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 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 Two – Praise & Worship

Do we instinctively know how to praise? Is the language of Christian praise and worship something that comes naturally or do we need to learn it?

Some of us, at least, find praise and worship difficult. We don’t necessarily know what to say and perhaps don’t really know what we mean when we say “praise God”. Given that praise and worship has always been part of the life of God’s people, we thankfully have many experiences and much teaching to draw on. This post explores learning the language and ideas of praise from Scripture.

In 1 Chronicles 29, David “praised God in the presence of the people” (29:10). So, what did he say? Essentially, David runs off a list of God’s attributes. He acknowledges that everything is God’s and lists qualities he associates with God such as greatness, power, glory, majesty, splendour, the source of wealth and honour, etc. (29:10-12). David’s praise was like a description of God’s character, attributes and abilities.

In Nehemiah 9, the people stand to praise God and confess their sins. Their praise, similarly to David’s, speaks about God’s character, who He is and what He does. God is acknowledged as creator (9:6-7), the one who chose Abram and made a covenant with him (9:7-8). God has kept His promises, freed His people, done miraculous things, given a covenant at Sinai – all these things form part of their praise.

“Praise His name”, or “blessed be Your name” are common themes in prayer passages, such as the Psalms. God’s name is His character, His reputation, the picture that He has built up of Himself through what He has said and done. So, it would seem that praise and worship may simply be retelling what God has done and who we know Him to be. Praise rightly describes God and reminds us who we are dealing with.

We might use different “names” to help us to describe God and offer our praise and worship. For example, Lord, creator, redeemer, saviour, father, Sovereign Lord, my shepherd, our rock – these are all “names” found in the Bible to speak of God and there are many more, too.

How might this help us to praise and worship God in prayer? Maybe we could draw directly from Scripture, using other people’s words and making them our own. Perhaps we could think of what we know God has done for us and the kind of God we know Him to be.

Are there any “names” you might consider using to praise God with? Do you have any favourites? Have you found any of your own creative ways of expressing your praise – maybe a name not found in Scripture?

Praise can also spill over beyond words. If we know God to be the creator, maybe we find ourselves drawn to attending closely to His creation. Perhaps taking careful photos to express nature’s beauty or planning how our garden might look best could also be described as acts of praise.

When we think creatively about all the attributes and acts of God, we can find many ways to connect in praise & worship. From thanking God for our food or wage packet to retelling the story of what God has done for us in Christ – our prayers of praise can be wide and varied.

How do you like to praise God? Is all praise & worship prayer of some kind?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part One – Form & Creativity

Over the coming weeks I hope to post a few ideas about praying with the Bible. Today’s focus is on the topic of form and creativity.

Are you creative? Chances are, if you are made in the image of a creative God the answer is “yes”. Perhaps you might not think of yourself as creative because you think it means “arty”, but there are many forms of creativity. What form our creativity takes reflects who we are as individuals and our personalities. Some are better with words, others with pictures, others with music, still others with food, carpentry, flower-arranging, finding novel solutions to problems, etc. Prayer is an intrinsic part of the Christian life and it can be enriched by finding creative ways of praying.

The Psalms provide us with a wide variety of forms. They have long been recognised as prayers that may be said or sung. This suggests that we might bring music into play in our prayers – turning them into songs, perhaps, or using music as a backcloth to set a mood, for example. Even if melody or harmony is not used, we might still find rhythm helpful – whether it is a rhythm behind the words, like a poetic “meter”, or the rhythmic repetition of something akin to Psalm 136 (“…His love endures forever” at the end of each line).

The variations of poetic forms in the Psalms might provide creative inspiration for new forms of written or spoken prayers. Some use an “acrostic” pattern – starting each new line with the next letter of the alphabet. Others take us through a transformation from dark to light moods. There are no set rules about how a Psalm must always be written – the authors have exercised their creativity. By imitating them in this regard, we can find new ways of praying familiar themes. This can help relieve boredom in prayer and bring a freshness to our thinking.

It doesn’t have to be poems, though. Creative form can vary greatly. Paul’s letters often include sections that are prayers of some sort, e.g. Romans 16:25-27. We might even wonder if the stories of Jesus collected into John’s Gospel are perhaps a kind of prayer – “these things are written that you may believe (and go on believing)…” (John 20:31). Is John offering his narrative/”biography” as a “prayer”?

Sometimes we just want to speak to God quickly and naturally; we don’t always have time to try something else or aren’t always feeling in a creative mood. Yet, occasionally, it might be worth spending some time crafting our words carefully, focussing on bringing out what we really want to express. This can be a gift of worship to God – a bit like a letter or poem to a loved one. It can enable us to express emotions and ideas more deeply and personally. It might also be something that could help others with their prayers – our creativity is not just something between us and God. Others can benefit from our prayers, perhaps by being inspired to be creative themselves or by connecting with the experience and emotion of our words/pictures/music.

Have you ever tried to write a prayer down before? If not, why not have a go? Try writing it like a letter or a poem, for example. You could take a particular passage such as a Psalm and have a go at doing your own version. Especially if you are finding prayer a bit hard or dull at the moment, I would encourage you to use something of whatever creative skill God has planted in you to enable you to connect in a new way.

A few prayers based on Scripture can be found on the Going Deeper With God website. The prayer based on Psalm 145 is particularly relevant to this post. These prayers are not offered as models showing “the right way” to do things, but as examples of one person’s attempts to connect creatively in prayer. I hope they may encourage you.

© Joe Lenton, July 2012