Praying with Scripture – Part Ten – Whenever, wherever, alone & together

Wymondham Abbey Side Chapel

Is there a “best” time, place and way to pray? Should we follow a particular pattern of, e.g., 30 minutes alone every morning in our bedroom? Should churches stop worrying about attendance at prayer meetings?

Scripture presents us with a varied picture of God’s people at prayer. Sometimes, we are encouraged to pray alone, perhaps seeking out a moment of quiet just between us and God, as Christ also did:

Cornwall Coast

  • “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6, NIV)
  • “Very early the next morning, Jesus got up and went to a place where he could be alone and pray.” (Mark 1:35, CEV)


Paul encouraged Christians to pray (e.g. Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Timothy 2:1-8). As with his other “commands”, they are addressed to the gathered group of God’s people in those places. The letters were probably read out to them when they assembled together and the assumption seems to be that they would pray together.

Edinburgh City Scene

In Acts, one of the first things the disciples did together after Jesus’ ascension was pray (1:14, 24f). After Pentecost, the disciples met and prayed regularly (2:42f, 4:31, etc.). This seems to have happened in the temple courts in Jerusalem and in people’s homes.

So, the New Testament shows prayer happening in quiet, secluded places, in bustling, busy public gatherings in the city and in the intimate setting of one another’s homes. It was something natural to do when Jesus’ followers met together as well as something for which to set aside personal, private time.

All of this stands in clear continuity with what we see in the Old Testament. The Psalms can at times read like very personal prayers, yet they are corporate in the sense that God’s people use them as Scripture and also sometimes have said and continue to say them publicly together. Likewise, we have records of characters such as David and Solomon praying publicly on behalf of the people (e.g. 1 Chronicles 29:10-13,2 Chronicles 6:12-42), whilst also conversing privately with God (e.g. 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 – did he tell someone afterwards, or was this not as private as Solomon thought?!).

Moreover, we know that the Spirit empowers individuals, yet also forms the fellowship of God’s people, equipping for individual and corporate worship and ministry. The Spirit enables us to pray on our own and when we are together. Both private and public prayer, personal and corporate are works of the Spirit in God’s people.

Finally, as Psalm 139 reminds us, there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence. The Spirit of God is everywhere; whether in a church building, in the countryside, a bustling crowd, a hospital ward, prison cell, street or bedroom we are always in a position to connect with God.

So, what about this variety of locations – is any “best” or “better”? It would appear not. The evidence suggests it would be a mistake to deprive ourselves of either personal or corporate prayer – both are part of a healthy prayer life. Other aspects seem to have more to do with where we find ourselves and our personalities.

How easy do you find it to pray in different situations? What makes it harder for you to pray – quiet isolation or big crowds, being in the countryside or the city, in church or at home? Can you see how your favoured ways of praying reflect your personality (and location)? What about others – can you see how their personalities affect how they pray?

Given that prayer is a relationship and all of us are different, it shouldn’t surprise us to discover that people pray in many different ways, in many different places and at different times. Perhaps we can challenge ourselves to try something outside our comfort zone and have a go at something new? Perhaps if we do so, we’ll bring more balance to ourselves and greater understanding of others.

© Joe Lenton, August 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part Nine – Amazing things can happen when we pray

On our own, few of us can do much that we would call “amazing”. But, bring God into the equation and suddenly anything is possible. When we pray, amazing things become more likely because we are asking an amazing God to act.

  • “And the Lord said to him: “I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually” (1 Kings 9:3, NKJV)
  • “I, the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and in three days you will go to the Temple. I will let you live fifteen years longer. I will rescue you and this city Jerusalem from the emperor of Assyria. I will defend this city, for the sake of my own honor and because of the promise I made to my servant David.” (2 Kings 20:5-6, GNT)
  • “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you” (Daniel 9:23, NIV)
  • “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8, NLT)
  • “And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.” (John 14:13, NCV)
  • “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31, NIV)
  • “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5, ESV)
  • “pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:16-18, TNIV)

In response to prayer, God has promised His presence, healed, granted wisdom and knowledge, sent angels and done miracles of all kinds. We are encouraged to pray expectantly, with faith, believing that our God still acts in amazing ways today.

Anyone who has ever prayed knows that for whatever reason these amazing responses to prayer don’t happen every single time. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that he be allowed to escape his impending crucifixion, but that didn’t happen. Sometimes we must accept God’s will as not being the answer we want. His will is what is best for us and although it may at times be His will to heal or grant a way out, for example, equally it might sometimes not be.

