1. What is prayer? Are there any practical suggestions for organising prayer time?
Praying is talking, having a conversation with God. There are different types of prayer: praising God; thanking him for all he has done for us; requests for our needs and the needs of others (intercession); confession (asking for forgiveness for our sins); songs of praise, etc. Here is some practical advice:
1. Find motivation
To do anything, we need to be fully motivated! To be on fire! To feel great! No?
Jesus gives us three sources of real motivation (Matthew chapter 6 verse 6).
- God is there: he is present, living and he listens to my prayer.
- God sees: He sees my past before my birth, he sees me now and he also sees my future! How comforting! Finally, someone understands and sees the big picture.
- God rewards those who pray! He listens to me, he leans towards me and, even before I receive a response to my prayer, I receive the great gift of being able to express my emotions to God! Then he often responds to my prayers!
For me, praying is a joy and a privilege, not a legalistic duty or a burden. In prayer, I can release burdens, express my doubts, my worries, and talk to God about my projects and future plans.
2. Find a quiet place. Choose a place away from distractions: computer, telephone, I Pad, etc.
3. Know that God wants to speak to me now… so let’s listen!
God is not a distant God. He loves his creation. That is what makes Christian life dynamic! The Gospel is good news! God draws close to his creation to listen to us and have a conversation with us! We call this prayer, a dialogue with God: listening to what God wants to tell me and then speaking! It’s simple but also complex! How can God speak to me? Through flashes of lightening? No, through the Bible. It is God’s Word for all men and women on earth; an immutable word which never changes; a divine and eternal word which has transformed the lives of millions of people on the planet.
Grab hold of a Bible now! Before opening it, say a simple prayer to God, for example: “I need you and your Word to nourish my soul, to guide my life and enlighten me! Speak to me.” Open the Bible now to Psalms 51, read this passage slowly and ask God to speak to you through what you are reading!
4. Speak to God simply, like with a friend!
Be yourself! You have worries, needs, doubts, problems, projects, questions, joys and emotions that you would like to express to your creator! Forget complex, liturgical sentences. Be transparent, reveal how you feel and speak from the heart!
5. Pray aloud
Speak to God aloud. Don’t pray inside your head because you risk getting confused and struggling to concentrate. Praying aloud helps us to clarify our thoughts and give them form. When I say things they become clearer and more precise. In the Bible there are 653 prayers recorded. If they are written someone must have heard them being prayed aloud.
6. Write down a sentence
If you are praying for the first time, write down a sentence, for example: “God, I don’t know how to pray, but I really want to speak to you, help me to do this. Amen.” Now write your own sentence down on paper and read it aloud! Now you have prayed for the first time, bravo! Buy a nice notebook where you can write down and keep record of your anwers to prayer.
2. What attitudes does God approve of in prayer?
Humility, dependence, discipline, faith, transparency and honesty. God is interested in what is in our hearts: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
- Humility (2 Chronicles 7:14) “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves…” Humility is a condition for our prayers to receive an answer. Humility is the opposite of pride, arrogance and pretention. A lack of humility can prevent their being a response to prayer: Moab enters the sanctuary to pray but he cannot obtain anything. Why? Because of his pride (Jeremiah 48:29). However, if we have the right attitude within our hearts, God listens and promises his blessing.
- Dependence. Praying involves expressing to God that I cannot and do not want to manage without him. Praying involves expressing that we need God’s strength, wisdom and direction for our journey. I trust in him! The King Jehoshaphat was surrounded by enemies, overwhelmed by events, but he said to God “our eyes are on you” (2Chronicles 20:12).
- Discipline is the ability to learn to do what must be done; the way of doing it and the right moment to carry it out. To pray, we don’t just need to make time, a window in our timetable, we need to set aside the best time of the day when we are receptive, alert and in the right mind-set to meet with God. For this, we also need to choose somewhere peaceful and far from any noise or distractions.
