Prayer Boot Camp: Day 2

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).

Susanna Wesley raised ten children. She gave birth to nineteen, but nine of them died in infancy – not uncommon in the early 18th century. Two of her surviving ten were John and Charles Wesley, theologian-hymn writers who are foundational to the birth of the Methodist Church.

A devout woman, Susanna had determined at a young age to be serious in the practice of prayer. Of course, in her adult life, raising ten kids made this challenging. With ten children afoot, Susanna made a place for prayer by pulling her apron up over head and forming a make-shift tent. Those kids knew that when their mother was under that apron she was not to be disturbed.

Yesterday I coached you to get specific about the “clock and the closet” – the time and place you’ll regularly devote to a practice of prayer. I hope you’re able to do better than an apron over your head, but as Mrs. Wesley’s example teaches us, there are different ways to do this.

But once you’ve gotten clear on time and place, clock and closet, what comes next? That question will be the focus of today’s prayer “boot camp.”                

I want to offer you three specific practices for your time of prayer, no matter where you are and no matter how much time you’re able to manage. Countless shelves of books have been written on what I’m sharing with you, but I’m boiling all of this down to three simple words: Rest, Read, Reflect.


Your first order of business is simply to get still in God’s presence. The rest I’m speaking of here is about what’s going on inside of you. Many of you are very busy people. Some of you find ways to be busy if the busy-ness hasn’t found you. Some of you, as you come to this time and place of prayer, will have to fight the urge to get on with it, get it done, and get on with the day.

Hear Jesus’ invitation from Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

If you’ve set aside fifteen minutes this morning for prayer, begin with allocating three of those minutes for sitting still in quiet.

Let your pulse slow just a bit. Breathe a little deeper and slower.

Recognize that God is present and delights in you before you say a word.

Rest in that truth. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8)


In addition to your clock and closet, you’ll need a Bible. And here’s why (don’t miss this).

There is no meaningful prayer apart from Bible reading.

There is no fruitful Bible reading without prayer.

Again, the key to this is structure. Don’t come to your place of prayer wondering what you’ll read. That’s almost a guarantee that you won’t read much of anything. Find a Bible reading plan of some kind: year long, month long, reading through a book of the Bible, looking closely at a Bible character – whatever. Assigned readings will keep you from floundering in prayer.

Whatever plan you use, I strongly recommend that you begin with a selection from Psalms. The Psalms give you words to pray when you don’t feel like praying. What’s more, God’s people have prayed for centuries by simply reading through the Psalms.

If your prayer time is fifteen minutes, spend five to ten of those minutes in a leisurely reading of the Bible.


Now it’s time to sit still again.

Sit still and ask: What was God’s message in the words I just read? What did the text tell you about God? What behavior did the text command? What did you notice that was puzzling or leaves you with a question?

Personally, I find it helpful to keep a notebook where I can occasionally write down things like this. Call it a journal if you want to. If you don’t like that, just call it what it is: a notebook. But use it as a tool that pushes you to articulate what you want to say to God in response to his words to you.

As you think your thoughts in response to God’s thoughts, take time to ask for what you need and name your burdens for those whom you love. “Pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).

Today’s assignment is obvious: Rest, Read, Reflect.

Tomorrow we’ll close out “boot camp” by looking at some resources that can help you do this.   

Prayer: We seek your help today, Lord God. We need help coming into your presence, listening to your voice, and speaking to you in response. Thank you for being faithful to meet with us – even when we’re hurried, or when we don’t know what to say, or when we’re barely interested in conversing with you. We ask again that you would teach us to pray, and we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Prayer “Boot Camp”: Day 1

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 NIV)

I’m not very good at prayer.

That might seem strange coming from a pastor. I’ve done a fair amount of teaching on prayer. I lead others in prayer every week. I’ve read more than a few books about prayer. But somehow, I still have a nagging sense that I’m not very good at it. Maybe what I’m really saying is that I rarely feel like I’m good at it.

I’m not as consistent as I’d like to be. I miss days here and there.

I’m not always as focused as I’d like to be. My mind wanders.

I’m not always as persistent as I’d like to be. I’ll pray about something for a while and then let it go (as in “God knows what to do”).

I guess I’m sharing this with you simply to say that if you struggle with prayer, you’re not alone. And I’m writing this week to encourage you. Don’t allow your practice of prayer to be determined by how you feel about praying, or about yourself as a pray-er.

Hitting Pause on “The Lord’s Prayer”

When Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus responded by giving them words to say. At times those words can serve as a script for prayer. At other times those words may serve as a pattern for our praying.

