Index > Prayer > Ways to Pray (( >> for personal prayer requests.))
"We pray when we are meditatively quiet before God with Psalm 118 open before us;
we pray while taking out the garbage;
we pray when we are losing our grip and then ask God for help;
we pray when we are weeding the garden;
we pray when we are asking God to help a friend who is at the end of her rope;
we pray when we are writing a letter;
we pray when we are in conversation with our cynical and bullying boss;
we pray with our friends in church;
we pray walking down Main Street in the company of strangers."
---- Eugene Peterson, *Practice Resurrection*, p.74.
The apostle Paul long ago call on Christ's followers to pray without ceasing. Since then, many believers have been puzzled by this: how is such a thing possible? Frank Laubach (in his 'experiments'), Brother Lawrence (in his daily routines), and the early Hasidic leaders, each found different ways to pray while working, walking, in conversational breaks, cleaning up, cooking, and so on. You, too, have lots of opportunities for short sentence prayers of thanks or concern. For instance :
The more you pray in places outside of church or home, the more naturally Christ will come to mind there. You can pray just about anywhere. When you pray in other places, it will seem much less like a separate, Godless world, and more of a whole in which the Spirit is afoot everywhere.
One traditional way of doing this is to pray the daily office of the hours. In this, the prayers are scheduled at specific times throughout the day. Prayers at specific times of day were part of the earliest churches' way of life, as it was for the Jews before them. In the tradition of Benedict, these times each have a name : the Lauds (morning praise), Prime (before starting out your work day, around breakfast), Terce (around 9-10 am or the start of work), Sext (noon, or around lunch), None ('no-nay') (3 to 4 pm, or at the end of the workday), Vespers (6 to 8 pm), and Compline (bedtime), as well as Vigil (overnight). A Scripture reading and short section of liturgy may be said, as well as prayer. But even the most non-liturgical of Christians generally pray at wake-up and at bedtime. Jews and Muslims also have traditionally-set times for prayer.
Setting a schedule helps to create a habit or pattern of prayer, and turns the believer back to God throughout the day. It's not about how you do it or how many times a day you do it, it's about turning to God in the midst of what you do during the day, helping to keep the whole day in prayer. Many find it helpful to give each designated time a separate focus or regular item. For instance, a daytime worker would set up the day ahead at midmorning by praying about each item on the schedule, and the mid-afternoon prayer would be to help them leave their job behind in mind and body (some people find it difficult to let go of their work). But the core matter at hand is not function; it is the giving of thanks to God.
"The Apostle Paul had a purpose
in saying: 'Pray without ceasing'. Are we then to ceaselessly
bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? ....
there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing,
namely, the desire of the heart. ... The constancy of your
desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your
Augustine of Hippo
Some books that may help you learn to 'pray
without ceasing' (or something like that) :
Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Herman), orig. edited by the Abbé Joseph de Beaufort, *The Practice Of the Presence of God* (1692). English translation: John Delaney, with foreword by Henri Nouwen (Doubleday/Image, 1977)
Jean-Pierre deCaussade, *The Sacrament Of the Present Moment* (Harper & Row, 1982)
Julian of Norwich, *Showings* (Paulist, 1978)
Thomas Kelly, *A Testament Of Devotion* (Harper & Row, 1941)
Frank Laubach, *Letters By A Modern Mystic* (New Readers Press, 1979)
*Writings From the Philokalia*, Kadlovbovsky/Palmer transl. (Faber & Faber, 1975)
Body positions for prayer.
Setting aside a place just for prayer.
The Eastern Orthodox have long been praying something called the 'Jesus Prayer'. The prayer itself goes like this : "Lord Jesus Christ" (while breathing in), "have mercyon me, a sinner" (while breathing out). This is done repeatedly until all is stilled within. As it is repeated, it often unconsciously reduces down to "Jesus" in and "mercy" out. If other things come to mind, stop it and return to the prayer. The Jesus Prayer grew out of Luke 18:13. Prayers that use breathing this way probably go far back in history, with early breath-prayers based on the refrains of the Psalms. They are brief, simple expressions of the longings of the heart of the devout, tied into the one thing you can't stop doing when in prayer. Remember, there's nothing magical about the Jesus Prayer or any other breath-prayers. As with any other devotion, if after a while of doing it, it just lays there for you, or if you start getting superstitious or dogmatic about it, you can stop doing it. You're being led elsewhere. For some people, the Jesus Prayer is their way into full meditative prayer.
