are prayers, the Prophets prayed, and even Jesus prayed. The gospels are filled with verses like Luke 6:12, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” The early church prayed regularly, including seeking guidance to replace Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:14, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Prayer is simply everywhere all throughout the Bible. It is something that we must do if we are to stay connected with God, and build our spirits up through His work in us.
So How do I Pray?
The apostles asked Jesus the same question.
Luke 11:1-4, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
‘Father,[a] hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.[b]
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[c]
And lead us not into temptation.[d]’”
In addition to this particular section, we find in the sermon on the mount Jesus giving another explanation of how to pray. Matthew 6:8-14, “’Do not be like them [the hypocrites], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,[abut deliver us from the evil one.[b]”
‘For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.’”
What can be seen in these examples is that there is some sort of a structure that Jesus is attempting to convey in guiding us in a proper prayer. Now it is important to understand that this is not a law, it is simply guidance in how to come to the Lord in prayer. When we pray, it is best to do so in a focused manner. It is something we communicate separately from other forms of communication, so going into a prayer right out of a conversation about something else is not “bad”, but it is not really effective at achieving the purpose of prayer. We all grew up watching our parents or others pray by folding their hands together while sitting or standing. This is a good practice as well. It is also recommended that when you pray on matters of great importance, pray on your knees and elbows, bowed to the floor.
In many parts of the Bible we here of individuals “prostrating” themselves. That is to fall to the floor flat on one’s face, lying flat on the belly with arms outstretched. This is a dramatic and fully involved position to be in, and it not recommended for regular prayer. But when the time is right to do this in prayer to God, you know it, and you feel it, as you will be driven to the floor should it be required of you by God. For the majority of prayer, humbly placing your body in a position of submission before the Lord, and clearing of your mind in obedience to your spirit is key. I pray on my knees each night with my family before bed. But throughout the day, I pray in my car, while at work, on the job site. Standing or sitting, the point is to bring the physical and the mental under the control of the spirit, forcing them into submission and humility to the will of the spirit before God.
When you begin to speak, it can be hard to find the proper words. I’ve seen many a new (and long-time) believer struggle with prayer, especially when joining with others in prayer. Here is a basic structure of thought that can be used to help train your mind and spirit to communicate with the Lord in respect and dignity, all honor given to Him.
- Calling upon His name
- Giving praise to God, identifying His nature.
- Stating what God has done in general, confessing your belief in it.
- Stating what God has done for you, giving thanks.
- Making a request of God, asking for direction (specifics, others and self).
- Request for God to be with you.
- Closing of the prayer in a final praise.
As you say your prayer, use this to guide your thinking. It is also helpful to write out your prayer before you sit down to pray it. There is nothing wrong with opening your eyes to reference a paper with your heart felt concerns written down. Remember, the Lord knows what is in our hearts already. The prayer is to train our body to connect with the Lord, practicing how to communicate with Him, and aiding our mind’s ability to discern His activity in our hearts.
So as you pray, make sure your heart is in the right place. Bring your body under control as mentioned before, make your mind fall to the will of your spirit, and humble yourself before God. Anywhere you are, you can detach from the situation, as with meditation, and bring your body and mind before the presence of God through the conscious and deliberate act of prayer. Whether you speak it out loud or in your head, let it come from the heart.
Types of Prayer
Prayer is not complicated. It is usually more difficult to get yourself to pray than it is to actually do it. Setting aside some dedicated time each day just for prayer is a good way to build the habit. But you have to stick to it. Setting yourself up to pray in situations throughout the day can help as well. To do this, it helps to understand the types of prayer. Again, nothing too complicated here, and there is no “law” on this. This is just simply what there is.
The first type of prayer is confessional prayer. This prayer is where a person comes before God to confess a sin. This is usually done after a person has made a mistake and comes to realize it. This is the type of prayer that calls for one to at least fall to knees and elbows when saying the prayer. Remember, we want the honesty and feeling in our hearts that comes from the spirit to be in control over the mind and body. This means that our bodily position must be brought into submission to the presence of God when we come before Him in prayer wherever we may be to seek His forgiveness. The prayer consists of calling upon His name, giving Him praise for His wonders and mercy, confessing the sin that you have done, acknowledging His power and grace, and asking for forgiveness, closing with a request for the Lord to assist in your repentance and turning away from making the same mistake again. This structure here, again, is just a suggestion, something to aid you in practicing and building up your spirit.
The next type of prayer is prayer of praise to the Lord. This is a great thing to do throughout the day. It is a prayer that is done when you experience something beautiful, something good. When you observe a unique moment of beauty in the world around you. When you have a moment of clarity about the work of God in your life. When you see something good being done for another. When you feel joy in your heart. This prayer comes to us when we are standing, arms outstretched, or while driving in the car with a big smile of contentment and peace on our face. It is just simply a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for His great and good works in our lives.
The next type of prayer is the prayer for help. These are the prayers where we come before the Lord to ask His help in some manner. It includes prayers for healing, prayers for intervention, prayers for assistance and guidance. Any prayer where you are making a request of God to get involved in your life or the lives of others. They start with calling upon His name, giving Him praise for the work He has done already, giving thanks for past answered prayers, making your particular request (always being specific with the need), giving thanks for the Lord’s aid, and closing the prayer with praise. It helps to keep a prayer focused on only one or two major requests. It doesn’t hurt to go to more than that, but for many of us who do not have that unique gift of deep, deep spiritual prayer, it can be too much for us to maintain at times.
Then the last major type of prayer to mention here is the prayer of companionship with the Lord. These are the prayers throughout the day when we feel overwhelmed. These come from our hearts when we are worn out, beaten down, exhausted, and just plain tired. They are somber and simple prayers from the heart, asking the Lord to carry you forward. They are generally prayed in the mind, but for me, I often pray these prayers while in my car. These prayers are spoken like you would to a close friend. Like speaking to your father as a grown man, where there is respect shown but the conversation is comfortable. These are those prayers where we just want to speak to our Lord, perhaps helping us get through tough thoughts, figuring out problems, or trying to get out frustration. I find these to be the best prayers, honestly. For me, at least, I do feel a comfort in my heart when I say these kinds of prayers. I also feel the most abrupt smacks in the face in these kinds of prayer as well, when I am frustrated and trying to get myself to calm down. Its amazing how they work.
Prayer is for our spirit to grow in its connection with God. Combined with meditation and Bible Study, Prayer is a powerful form of communication with God where we seek to engage with Him directly. We are trying to let the Lord work in our spirit, strengthening, bringing it into control over the mind and the body. Communicating with God allows us to get on His wavelength. While there is no law or fixed structure to prayer, there is a structure that can help you get on track until prayer becomes second nature. Practice is key. Getting started is the only hard part. Once you build the good habit, you will find yourself praying at every moment. More importantly, you will begin to hear and feel the Lord working on your spirit. For me, that came about through the filling of my heart with incredible warmth and a sense of comfort during a difficult time. I pray that you too will come to experience the same as you grow closer to God through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.