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the words Jesus gave us to pray, but this week we’ll take a short pause from the content of “The Lord’s Prayer” and give our attention to the practice of prayer itself.

Consider this week a week of coaching. A prayer “boot camp” if you will.

Ok, “boot camp” might be a stretch. But my aim is to provide you with some skills and drills and practices that will take you beyond knowing the words of “The Lord’s Prayer” to understanding what to do with those words.

Here’s the bottom line for the week: The practice of prayer flourishes best with structure.

I’ll be quick to add that the practice of prayer is not limited to the structures I’ll be urging you to practice. Whether consciously or not, we have a way of constantly expressing our yearnings and concerns to God. It has been said that everyone prays, all the time. I get that. But a life of prayer, a discipline of prayer, won’t happen without some intent and structure.

That’s what I’d like to give some attention to this week.

“A Clock and a Closet”

Eugene Peterson once wrote that a life of prayer is not complicated. Sometimes we make it harder than it has to be. All we need, said Peterson, is “a clock and a closet.”

By “clock” Peterson is saying we need to determine or best time for prayer. Closely related to the “clock” might be your calendar. In other words, be deliberate about when you will give yourself to a focused practice of prayer.

In the monastic tradition there are seven times of prayer every day, beginning at 3am and ending before going to bed. Those times never change and haven’t for hundreds of years. But of course, we’re not monks. What matters is intent and consistency with the time of prayer.

By “closet” Peterson is saying we need to identify our place for prayer. That might be your kitchen table, your back deck, a favorite chair by a favorite window. But find a place and treat it as the place where you go to meet with God. Jesus said that when we pray, we should enter our closet and close the door (Matt. 6:6). Your place doesn’t have to be a “closet,” but you need a place.

The clock: when will you set aside time for prayer? It won’t be 3am (but I am an advocate for placing prayer at the start of your day).

The closet: where will you pray? Find a setting that allows you to give your attention to God and to speaking with God.

Your assignment today: get specific about the clock and the closet.

I’ll meet you tomorrow at the appointed time and place.


We give you thanks, O God, for the words your son Jesus gave us to pray. Today we confess that we need help with the act of prayer itself – finding the time and place to speak back to you the words given to us. This week we ask you to strengthen our resolve to cultivate a practice of prayer, and we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.   

Struggling to Make Sense of God’s Will

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)

As best I can recall (and I’m doing this by memory), the phrase “will of God” does not appear in the Joseph stories of Genesis 37-50. What’s more, if anyone ever had reason to despair of being in God’s will, if anyone had reason to question and doubt whether God had a will and whether it was good, it would have been Joseph.

Joseph was a young man with a dream. He had a vision of who he would become and where his life was headed. Awkwardly, his vision involved his brothers, and even his parents, bowing down to him (Genesis 37:6-7). Having seen this in a dream, Joseph shared this vision of his stellar future with his brothers and with his Dad. His Dad rebuked him. His brothers hated him.

The story goes downhill from here .

The Will We Don’t Expect

When we pray “thy will be done,” we tend to assume that whatever it is that God wills is good and pleasant. But we know from our own life experience, and from biblical stories like that of Joseph, that this isn’t always the case. Often, we struggle to make sense of God’s will.    

We don’t imagine that God would have willed the animosity of Joseph’s brothers and their ambush of him as they tended the flocks near Dothan.

It hardly seems possible that God would have willed that Joseph, the young man with a bright and promising future, be sold into slavery and carried far from home.

It hardly seems possible that God would have willed the lies that broke a Father’s heart and sent him into inconsolable grief.

It hardly seems possible that God would have willed Joseph’s imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit.

None of that sounds like the will of God. And we struggle to make sense of it.

But when we get to the end of the story that’s exactly what Joseph says it was. He looks back over the story of his life and draws this conclusion: The things that had happened to him and the things that had been done to him with evil intent were all meant by God for good purposes. “What you meant for evil,” Joseph says to his brothers, “God meant for good.” 

Indeed, when Joseph spoke those words to his brothers, they were bowing down before him (Genesis 50:18-20). The dream had become reality, but not in a way we would have expected.

Nothing Wasted

There are probably plenty of people who have prayed for and sought the will of God at some point in their lives, but as the story of life unfolded they concluded that they had missed it. Maybe they concluded that there never really was such a thing as “God’s will.” Life had been up to them all along, or perhaps just a series of random events, and the dream they had died a slow death.

Sometimes people blame themselves: a bad decision, a bad investment, a poorly forged marriage or plain bad luck. Sometimes people blame others: someone abused them or lied to them or cheated them or sought to harm them. All of us will live through something that we cannot reconcile with our understanding of “God’s will.” The only conclusion we see is that we somehow missed it, or it never existed to begin with.