Private, prayerful Bible reading is intimate and personal. It's like exploration - it takes daunt and derring-do to dare to do it right. Be fearless -- ask God to show you, through the text. The very act of telling God about it turns even your bitterest thoughts into a strange kind of prayer. God's seen much worse out of us. You won't be struck by lightning for having even thought of what you're thinking. The decision to entrust God with the matter turns the strongest doubt into an act of faith and the most stubborn question into a plea of faith.
Much of the Bible is actually made up of prayers. Many of the Psalms and sections of the histories and the Prophets are prayers. The New Testament letters contain short prayers, such as the one in Ephesians 3:14-21. The best-known prayer in Scripture is the Lord's Prayer.
The Bible can also be the hub of your own prayers. No prayer method is needed, but for some of us, a method may help us stay focused, disciplined, and open-hearted. One of the oldest is 'Lectio Divina' (divine reading), and it's geared toward helping us listen to the Spirit that speaks through Scripture. One form of it goes like this: first, quiet your mind down. If you find that hard to do, it often helps that you focus on taking deep breaths. Once you're gotten some focus, begin softly speaking or whispering a chosen Bible passage. Then, read it again real slow, this time listening for a word or phrase that stirs you, speaking again and again until one stands out. Then stay with that word or phrase, and ask why the Spirit is stirring you with it. Take what you're thinking, feeling, and remembering, and offer it back to God in prayer. Then repeat the process. You'll be finished when you get a sense of peace about it. Or, you may finish with a sense of exhausted disturbance, in which you know you've poured it out for now, but you're still being stirred in a way that may only be resolved as the day goes on. (If so, return to that word or phrase throughout the day, and see what it has to do with your life.) Most people who use some version of the Lectio find that at some time during it, the Spirit reveals something about living the faith.
A site with helps on daily devotions involving the Lectio Divina.
Sacred Space, an Irish Jesuit site with prayer and devotional sessions
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I've had this happen many times, and you've probably come across this too. (So have many who now avoid church like the plague.) You walk into a church event or a worship service, and you sense an overwhelming deadness. And you know it's not your imagination or your spiritual pride kicking in. When you're sitting among those frozen chosen, what can you do?
First : pray. Pray that God uses you or anyone else to breathe the Spirit into the place. Pray for those up front who are doing what they're doing : liturgical assistants, facilitators, eucharistic celebrants, for the preachers and speakers (but not so much that you're too busy to listen). Then, pray a moment for each person around you. (This is best done with eyes open.) Fan out from there, to each person further and further away, until you've prayed for each person at the event or service. Second: sing! You don't have to be a good singer, just an energetic one who can come reasonably close to pitch. (If you're rather pitch-impaired, don't sing; you'll only inspire thoughts of murder not divinity.) If they're singing the same old hymns or praise songs and just going through the motions, sing boldly. If they're just blurting out the liturgical cants, belt out your response parts. God can use prayer and music to light a fire under anything. The Lord's into this resurrection stuff, even with spiritual zombies.
A subject reference on prayer, with Bible passages, quotes, books, and links.
If you're one of those who is scared of talking to others about Christ, or if you're in a situation where such talk would make matters worse, try this: pray for them. Let's say, you've just encountered someone at work. After they're gone, give a quick, silent prayer that God would act in their lives in a way that brings the Gospel to the front where they can't avoid it.
Sometimes, personal struggles open a door. You'd be surprised how many people would pray with you for themselves if you asked. Especially when something tense or stressful is happening to someone, if you ask to pray with them, odds are they'll say yes. And they'll feel better about it afterward. This is true for most people, even those with weak or no specific belief in God. They're often just happy to have your attention. Remember not to press the matter : hesitation should be taken as a 'no'. Even if not, you can still pray for them on your own, both for their situation and for God to use it to show them Christ.
The new social networks make for some fine new opportunities for prayer. Twitter's tweets, in particular, have unique strengths. Tweets are limited to very short messages, so prayer tweets must also be short and direct, with no bull. This means the prayer has to be focused, which in turn forces you to be more aware of your prayers and your patterns of concern throughout the day. Those who follow your tweets and are expecting word from you can then act as your
prayer circle, to pray with you and you with them. Those prayers can be passed along from your friends to their friends, and so on, so that in moments thousands could be praying in agreement with you. You can even use a friends list as a prayer list that you pray for (off phone/Twitter), one by one. One caveat is that social networking can become addictive -- you may be tempted to make it most of your praying. Most matters of life are not short or simple, and they need to be wrestled with, and that takes time and privacy that Twitter or Facebook or any other on-line communications method can't provide. You must learn for yourself how to sort which sort of prayer belongs where.
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C'mon. I dare you. Try these questions and dares.
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|ver.: 22 March 2012
Ways to Pray. Copyright © 2002-2012 by Robert Longman.