During this past week’s sermon on how we are to pray I mentioned that I would post some common biblical guides for prayer. Below is a summary of the models that I have found most helpful.
Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6 Jesus gives his disciples a model for how they ought to pray. Jesus’ instructions were not intended to be the only way we ought to pray, but an example to guide our prayer. There are several elements of Jesus’ prayer that provide a helpful outline to guide us. Below I have imperfectly broken the prayer down to align with the mnemonic ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) and provided a very brief explanation of each element. You should regularly seek to include each of these elements in your conversations with God and occassionally reflect on which of the ACTS elements you are strongest in and which needs the most focus. For instance, I know that I am much more likely to ask God for things (supplication) than I am to focus on God’s character (adoration). I thus intentionally focus on naming attributes of God, which leads to a deeper level of adoration.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, A (adoration) – proclaiming God’s qualities/character
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. S (supplication) – asking God for what we need
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. C (confession) – sharing our specific sins with God
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
(for yours is the kingdom and the power T (thanksgiving) – thanking God for all that He given and done
and the glory forever. Amen.)
Jesus’ Prayers. There are several places throughout the Gospels where Jesus talks with His Father. Though the content of these prayers is clearly attached to Jesus’ specific context, the prayers give us a wonderful indication of Jesus’ heart in prayer. Below is a listing of Jesus’ prayers in the Gospels and a brief note about what they reveal concerning Jesus’ heart. John 17 is the most thorough. Ultimately the prayers of Jesus are helpful because we desire to develop the heart of Jesus in our communication with “Our Father.”
Matthew 6:9-13 (the Lord’s Prayer, discussed above)
Mt 11:25 (praise, especially that God’s revelation is not reserved for academics)
Jn 11:41 (thankfullness that God always hears our prayers)
Jn 12:28 (Jesus asks God to make his glory known)
Jn 17:1-26 (by far Jesus’ longest recorded prayer, Jesus prays for himself, his disciples, and all believers)
Mk 14:36 (Jesus’ unmet desires, anguish, and complete submission to God’s will)
Lk 23:34, 46 (forgiveness of others and complete surrender)
Mt 27:46 (honest proclamation of abandonment)
Psalms. The Psalms express every human emotion ever experienced as conversation with God. I shared during my sermon that John Calvin once said, “It is my custom to call this book (Psalms) An Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul since there is no emotion anyone will experience whose image is not reflected in this mirror.” Reading the Psalms can be an excellent entrance point into prayer, especially as we develop language to describe what we are experiencing to God. As we read the Psalms we often find a deep and unique connection with what the Psalmist experiences. Below are two links to documents that list emotions and the Psalms that best express those emotions to God in prayer. I encourage you to find a feeling that you can relate to at this moment in your faith journey and then to read the associated Pslam(s) out loud in prayer to God.
http://www.rcovenant.org/wp-content/uploads/u2/emotionsinpsalms.pdf (this is a responsive reading that we have used with Riverside that lists an emotion, the associated Psalm citation, and a response)
http://www.rcovenant.org/wp-content/uploads/u2/psalmslist.pdf (this document categorizes the Psalms under various emotions and topics)
Simple phrases. In Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer, he shares about Rosalind Rinker’s simple prayer formula. It is below with the New Testament references that she bases it upon. This is easy to remember and similar to the ACTS mnemonic.
Jesus is here (Matthew 18:19-20)
Help me, Lord (James 5:13-16)
Thank you, Lord (Philippians 4:4-7)
Help my brother (Mark 11:22-25)
No prayer model is perfect, but they can be very helpful guides in deepening the content of our prayers and opening up our hearts to meaningful and transformative conversations with God. Remember that if you want to have a quality prayer life, you must 1) pray, 2) pray persistently, and 3) pray authentically.