- Faith: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” What is the source of faith? The source of faith is what God says in his Word. “Faith comes from hearing the message Rom. 10.17 Praying using a passage from the Bible is a good idea. It gives content and direction to our prayer. When I include the Word of God in my prayer I also include God’s power. This Word of God combats doubt and incredulity and sows faith. I would like to encourage you to “nourish” your prayer using a passage from the Bible.
For example, Psalm 23 verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd”.
Praying about this phrase I might say: “My Lord I am happy because you are my shepherd, the one who nourishes and protects me and you will guide my steps today. Help me to stay close to you in my thoughts, to know that you are there, that you surround me and are in front of me and behind me! “I fear no evil”. I can remain confident and hopeful in spite of the evil which surrounds me in its different forms: violence, hatred, malice, racism, selfishness, etc. You are my rock, my shelter, my protector. I need not fear because you are close to me, I am you child and you hold me by the hand! What joy and what assurance to live in your presence, under your protection. Amen.”
- Transparency and honesty. Praying also involves admitting who I really am. Praying involves recognising my weaknesses, poverty, failure and sinful nature. I often stray from God, I feel dirty, guilty and God is far from me. I feel like praying doesn’t achieve anything. It’s true that my sins prevent God from listening to me
(Isaiah 59:1-2). I have to recognise them and admit them with precision (this is called repentance). The result? God draws close to me, listens to me, pardons me and erases all my sins, he purifies me and gives me a pure heart, he makes me joyful and makes me a new creature (Psalms 51:1-17; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17)!
“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). What a wonderful promise!
3. Is prayer just a monologue or does listening to God also play a part in prayer?
Our God is a God who speaks! Praying involves, first and foremost, knowing how to listen to God. The important thing in prayer is not what I say to God but, mainly, what God says me through his Word. The young Samuel gives us a wonderful example of a simple and profound prayer: “Speak, for your servant is listening”. Our prayer often reverses this: “Listen God because I am talking to you”.
Prayer is not about getting what you want but about becoming who God wants us to be! God, through this conversation, wants to speak to us and he wants us to listen! Take note that the word “listen”, in its biblical sense, not only means “hear”, but also means “obey” (in Greek they are the same word). To listen to God we need to be available like the canvas in front of the painter and the marble in front of the sculptor or the clay in the hands of the potter! This idea of listening and being available is essential because when God speaks to me through his Word it touches, penetrates and transforms me. This is why praying with the Bible open or, even better, praying after having read a passage from the Bible is so important.
4. Why does God not always answer our prayers?
“Your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear you” (Isaiah 59:2). God doesn’t listen to our prayers when we are living in sin. It is important to “set the record straight” and admit, recognise and confess our sins before making praying and requests.
2. A discrepancy
There is often a discrepancy between God’s calendar and ours, between God’s thoughts and ours: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
3. The wrong motives
You don’t receive because you “ask with the wrong motives” (James 4:3).
If you want to be sure that you are praying according to God’s will, it is important to know God’s will! To do this you need a precise and profound knowledge of the Bible! Hence the importance of praying with the Bible and so remaining “glued” to God’s will.
4. Bad relationships
Jesus highlights the importance of the quality of our relationships with others because they can have an impact on our prayers in Matthew 5:23. If we want to be forgiven by God, we must first forgive our brothers and sisters!
5. As Jesus is God, sovereign, mastering everything and knowing everything in advance, why did he pray?
Jesus is God! So why did he pray?
He knew God’s will perfectly!
He was omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. A good question deserves a biblical response!
Why did Jesus pray?
Jesus prays to sympathise with us and understand our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).
You have undoubtedly experienced moments of weakness: having no desire to pray, difficulties in prayer, spiritual drought, doubts, lacking energy for pray, discouragement or fatigue. Jesus can empathise with and understand our difficulties in prayer.
