Devoting Ourselves to Prayer

Sean Mortenson / February 1, 2017
prayer, praying

Prayer is work. We can be honest about that. But it is the most life-giving work we will ever do.

In the first few weeks of our study in Acts, there are some themes that have already begun to stand out. Among the foremost are the work of the Holy Spirit and prayer. If you’ll remember, when waiting for the Holy Spirit to arrive, the first followers of Jesus gathered together, “devoting themselves to prayer (1:14).” When the Holy Spirit arrived, the newly formed Church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (2:24).” It is safe to say then that prayer is an essential part of the Spirit-filled community.

Tim Keller has described prayer as “continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.” If that’s the case (and I think it’s a helpful summation), one might assume that prayer would be a natural impulse for the followers of Jesus; it certainly reads like that’s the case in Acts. If we trust in a good and sovereign God whose grace sustains us and whose purposes guide us, would it not make sense for us to continually draw close to him through every means possible? Through this lens, Paul’s encouragement to “pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)” makes sense. Why would we not do that?

But, truthfully, most of us are not fully devoted to consistent prayer throughout the day. We can point to a variety of factors that contribute to our prayerlessness. There are the pragmatics of prioritizing and budgeting time in the midst of our harried lives. There are the theological questions that might lead to an apathetic “what’s the point?” attitude. There are the feelings of shame, doubt, or bitterness that might hinder our desire to draw close in relationship to God. Perhaps it’s a combination of all the above and more. Which means there probably isn’t a single switch to flip to magically turn us all into prayer champions. But that’s OK; like every aspect of our life in Christ we simply look to start with the faithful step that is right in front of us, then the next one, then the next. That’s how growth happens: steadily and incrementally.

And the growth we’re after is not just getting better at performing a task. Growth in prayer leads directly to growth in our faith. And that leads directly to growth in peace, joy, courage, self-control, love, etc., etc. As we say often on Sundays, prayer is less about bending God’s will to ours and more about aligning our hearts and desires with his. And that is growth in the Christian life, the restoration that happens through becoming more like Jesus. John Calvin put it this way “But, someone will say, does God not know, even without being reminded, both in what respect we are troubled and what is expedient for us, so that it may seem in a sense superfluous that he should be stirred up by our prayers—as if he were drowsily blinking or even sleeping until he is aroused by our voice? But they who thus reason do not observe to what end the Lord instructed his people to pray, for he ordained it not so much for his own sake as for ours.” God invites us into prayer not because he needs our counsel, but because he desires relationship with us and is actively working to restore us.

Prayer is work. We can be honest about that. Yes, it is a conversation. Yes, it is relational. But it requires discipline, mental engagement, and self-assessment, among other things. That is not something that just happens naturally, nor is it a passive experience. Prayer asks something of us. But if it really is an opportunity to draw close to the God of the universe, to encounter him, and find the restoration our hearts long for, it is work that we ought to embrace wholeheartedly.

With that in mind, we want to set a pattern of prayer in Redemption Scottsdale, our Spirit-filled community. We want to be a local church that prioritizes prayer, individually and collectively. That is why we have always included a time of prayer in the middle of our worship gatherings on Sunday. That is why we encourage Redemption Communities to make prayer a priority in their time together. Prayer is central to the faith and formative; it belongs in collective worship. But we also want to facilitate other opportunities for prayer, both as a collective body and as individuals/families.


How to Pray

When Jesus’ disciples ask him how to pray, he delivers the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. We could spend a great deal of time pulling application from exactly what Jesus says in this prayer. That is, in fact, a rich study to undertake. But, as you may have encountered before, many have found a pattern in this prayer that serves as a helpful guide to what our prayers can/should look like. Using the acronym ACTS (how appropriate!), our prayers might follow the framework of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (or petition).

Adoration – We start by meditating on, then verbalizing, who God is and why we love him.

Confession – Having found a proper posture of humility under our awe-inspiring creator, not wanting there to be anything between us, we bring our sin to him. In this we encounter his grace, yet again.

