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.