I’ve been a prayer-journalist, on and off, for a long time now. Simply put, this means I write out my most substantial prayers as letters to God in a book.
Sometimes, I write pages and pages just pouring out my heart to God. Other times, I write a few frantic sentences, along the lines of “Help me, God!”
One of my goals this year is to be more intentional and consistent in my quiet times with God.
So, when I was away on the retreat, I sat down to work out what I wanted to cover in these times.
I’ve recently started reading Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, which I’m finding really challenging (in a good way).
One of her main points in the start of the book is that we often approach the Bible to read about ourselves. Whether we are looking for comfort or encouragement or something to challenge us, reading the Bible to answer the question “Who am I?” is getting things backwards. The Bible is a book about God, and we should be reading it to answer the question “Who is God?” (She goes onto say that this will indeed reveal things about ourselves, but this should always be in response to who God is, not the other way around.)
As I look ahead to a year of “baby makes 5”, I know I may not always have the solid, committed block of time at the start of the day that I try to have with the Lord now. I know it will often be a case of fitting that time in where I can.
So I wanted to make my Bible reading plan as simple as possible, and easily adaptable to the days when I can read two verses, and the days when I can read two chapters.
From these thoughts, I came up with two questions to ask myself after each time reading the Bible:
What does this tell me about God?
What is/should be my response?
Looking at my prayer journalling time, I wanted a similar “template” type thing to guide me. Some people might find this too formulaic, but for me, it is helpful.
I found that my prayers became dominated by a single issue (usually something causing me stress) at times, often for whole weeks. And I realised that, while it was good to be pouring out my heart to God (instead of ruminating on the stressful issue), this was probably causing me to neglect other important aspects of prayer. Not to mention, being entirely self-focused and not at all God-focused (beyond what I want Him to do for me).
I remembered a prayer from my childhood that Mum used to take us through at bedtimes – the teaspoon (tsp) prayer. T is for Thank you. S is for Sorry. P is for Please.
So I’ve kind of loosely used this as the basis for my prayers growing up (well, at the times when I wasn’t completely absorbed with some personal issue). But the problem I’ve come to see with this format is that “Thank you” is still pretty self-focused. It’s thanking God, sure, but it’s about what he’s done for us, rather than who He is.
So in my new plan for my prayer life this year, I’ve decided to start with praise.
No matter what’s on my heart, no matter how big my problems seem, when I sit down to pray in the quiet of the early morning, I will start by praising God.
Here are some things I’ve realised:
- Starting with praise feels incredibly unnatural at first. I think this is because we’re so used to looking first at our own selves/lives and then raising our eyes towards God. Life is comfortable at the moment… thank you God for providing. To look at him first, with no point of reference to myself, feels… weird.
- There is a lot of confusion in Christian culture about what praise really is. Think back to your most recent Bible study prayer time. Did the leader ask if anyone had any “praise points”? What followed was probably actually a collection of “thanks points” – “praise God that he provided this new job”, “praise God that he kept us safe in the car accident last week”, “praise God that he healed my Mum”. No, you mean you want to thank God for those things. And you should! But that’s not praise… Because this still feels unnatural to me, and I easily slip back into “thanking as praising”, I have taken to starting all my journal entries with “Dear Lord, You are…” and going from there.
- When I put my own concerns on the back burner, and start with praising God, often I find all the sting is removed from what was troubling me, or the answer to my questions is suddenly clear. Like reading the Bible, putting things in their right order by focusing on God first and me second has the effect of reordering my concerns as well. Nothing scary looks too big or bad when it is behind God.
- It makes me less likely to view prayer as some kind of drive-through spiritual caffeine fix on my way to more important things. You know, “Thanks God…. And could you please… Okay, bye!” It changes my posture from “fidgeting toddler with a favourite toy in the other room” to humble servant on my knees.
How do you pray to God? Are there any recurring themes in your prayers? Do you use some kind of structure, or do you just pray in the moment?