But your story is not over yet. That might be worth remembering today.

Beware conclusions quickly arrived at. The will of God is often worked our slowly, in ways we can’t imagine and sometimes in ways we do not like.

God wills your good. And nothing, absolutely nothing, will be wasted.


Thy will be done, O God, in every circumstance of my life. Grant me the kind of patience that refuses to draw conclusions before the story has been fully told. Grant me the kind of faith that knows you are working for my good in all things. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Thy Will Be Done”

Your kingdom come, your will be done . . . (Matt. 6:10)

When I was young in my life as a follower of Jesus, I spent considerable mental and emotional energy on the will of God. Honestly, I still spend plenty of mental and emotional energy on the will of God, although my questions are different now. Back then all of that energy was aimed at my future and the questions that loomed large on the horizons of my life.

Would I ever get married? How would I know “the one?”

What should I pursue as a career? Closely related to that was choosing a school and choosing a major.

A little later in life the same kinds of questions focused on accepting a position, moving the family, raising kids. 

Promise and Problem

The will of God. Few things hold more promise for us, and yet few things are more problematic.

The will of God draws us but seems elusive at the same time. We want to know it but we’re never quite sure we do. We look to our future and wonder what it is. We look at our past and wonder if we missed it.

As we begin our reflections this week on the will of God it may be a good idea to listen carefully to the words Jesus gave us to pray. “Thy will be done.” Jesus did not tell us to pray “Thy will be known.”

It’s not that knowing the will of God isn’t important, but the words Jesus gave us put the emphasis elsewhere. When we pray the way Jesus taught us to pray, we know that God’s will isn’t a secret for us to figure out. It’s not a mystery to be solved. We’re not playing a theological version of ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ taking isolated clues and trying to piece together the whole.

In other words, when it comes to the will of God, God does not play games with us and hope we’ll get it right. God does his will. He acts and invites us to be a part of what he is doing. 

Is That What We Want?

This doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We still need to engage our minds, engage the scripture, talk with trusted Christian friends, pray for insight into what God is doing and how the Spirit might be leading. None of that hard work is nullified by the prayer Jesus gave us.  

But having done all of that, our hope and confidence is this: God intends to do his will. His will is not thwarted by our limitations. Our errors will not derail the divine purposes. And so we pray, “Thy will be done.”

Maybe the real question for us is whether or not we want that. Do we want God’s will, or deep down are we asking God to do our will? This is the question that will hold our attention this week. For now, where and how are you struggling with the will of God?

Maybe God’s will is clear to you, but you find that you’re resistant to it.

Maybe you’re facing something difficult and you’re finding that God’s will is not clear at all.   

Why not take some time and return to the words that Jesus gave us to pray. Ask God to do his will. Yes, keep searching the scriptures, pondering the questions, assessing the options, discussing the perplexities with someone you trust. But do not neglect the simple prayer that Jesus gave us.

“Thy will be done.” That’s a prayer that God is always ready to answer.    

Prayer: Do your will, O God, in all that concerns me. Do your will in the details of my life and in this world. I ask your guidance as I make decisions and live my days – but more than anything I ask that your will would come to pass. Teach me to rest in the assurance that you will accomplish what you will. Today I yield myself to your sovereign grace, asking these things through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Does Prayer Make a Difference?

This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . . (Matthew 6:9).

Ever prayed for a parking place? I have.

Ever made fun of people who pray for a parking place? I have.

Praying for a parking place isn’t wrong, but there are some problems with that kind of praying. It’s a genie-in-the-bottle kind of praying. We rub the lamp with our ‘prayer’ and get our wish. It is, in a word, immature.

But our mockery of that kind of praying is equally problematic. With our dismissive laughter we are saying that we don’t believe God actually cares about little things like parking places. And we are also saying that should a parking place open up for us it had no connection with the prayer we prayed. But let’s forget about parking places for now. What we’re really talking about is our confidence in prayer.

Does God care about what I care about?

And furthermore, does talking to God about it really make a difference?

In other words, does prayer do anything?

The Key to Our Confidence

A story is told about George Muller (1805-1898), who was making a journey by sea from England to Quebec. The ship encountered a very dense fog. Muller informed the Captain that he had to be in Quebec by Saturday. The Captain informed Muller that they would never be able to reach their destination by that time. At this, Muller invited the Captain to join him in praying about their predicament.

