Help with Praying in the New Year

At the outset of a new year, we tend to think a good deal about resolutions and making changes for the better. And in Christian circles, that often includes pursuing a Bible reading plan, and rightly so. God continually speaks to us through his word, orienting our lives in the proper direction, giving us hope through his promises, etc.

But while we often talk about ways to read and hear God’s word to us, we don’t usually pay as much attention to our words to him, that is, praying. How is it that we can encourage growth in this area for 2015?

Let me quickly make the disclaimer that I don’t offer any of this as someone who has “arrived.” More like a routinely stumbling traveler that has come across a few good road signs:

1. God doesn’t just talk to us in his word, he also teaches us to talk to him. 

If left to my own devices, my prayers tend to get a bit stale and repetitive. I find myself checking off the same items on a (relatively short) mental checklist. And while sometimes even that is a great victory for a particular day, there are some things that help me get out of the rut.

Perhaps the biggest thing is to allow the Bible to guide my prayers. In fact, in the Psalms we have an entire book of songs/prayers, each one helping to teach us how to communicate to God: both what to pray about and how to pray it. I’ll mention just one point as illustrative of the many things the Psalms can teach us: when I pray through/in light of the Psalms, I tend to spend more time thinking about God—his power and glory, what he’s done on my behalf, his character, etc.—than I otherwise would. It helps to turn my focus outward. And that not only leads me to praise God, but it helps me see my own needs, wants, circumstances, and so forth in a much better perspective.

Of course, there are many other prayers in the Bible outside of the Psalms that will help to shape our prayers. Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer (see Mat. 6:9-13) specifically for that reason. Each line or phrase of that prayer can serve as a springboard for us to pray in light of our own situation. Where would we like to see our situation on earth—our lives and culture—match up more with God’s kingdom in heaven? What temptations do we face? What daily provision do we need? And so on.

Among the other prayers in the Bible you might find helpful in guiding your own: John 17; Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21; and Colossians 1:9-13. And of course any passage of scripture, regardless of whether it’s a prayer, can do the same thing.

2. Get outside help.

If you read the first point and thought something like, “That’s great in theory, but it still sounds like a tall order. I need training wheels for my training wheels.” I sympathize, which is why I’m happy to recommend some resources to help you make the first point happen.

Kenneth Boa has a handful of books all based on the same simple premise: taking various passages of the Bible and presenting them into prayers to be used in a daily format (usually with just a few small pronoun changes). Along with several other Crossing staff, I’ve used them for years and found them to be a great help. Take a few minutes to check some of them out (and note that Kindle versions are available for two of the three items below).

Handbook to Prayer

Face to Face, vol. 1

Face to Face, vol. 2

3. Be encouraged by a fresh perspective on prayer.

I’ll be frank: I’ve always tended to shy away from books on prayer simply because I feel under the pile before I read the first page. That’s certainly a “me” problem, but I’m betting it’s one I share with a lot of you.

So I’m happy to make another recommendation, one that we’ve mentioned several times over the past few years at The Crossing: A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. This book gave me a better, more realistic view of prayer. And it actually encouraged me to pray, rather than making me feel like I had a huge burden to do so.

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