You’ve inherited lots of ideas about prayer—what it’s supposed to look like, sound like, how you’re expected to do it, and how often you think you should do it. But have you ever thought about how prayer relates to who you are in Christ? In this 5-day plan, Pete Briscoe explores how you can experience prayer in a fresh, new, life-giving way.
Rethink Your Prayers
If you should ask me for an epitome of the Christian religion, I should say that it is in one word—prayer. —Charles Spurgeon
Prayer… we hear that word a lot. It’s all over the place in the Bible. You hear it in passing conversations. It’s preached about in sermons galore. When you hear that word, what comes to mind? What do you feel?
At the end of Ephesians 6, when Paul finishes talking about our spiritual armor and spiritual warfare, he concludes the list of our arsenal with this exhortation for prayer:
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)
In the next couple of days, we’re going to dissect this passage, thought by thought. In the process, we’re going to blow up some stereotypes and rip out some deeply entrenched misunderstandings. Looking at prayer from the perspective of who we are in Christ can radically alter our practice of prayer and transform our lives in powerful ways.
Listen, you’ve likely inherited a lot of ideas about prayer—what it’s supposed to look like, how you’re expected to do it, how often you think you should do it (but probably don’t)… but when was the last time you really considered prayer as it relates to the other radical things that you know to be true about who you are in Christ and who Christ is in you?
Jesus, I’m curious! I take prayer for granted and do it according to what I’ve learned through traditions and the example of others. Renew my mind about prayer according to the truth of who I am in You and who You are in me. Amen.
A Majorly Wrong Assumption About Prayer
If the spiritual life be healthy, under the full power of the Holy Spirit, praying without ceasing will be natural. —Andrew Murray
It really is hard to see the forest through the trees. We can get so entrenched with the details that we never really consider the big picture. That happens big time with prayer—which oftentimes comes with some monstrous expectations and invisible assumptions.
The biggest assumption is that we’re always supposed to pray more than we do! If you don’t pray a lot, you obviously aren’t serious about God, right? And if more people like you would just pray more, then our world and our nation wouldn’t be going to hell in a handbasket, right? Verses like the following might only fuel your struggle:
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Add this all together, and you might feel like a first-class spiritual loser. Or maybe you try to dodge it by saying, “I don’t have the gift of prayer.”
What’s the problem here? Is God setting us up for failure and condemnation? Not at all. The problem is much more fundamental than that. Most of our traditions, teachings, and examples miss the simple, pure, liberating essence of prayer:
Prayer is an intimate conversation with the One who passionately loves you and lives in you.
Erase for a moment, if you can, everything you think you know about what prayer looks like, how you’re supposed to do it, and how much you’re expected to do it. Consider, again, this simple definition. Really think about it—both what prayer is and also what prayer is not.
What is the big picture? Can you see the forest of prayer possibilities through the trees of your assumptions?
Holy Spirit, I need Your help here. I’m excited about the opportunity to pray without ceasing, using all kinds of prayers and requests. Right now, begin to open my mind to the possibilities of a life praying in You. Amen.
What Real Prayer Looks Like
When prayer has become secondary, or incidental, it has lost its power. Those who are conspicuously men of prayer are those who use prayer as they use food, or air, or light, or money. —M.E. Andross
In Ephesians chapter 6, Paul challenges us “to pray in the spirit.” That brings up an interesting question: Is it actually possible to pray “in the flesh?” Could someone actually pray in their own strength as part of a performance-based system to gain favor with God?
Absolutely! Remember Jesus coming down on the Pharisees? Don’t pray like the Pharisees pray, for they stand on the street corner to be seen by everyone. They were performing for people, and they weren’t praying, right? Instead, Jesus told us to get in the closet where no one can see us.
But even in the closet, isn’t it quite possible that our prayers are seen as a duty to be fulfilled through self-effort rather than an opportunity to communicate with God?
Let’s consider this simple, pure definition of prayer again:
Prayer is an intimate conversation with the One who passionately loves you and lives in you. Prayer is not an action—it is an interaction—and that interaction takes place in and through the Holy Spirit.
Paul says there are going to be times when it’s actually impossible for us to pray.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
Prayer is not something you do. It’s something that the Spirit, who is in you, does through you. We don’t even have to use words; in our weakness, we might not even know what to say, but God knows the mind of the Holy Spirit in us. If you enter the intimate conversation with the One who loves you, the Spirit in you will intercede and lead you.
Lord, I surrender myself to You in prayer. Holy Spirit, pray through me. According to Your will, lay things on my heart that You want to talk about today. Amen.
Prayer Is an Intimate, Ongoing Conversation
There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs, but deep within, behind the scenes at a profounder level we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings. —Thomas Kelly, Testament of Devotion
Sometimes my family and I hold hands around the dinner table at the end of the day, closing our eyes and bowing our heads, thanking God for a table full of food, a family that loves each other, and a life worth dying for.
On Sundays, I ask everyone to bow their heads, and we ask that God would teach us. At the end of the sermon, we bow our heads again, close our eyes, and ask God to apply what we have learned. And sometimes, in my office alone, I get on my knees and raise my empty hands toward heaven, focusing solely on an intimate conversation with a God who loves me.
I’m all for structured times of prayer. But my friend, “prayer” is in no way limited by the words squished between “Dear God…” and “Amen.” Prayer can be a never-ceasing intimate conversation with the One who loves us. Consider these Scriptural truths:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
“…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” (Romans 8:11)
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18)
“Walk by the Spirit…” (Galatians 5:16)
Just as you walk in the Spirit moment by moment, you can continually pray in the Spirit—always rejoicing, always giving thanks in never-ceasing communication with Him—even as you go about your day and other duties.
Today, I’m not going to close with a structured prayer. Instead, I challenge you to begin a natural, ongoing conversation with God right now! Amen?
The Power of Letting God Lead You in Prayer
Praying is weakness leaning on omnipotence. —W.S. Bowd
Aaron Boyd was way over his head. On a mission trip to Thailand, he and his band, Bluetree, played one night in The Climax Bar, deep in Pattaya’s red-light district. There, they rubbed shoulders with those stuck in the worst of the worst. There, he and his band discovered what can happen when someone “prays in the Spirit,” allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through them in a way that was natural to them. Aaron remembers:
“Everything you can imagine goes on in that place. You see kids as young as 8, 9, and 10, just selling themselves, you know?! You see 60-year-old guys walking down the street with two 13- or 14-year-old girls…”
The band was overwhelmed with grief for what they saw around them. When it was time for them to get up and play, words were hard to find.
“At one point, I just started singing out. I started singing ‘Greater things…’ something along those lines, almost prophesying over the city… slowly this groove emerged…”
The band began to fill in with voices and instruments—praying in the Spirit with music. The Spirit’s words, flowing through them, began to come together in a passionate, intimate conversation with God—the Spirit was writing a new song on the spot:
You’re the God of this City. You’re the King of these people. You’re the Lord of this nation. You are.
You’re the Light in this darkness. You’re the Hope to the hopeless. You’re the Peace to the restless. You are.
For greater things have yet to come. And greater things are still to be done in this City…
This song, God of this City, is now sung worldwide. What is the Spirit going to sing in your heart today? Are you listening to what He is going to pray through you?
Holy Spirit, I’m listening. As we walk together today, lead our conversation. Speak to me and pray through me with all kinds of prayer in all situations. Amen.
- What ideas have I inherited about prayer that may be preventing me from experiencing prayer as God intended it?
- Am I willing to allow the Spirit to lead our conversation of prayer? Am I willing to listen to what He’ll say?