Prayer workshops- session 1… personal prayer

So, we’re hosting a series of workshops on prayer over the next few weeks, and I wanted to make the material available to folks who might find it useful, or would like to question any of the assumptions we make or ideas we put forwards.  As always, this is a written script for a verbally delivered sessions, and it doesn’t quite match up with what was said. It hasn’t been properly proof read or checked for grammar, so apologies for split infinitives, dropped hyphens and any other glitches that you spot…

Session 1- How and Why to pray by myself…

Introduction to the sessions- why are we here… all we do as Christians stems from and is rooted in prayer- (ref to Scripture?). It is prayer which distinguishes our plans and activities from those of all other agencies and groups. Prayer connects our well-meaning gestures to the will and mission of God.

Intentions- to encourage one another in our prayer life, to share some good practice and help overcome commonly faced challenges. To gain a deeper understanding of prayer and to want to pray.

Discussion starters- everyone write down their suggestions on big sheets of paper:

What is prayer? How do you mostly pray? Do you find prayer difficult or not? Why?

So what is prayer- some images…

A way of communicating… yes but more

An attitude… yes but more

A journey… yes but more

A relationship… yes but more

‘prayer is a constant way of being that is the medium for our relationship with God’

(my definition… does that even make sense to anyone but me?)

We might all recognise that, but rarely experience it… what makes it so hard?

Perception– if we remember that it’s a conversation rather than a monologue that helps in 2 ways- firstly we realise there is someone who wants to hear (its like practicing lines for a play on your own…), and secondly we might become aware that we can also listen! (more on that)…

The Radio game- Just a minute- we know it? Speak for one minute on a subject without… if it’s a subject of your choice it becomes easier… its also easier if you know someone is listening, and if you know they’re interested.

Actually doing it… spend one minute of prayer…

Distraction– we have busy lives and busy minds, and its hard to focus on one thing… especially if that thing isn’t front and centre demanding our attention. Work, family, the dinner that’s cooking, those things are demanding. Prayer is not. God is not. Its rare for someone to say to me ‘sorry I didn’t get that done, I was so busy praying’… and that’s before we get started- even when we are praying, things come into our mind, unbidden.  What do we do with them? Fight them? Ignore them? Include them? A buzzing fly can be the most irritating thing, or maybe it can remind us of the created order of things, or of a friend we know who seems trapped in a situation, or of our own desire to be free from the things in life that hold us back from following Christ more fully?

Comparison– sometimes its great to hear about other people’s faith, but it can also be very damaging, especially if we feel we ‘ought’ to be at the same level as them… your prayer life is yours, and mine is mine. That doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t talk about these things together, but it does mean that yours will reflect you and will be different from mine. Our personalities play a great part in who we are and how we communicate with others- there are various personality questionnaires that you can find which suggest either which apostle or saint you are most similar to- the point being that throughout history God’s people have always had rich and varied prayer lives… ?Find prayer questionnaire and download?

Opposition– when we pray, we are aligning ourselves with God, with God’s intentions and plans… and there are spiritual forces that are in opposition to that. We don’t need to be afraid of the devil or any other spiritual powers, but we do need to be aware of them. If it ever feels difficult to pray, that’s a good sign that its important to pray- this is where all of us can make use of the structured prayers that we have learned over the years- if you don’t know the words, then use the Lord’s Prayer, or the Grace, or the priestly blessing, or the Hail Mary or any other prayer- and if you can’t recall the words off by heart, have them written down or find them in your Bible or prayer journal.

So, how might we pray by ourselves? Bearing in mind all that we’ve said- the structure isn’t the key thing… that being said, structure sometimes helps (friend who was a concert pianist—I never heard her play any scales… she just launched into beautiful music every time she saw a piano, but I bet she’d spent hours on them beforehand). Now this is just one form, which uses the acronym ACTS– you may have others…

Its good to start off by saying how we feel about God- Appreciation, or Adoration- a time of worship, maybe using the words of the Gloria or the prayer of Mary, listening to some worship music (you can find loads on youtube now if you don’t have any)… essentially saying ‘you are God, and I am me… Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name’

Confession or contrition is the next thing that follows on- if God is like this, and I am like this, it follows that I need to say sorry… I often find in conversations with Carolyn when I start off by saying something about her, I then find myself apologising for my own shortcomings- that wasn’t the intention or the main idea, but it happens- when you praise someone else, you can’t help but notice yourself in comparison- forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Thanksgiving, thank you for… particular things, for general things, for everything, for being you, for forgiving me, for the roof over my head and the food in my belly, for the people I know and those I’m going to meet, for helping me through the past week and that you’ll be with me in the next 7 days… and so on.

Supplication, shopping list, stuff… the things we want to ask God about…

Where does listening and praying in tongues fit into this?

Listening- any good conversation, any relationship allows both parties to express themselves… how do we listen to God? Same as anyone else- time, waiting, expecting… its helpful to know how the person you’re waiting for usually communicates- so its no use me waiting for an email from my grandmother, and likewise if we have something called God’s word, there’s a fair chance that’s how God will communicate with us… so its by reading the Scriptures in the context of prayer that we allow God to speak to us…

Prayer in tongues- a manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, with 2 purposes- on occasions to communicate across the language barriers that exist, but also a means for us to pray when we run out of our own words- if you’re someone who likes to say things, then you’ll naturally want to pray out loud even when you’re alone… but you may well find yourself inarticulate before God ‘Have mercy on me God, a sinner and the child of sinners…’ but the Holy Spirit helps us to pray in groans and sighs that words cannot express… Prayer in tongues isn’t the preserve of the first century church or just a certain style today, nor is it a pre-requisite for all Christians… it’s a way of praying… just like all the others.

So a few thoughts- ideas which we may already have looked at – prayer journals… a place to write down what you’re praying for, some prayers that you find and like, to note the prayers that God is answering and to keep track of all the things that God says to you in your prayer time…

Speaking of time- finding a good time for you- do you prefer to have an early breakfast with a friend or go out for dinner? Are you someone who relishes long times spent in deep conversation or values frequent interaction? Place and posture- whilst walking the dog or sitting in your armchair?

Something to help you start- whether it’s a verse of Scripture, or a piece of music, a painting, a view, a news article or something on TV. Some people write down lists of people to pray for- you can now get an app ‘Prayermate’ on Android and iphones which does this… however you do it…

To conclude, what could be your personal commitment for the next 2 weeks?

Go on a prayer adventure- coming up with some stuff and putting it down… what we’ll be praying for in the next 2 weeks…

We’ll be having our next session in just over a week’s time, and I’ll try to put up the material from that evening too- it’ll be on intercessory prayer- how and why to pray for the needs of others and lead others in prayer…

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