The results of this:
A. Confidence and assurance when we approach God (Hebrews 10.22).
B race, mercy and strength to meet our needs (Hebrews 4:16).
Physical, spiritual, philological and material needs.
Jesus prays because the devil, evil and temptation are a reality (John 17:15; Matthew 6:13)!
The devil never gives up! We mustn’t forget his existence or underestimate his power! “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8). This is why Jesus prays for protection during temptation (Matthew 6:13); for protection from the evil one (John 17:15); for protection for his disciples. Protection needs to be an important part in our prayers!
Jesus shows us how to pray!
Jesus leaves us 11 prayers in the Bible. They can act as models to show us how to pray, for example the “Our Father” (Matthew 6; John 17…). Jesus prays because prayer is part of his permanent ministry “he is the right hand of God and is interceding for us” (Rom.8.34). Jesus constantly intercedes for us! How encouraging! When circumstances prevent us from praying: illness, mourning, spiritual dryness, failure, discouragement… I don’t need to feel guilty because I know that Jesus intercedes for me!
Jesus us gives us free access to God through his blood (Hebrews 10:19)!
How can we draw close to God? With joy and “full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10.22).
Often when we approach God to pray there is a kind of fog, a cloud of guilt or fear, a worry about not being worthy, we feel the weight of our sin: “your iniquities have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
Who is worthy to approach a Holy God? No one!
God’s holiness used to be unapproachable! In the Old Testament only the priests were able to approach God on behalf of the people. In order to do so, they had to follow very precise rules and rites. In the past, it wasn’t just any person who could approach God in any old way. And this is the good news: Jesus, through his blood, gives us free access to the God’s sanctuary. Via a new and living road which he created for us! When? Read Luke 23:45. When Jesus was nailed to the cross at the ninth hour (3 in the afternoon), the sun darkened and Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
As a result we have free access to the throne of grace. We can approach with confidence, boldness and joy. There is no more guilt, no more condemnation, no more separation, no more barriers between us and God (Romans 8.1).
Anecdote: The path of freedom… is there a charge or is it free?
Recently, my son Michael bought me a special box to stick to the windscreen on the inside of my car. In France, you have to pay when you travel on the motorway. Now, (thanks to this special box on the windscreen),when we take the motorway, we can use a special lane called “liberté” (freedom) so that when we approach the barrier it goes up by itself… it makes you feel like the President of the Republic!
One day, I was on the motorway with my mother. We arrive at the barrier and I give her a demonstration… I approach the “freedom” barrier and it goes up on its own and lets us through (although this one isn’t free of course, as my bank account is debited as I go through!).
6. Do you have any suggestions to encourage young people to persevere in prayer?
In my personal life, I have seen God answer my prayers. I encourage you to write down your prayer requests in a notebook, alongside the date. Next to these, leave a column to include the date of the answer. This way you will see when and how God acts and it will encourage you to pray more and help you persevere. Another idea: I have often used the prayers of others. These prayers have really helped me to get out of certain routines and repetitions. I can recommend the prayer books by William Barclay: “Abook od everyday prayers” (Publisher : Harper and Brothers). You can also use prayers from the Bible, there are at least six hundred and fifty-three to choose from!
7. Why is prayer necessary for the progress of all Christians?
Praying is like breathing. Those who don’t pray can no longer live!
An otherwise healthy body, with a heart, muscles, bones, a brain, which no longer receives oxygen is still a corpse! In the same way, Christians who no longer pray are lacking the essential: spiritual oxygen which is indispensable to live and develop as a Christian!
Prayer expresses a reality: God exists and I need to speak to him. I often have a lot.
On my mind, often stressed ! I am overwhelmed by things that I cannot control, I cannot understand the circumstances, my limitations, my doubts, the questions which everyone asks themselves: where do I come from? Why am I here? Where will I go when I die?