Yet, just because amazing things don’t happen every time doesn’t mean we should give up or simply turn our prayer times into nothing more than telling God about our day and fatalistically leaving it all up to Him. The examples of many biblical characters, including Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33) and Jacob (Genesis 32:22-30), suggest that we should wrestle with God, asking for things to happen rather than succumb to fatalism.

Every time we pray, something amazing does in fact happen – God listens. The Ruler of the universe cares about what we have to say, cares about how we feel and cares about what happens to us and this world. Even if we don’t see something miraculous or incredible happen very often, it is still amazing to know that God listens to us.

Let’s not give up believing that God still does amazing things when we pray. Do share any stories you have that might encourage others. Hold on to the hope that God can change things. Keep praying and one day you may experience something truly amazing.

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part Eight – Prayers old & new

Should we use set prayers, borrowing someone else’s words, or should we make up our own? Different streams of Christianity have classically emphasised one over the other. But, what might Scripture suggest?

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he responded with what we know as “the Lord’s prayer”. This was a new prayer, one which was presumably unknown to the disciples up to that point. So, in providing it, was Jesus giving them the one and only prayer to be spoken by his followers from that point on, or was he giving them a model to guide their own words, or was it both?

The Psalms were written over many years, yet each of them was new at some point in time. Somebody created these songs and prayers in response to particular situations. Then, people found them useful and helpful to take on as their own. Yes, they often exhort us to sing a new song to God, but they prove by their existence that the old ones are not obsolete.

Paul’s prayers in his letters respond to the specific needs, challenges and reasons to rejoice for each community he wrote to. There was clearly an element of improvisation to his prayers. Yet, he was not someone afraid to re-use “traditional material”. Although we may lack examples of prayers being re-used by Paul, he certainly takes “trustworthy sayings” and carefully composed passages and re-uses them (e.g. Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, 2 Timothy 2:11-13, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 11:23-25).

So, prayer, according to examples given to us in the Bible, is a mixture of re-using set words and making up our own. Leaning on the words of others is not a weakness. We can learn much from them and we can use them when we are struggling to find our own. Similarly, making up our prayers doesn’t mean they are superficial or inappropriate. We can all communicate personally, expressing ourselves in our own ways in prayer to our God.

Perhaps you might like to try a form of prayer that isn’t your “usual”. If you find it easy to speak to God in your own words, why not try using someone else’s and see what you can learn? Perhaps draw from a classic prayer collection such as the Book of Common Prayer, for example. If you normally use set prayers, perhaps try missing them out and only expressing things in your own words today instead.

Does your use of set or spontaneous prayers follow a specific pattern or seasonal nature? Why might you use one more than the other? Do they find a settled balance in your prayer life?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part Seven – Depend on the Provider

In many countries today, we no longer rely on what we grow on our own plots of land for our food. We have become, at least to some extent, distanced from the process of planting, growing, harvesting, preparing and even cooking (if we buy “ready meals” or takeaways). Does this make it harder to realise our dependence on God to provide for us and be thankful?

In a society where people would watch and tend their own food as it grew, there was a very real awareness that they depended on the right weather, the seed sprouting and growing to maturity if they were to have crops to eat. When others grow our food for us, it is easy to forget these things until suddenly disaster strikes and the nation’s crops are threatened by drought or flood.

Prayers in the Bible encourage us to remember God as the provider and our dependence on Him:

  • “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3, NIV)
  • Psalm 104 celebrates the fact that God provides water for the animals, makes the grass grow for cattle and plants for people to eat, provides homes for the animals, grants food even to the frightening creatures of the depths of the seas and gives breath and life itself.
  • In 1 Chronicles 29:14, David acknowledges that even the offerings the he and his people bring are in fact provided by God.

In fact, we could say that we have even more that we could be grateful for and even more reasons to praise God. Besides giving thanks for a successful harvest, we can thank God for those who are involved in all stages of bringing food and other goods into our homes – farmers, lorry drivers, shop assistants, to name but a few.

Prayer is a time to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, dependent on God the Provider. Without God, we would have nothing – we wouldn’t even exist! Saying grace at meal times is a simple reminder that God provides our food and is an opportunity to give thanks. Yet, there is so much more that we can thank God for providing at every point of the day.

Realising that we are dependent is a humbling experience. We discover that God is at the centre of things, not us. We look to God for life and breath, food and drink, work and shelter, forgiveness and blessing.

What has God provided for you today that you might give thanks for? Are there any areas of your life where you have forgotten your dependence and tried to become independent?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012