After Muller had prayed the Captain was about to speak a prayer when Muller stopped him. He placed his hand on the Captain’s shoulder and told him not to pray. “Firstly,” he said, “because you do not believe God will . . . and secondly, I believe God has and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.”

When they stepped out of the cabin the fog was gone.[1]    

I’m impressed with Muller’s praying, but I suspect I most often resemble the Captain – willing to pray but lacking confidence that it will matter. When Jesus told us to pray “Our Father in heaven” he was not simply giving us words. He was giving us confidence. That opening phrase holds the key to our confidence in prayer.

God Cares, and God Can

When we say “our Father” we are saying God cares. God our Father knows what we need and looks upon every need with tender compassion. Nothing escapes the notice of our heavenly Father. What concerns us concerns our Father. Knowing that God truly cares gives us confidence.

And when we say “in heaven” we are saying that God can. God is not bound as we are bound. Our limitations do not apply to our heavenly Father. As the Psalmist said, “whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth” (Psalm 135:6).

“Our Father in heaven.” God cares and God can. If we don’t believe that, why pray at all? The very act of prayer assumes confidence in the presence and power and compassion of God. And that confidence isn’t something we conjure up. Jesus gives it to us by giving us words to pray: “Our Father in heaven.”

How’s your confidence today? Where do you need confidence as you pray this morning? Linger a while with the opening phrase of the Lord’s Prayer and live this day knowing that God cares, and God can. 


O God, by the power of your Spirit, give us confidence in our praying and then let that confidence follow us through this day. Remind us moment by moment of these truths: You are our Father, and you truly care about our lives. And you are in the heavens, able to do what we cannot do. We will rest in you, prayerfully, confidently, expectantly. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] From Glenn Clark, I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes, cited in Reuben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, 293.

The Difference Between “Saying” and “Praying”

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . . (Matthew 6:9 ESV)

About an hour before sitting down to write this, I was watching the service for Queen Elizabeth that was held at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.

John Knox – a fiery Presbyterian preacher and church reformer – graced the pulpit of St. Giles in the mid-1500s. I think of him as a hero of the faith, but his burial site is now under a parking lot adjacent to the cathedral. A simple plate that bears his name marks the spot in the asphalt where his bones lie.

But back to the Queen . . .

Toward the conclusion of the service, the congregation gathered there in St. Giles recited the words we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” As they did so, the camera panned the crowd. Admittedly, this service was a formal and solemn observance, marked by the kind of “high church” reverence befitting an English monarch.

Nevertheless, the most striking feature of these praying faces was boredom.          

I’ll be the first to admit that you can’t know what’s in a person’s heart by simply looking at their face – the old “book-by-the-cover” truism. But when we say the Lord’s prayer, we’re speaking words that Jesus himself gave us to pray. Surely, he intended something more than our disinterested recitation of words.

Frederick Buechner observed that the Episcopalian liturgy introduces The Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Now, as our savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say . . .” He urges us to ponder the word “bold.” To pray the Lord’s prayer is an act of courage. “It takes guts to pray it at all,” he says.     

I have both spoken and led the Lord’s Prayer more times than I can count. Rarely have I been aware of doing something bold. Far from being bold, we are often bored when we say the prayer Jesus gave us.

How does that happen? How do we let boredom elbow the boldness out of our souls? Maybe there’s a simple answer. Somewhere along the way, having worn a hard-packed verbal trail over those words with our frequent passing by, we stopped praying the prayer and started saying the prayer. Maybe it’s time for us to quit saying it and start praying it.        

Today we begin a series of reflections on the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Our quest is simple. We’re out to recover our nerve. To get bold again. To leave behind our mindless recitations and take up the bold work of truly praying the way Jesus taught us to pray.

We’re going to ask God to cause his name to be reverenced as if we really want it to happen.

We’re going to plead for the coming of God’s rule on this earth and the doing of God’s will.

We’re going to ask for daily bread and for forgiveness as if we know we can’t live without them. 

We will stop saying the Lord’s Prayer and start praying the Lord’s Prayer.

And our boldness begins with knowing exactly to whom we pray. God is our Father. He is eager for us to call on him. He is ever ready to hear us. This is the truth that will hold our attention this week.

For today try to remember: When or from whom did you learn the Lord’s Prayer? Why do you think these words require boldness of those who pray them?      

Prayer: Lord Jesus, just like your first followers we ask you to teach us to pray. Take the words that we so often say and regularly repeat and turn them into prayer. Many of us know those words well. What we are less familiar with is a life of prayer.  So we ask you to teach in these coming days. Make us humble and ready to learn. Make us bold and eager to pray. Amen.