Thanksgiving – Resting in his love and grace, we meditate on the reality that everything we have comes from him. We are reminded of our dependance and we cultivate a heart of gratitude.

Supplication – Finally, we bring our desires to him, seeking to align our hearts with his. Amen.

One more note, as Keller said (above) prayer is part of a conversation with God that he began with his word. He spoke to us and we ought to pray with his words (scripture) in mind. This is especially important in aligning our hearts with his (e.g. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…”) as his word helps us accurately understand his heart, his promises, and his commands. Therefore, including the Bible in our prayers, even praying words from the Bible, is a helpful, even necessary practice.


Daily Portions of Individual Prayer

In many Christian traditions you will find a regular pattern of prayer at set times throughout a given day, often referred to as the Daily Offices. Different traditions have set prayers and specific scriptures ascribed to these times to guide worshippers (see the Anglican community’s Book of Common Prayer). While we do not follow a specific tradition like this, we find the general practice to be both consistent within the Christian tradition and helpful.

Recently, I was able to sit with pastor and author Zack Eswine who framed the regular intervals of prayer in a way that I found especially compelling. Appealing to the Psalmists praying at “evening, and morning, and at noon (Psalm 55:17)” and during the “night watches” (Psalm 63:6, others), Eswine finds regular, strategic intervals to come before God in prayer. He says, “Jesus gives us this gift of one-day-at-a-time portions to bear the burdens that find us. The psalmist gets us started in how to relearn that each day has enough of its own worry in it … The psalmist identifies four parts of a twenty-four-hour day. I’ve come to think of these four parts as portions. God is our portion, which means that at any given moment of our day he is there and is enough for us.” He breaks up the day as:

Morning — sunrise or 6:00a to noon

Noon — noon to 6:00p

Evening — sunset or 6:00p to 10:00p

The Night Watches — 10:00p to 6:00a

As these parts of the day transition into one another there are new temptations, new doubts, new burdens, not to mention different physiological dynamics (like being tired or hungry). Breaking the day into these four, unique portions in which God’s grace, provision, and power is enough helps us live faithfully and focused. We can make it six hours, then return to God in prayer, remembering and re-aligning for the next six. And like the manna in the desert, God provides the daily bread in the portion we need.

Let me encourage you to set specific times in your day related to these four portions. Of course you will have to find the time that works with your unique responsibilities. Then commit to a simple ten minutes (at least) of prayer following the ACTS pattern above. These times can be individual prayers in private, prayers with your spouse, or prayers at the table with your kids. You may also want to include passage of scripture to read and reflect on to guide your time. The important thing is: be intentional.


Community Prayer (First Thursdays)

Because the church is a body designed to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2, Eph 4:2) we want to be praying with each other and for each other as well. Therefore, on the first Thursday of each month, we are facilitating a few opportunities for people in our community (and anyone they want to invite) to come together to pray.

First, we invite you to submit prayer requests so that we can know how to pray with you. You can do that online at prayer.redaz.scot.

Second, you can join people at the church in the morning (10:00a) for an unstructured time of sharing and prayer. Note that there will probably be parents with small children there; that’s part of why we provided a time in the morning. While there will not be childcare, there will be space available for kids to play while their parents supervise. This will be a relational time, intentionally left open for time of connection and conversation. But the goal is to come together SO THAT burden-sharing prayer can happen. Jackie Parks will be facilitating these times, contact her with any questions at jackieparks@redemptionaz.com.

Third, you can join people at the church in the evening (7:30p) for a structured time of sharing and prayer. The focus of this prayer time will be discussion of what God is doing among our neighbors and coming before God to seek his will for our role in bringing a picture of his kingdom in South Scottsdale. Thus our time will be less about personal burdens and more about how to love our neighbors. I (Sean Mortenson) will be facilitating this time, please contact me with any questions at seanmortenson@redemptionaz.com.

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Questions? Contact us.