AFTERNOON WAS GIVING WAY to evening as three carefree college girls and their significant others wound their way up a pleasant, pre-chosen hillside that faced the soon-to-be-setting sun. It was the start of a carefully planned progressive date.
Cheerfully playing the part of a restaurant server, a friend with towel over his arm waited undetected behind nearby shrubbery. He was ready to emerge at the proper moment with an elegant tray containing fine grape juice and glasses for the double trio. From there the group continued to a nearby home, where the chattering guests savored a mouthwatering pasta dish served on an elaborately set table. The details of the dessert segment have been forgotten, but the memories made that evening still linger.
New, shared experiences tend to draw us closer; similarly, simple strategies for our personal prayer time can spark exciting, bonding moments in our friendship with our Almighty
With a heart bursting with love, God is tirelessly, intentionally, pursuing every single person on our planet, yet He still craves alone time with you and me. God promises this: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NKJV).
CONVERSING WITH GOD
While serving overseas as a single young adult, I sometimes felt far away from home and family. Walking out to the sea, I would talk aloud to God in desperation, my voice lost in the sound of the crashing waves. He became so real to me. Since then, the sense of wonder at the reality that I can actually converse with God has not dimmed.
“Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise.” Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 251
Here are some easy-to-implement ideas that have been the catalyst for pulling me into Jesus’ presence time and time again.
1. Go outside. George Mueller, widely known for providing for thousands of orphans by prayer and faith alone, confessed that he often found his mind wandering when he prayed. One day he walked outside as he read and prayed—and everything changed. In the booklet Soul Nourishment First he writes, “I have likewise combined the being out in the
open air for an hour . . . for two hours, before breakfast, walking about in the fields. . . . I find it very beneficial to my health to walk thus for meditation before breakfast.”
A well-known preacher tells about a young man who struggled to keep focused in prayer. His prayer would go something like this: “Dear Lord, bless Aunt Mary, Mary, Mary, marry . . . Lord, whom should I marry?” Sound familiar? Ellen White writes, “We should accustom ourselves to often lift the thoughts to God in prayer. If the mind wanders, we must bring it back; by persevering effort, habit will finally make it easy” (Messages to Young People, p. 115).
Personally, I find that there are fewer distractions when I’m out in nature, and I can detect God’s voice much more easily. Jesus, of course, was our example of communing with God in nature alone: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35, NKJV).
2. Praise. The best 10-step exercise program is to take 10 steps out your front door, and then you’ll be well on your way to a great walk and too far to turn back. It’s the same with praising God. Especially when you don’t feel like it, start off by writing down or saying aloud at least 10 things for which you are thankful. Or start a list of names and/or attributes of God, such as King of kings, Shepherd, Father, and Friend. Consider how He will be your King, Shepherd, Father, or Friend in the situation you’re currently facing. According to a 2012 study, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.1 “Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise” (White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 251).
3. Try a new prayer pattern. Often it is helpful to use a planned prayer progression. The ACTS prayer is popular: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. A book called The Hour That Changes the World by Dick Eastman revolutionized my alone time with Jesus with its 12 prayer steps and accompanying verses on which to meditate. You can spend one minute on each step and pray for 12 minutes, or five minutes on each and pray for an hour. The steps, in order, are Praise, Waiting, Confession, Scripture Praying, Watching, Intercession, Petition, Thanksgiving, Singing, Meditation, Listening, and Praise.2 I have these connected in a chain from one text to the next in my Bible. Honestly, when I start I get so caught up in the initial ones that I very seldom get through all the steps!
4. Sing. Whether you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or not, sing! “Song is a weapon that we can always use against discouragement” (White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 254). Today I lingered at the piano, singing praises and confessions to Jesus through familiar songs. I came away with a soft heart and a lighter load. Even if you “can’t sing,” perhaps you can play an instrument or listen to a song and sing along with it as you commute. Many songs can also be prayers.
5. Create. Like the psalmists, or Mary when she was the soon-to-be mother of Jesus, or Hannah when pleading to God for a child, we, too, can pour out our hearts to God in poetry. Consider recording your prayers word-for-word or in point form in a prayer journal. It’s fun to go back later and scribble a checkmark and the date that God answers specific prayer requests. Alternately, record memorable experiences with God and answered to prayer in an “Ebenezer Book,” which might be a notebook or journal, a file on your computer, or a voice recording app. This idea comes from 1 Samuel 7:12: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’” (NKJV).
6. Pray Scripture. Why not pray the powerful prayers in Scripture as your own? Take the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), for example. Pull apart every phrase, talking it over with God. There are also the prayers of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1- 10) and Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) or the book of Psalms. You can also choose a scripture and pray
God’s words back to Him, earnestly asking Him to make the promise true in your life. “Every promise in the word of God furnishes us with subject matter for prayer” (White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 133).
7. Use Spirit of Prophecy prayers. Here are some examples: “Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul” (White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 159). “Let your daily prayer be, ‘Lord, teach me to do my best. Teach me how to do better work. Give me energy and cheerfulness’” (White, Child Guidance, p. 148).
8. Listen quietly. “Christ is ever sending messages to those who listen for His voice” (White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 509). Don’t you wonder what those are? I do. We can find out! While we need to exercise wise caution on this point, if we wait, anticipating that God will speak, He will direct our thoughts to scriptures with which He wants to impress us. “Truly my soul silently waits for God” (Psalm 62:1, NKJV). Often at the end of my prayer time I ask, “Lord Jesus, what do You want to tell me today?” Into my thoughts come such words as these: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1, NKJV). “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4, NKJV).
“What else, Lord?” I ask.
“Walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, NKJV). “I will do for and in you more than you could ask or imagine” (see Ephesians 3:20).
“Thank you, Jesus,” I smile. “You are carrying me today.”
In the gift of Jesus, God has lavishly poured out all of heaven for us. He wants, invites, and urges us to pray always. Different prayer strategies keep our friendship with Jesus vibrant as He convicts, comforts, and encourages us. As we look forward to new adventures in prayer and spend alone time with Him, we will see changes in our lives.
“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”3 Let’s take hold of the unbelievable opportunity we have for fellowship with the Almighty God. Why wait? I invite you to set aside time for a prayer date with Jesus today.
1 Study published in “Personality and Individual Differences,” reported in Psychology Today, April 3, 2015, “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude,” by Amy Morin.
2 Verses for the 12 Steps: Ps. 63:3; Ps. 46:10; Ps. 139:23; Jer. 23:29; Col. 4:2; 1 Tim. 2:1, 2; Matt. 7:7; 1 Thess. 5:18; Psalm 100:2; Josh. 1:8; Eccl. 5:2; Ps. 52:9.
3 Alfred Lord Tennyson.