8. How can I pray for my country?
We should pray for the country we live in to improve the relationship between Christians. Our discourses and sermons all speak of love, unity in Christ and fraternity… but our acts speak louder than our words. When we are divided by quarrelling, others, before believing, will look at us and wait to see if we demonstrate the love for others which we preach.
Our countrymen need to hear the Gospel. Evangelisation of an indifferent and incredulous population must start with intercession. We need to pray that the Lord pulls them out of their spiritual lethargy. That he delivers them from their blind sense of pride and self-sufficiency. We need to pray that he shines a light on the falsity of the discourses which reassure them that they do not need Jesus in their lives.
However, praying is not an easy exercise if it is something that we do automatically, regurgitating the same used expressions. But when Christians are on their knees in authentic, biblical prayer they are at their most effective and powerful, making the devil tremble with fear. We want to make the enemy of our souls tremble, don’t we? So as well as praying naturally and regularly for those whom we love; our family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances, we need to pray, just as regularly and with the same fervour, for our country and those who govern it. In this way, God’s will can be done in our country as it is in the heavens.
9. How can I pray for a particular area country or region?
Example: How to pray for Brittany, France (by Gordon Margery)
Even though it has been two years since I left Brittany to move in with some of my family in the Parisian region, I did not just leave a son in Rennes. I left my heart somewhere between Vitré and Brest. My heart lifts any time someone talks about Brittany and I continue to pray for this region which is so dear to me. I would like you to be able to do the same.
Brittany’s geography lends itself to a kind of Tro Breizh*, or pilgrimage, for prayer. You start at Vitré or Fougères, you pray for Rennes, then St Malo and St Lunaire. You follow the Rance down to Dinan, then pray for Lamballe, St Brieuc, Paimpol, Guingamp, Lannion, Morlaix and Brest. Then you pray for the south: Quimper, Douarnenez, Concarneau, Lorient, Auray and Vannes. Being respectful of the region’s former territory I pray for St Nazaire and Nantes as well. And, on this journey, I think about the cities where the evangelical witnessing is weak or non-existent: Hennebont, Quimperlé and Redon. I also think about the centre of Brittany where the tourists go most often: Loudéac, Pontivy and Carhaix. Everyone will make the trek on their own terms, thinking about the churches which they know. Each stage is an opportunity to think about the Christians we know, the spiritual victories and the sufferings endured.
We can thank God for the number of churches planted in recent years, for the faithfulness of God’s remarkable servants and for the strong witnessing of Brittany’s Christians. The list of new churches is impressive, most of the ones I know have been around for less than thirty-five years. Some churches are dynamic and continue to grow.
Others remain afloat only through great effort. In many of the towns, the demographic and economic situation is difficult, and the young people leave for their studies or work. Here, a worn-out pastor may want a change of air but there is nothing available. There, the church has to recuperate after many upsetting departures.
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” (Psalms 28:9).
We need to pray for the existing churches: their health, growth, the quality of their leaders, the transmission of faith to their children, their faithfulness to God’s Word and their missionary vision.
We need to pray for the thousands of students, particularly in Rennes, Brest and Nantes. The GBU (University Bible Groups) and Agapé work so that they hear the word of the Gospel at a time in their lives when they are more open to discovery, change and commitment.
We need to pray for the planting of new churches, not as a result of the division and weakening of those that already exist but through new missionary work. There are still many towns with between 5,000 and 10,000 inhabitants which don’t have an evangelical church. In the large cities, there are areas with an even larger population which are waiting to see what an evangelical church looks like in reality. In the countryside, Jehovah’s Witnesses are present, but who else?
We need to pray for a new generation of pastors and evangelists in Brittany. We need to pray for the thousands of Bretons who have deserted the church of their ancestors to seek a response for their need for God elsewhere.
And after praying, we need to read about the spiritual history of Brittany, for example Jean-Yves Carluer’s Protestants et Bretons. We are surrounded by a large number of witnesses and God, who is just, will not forget their work and love which they have shown in his name.
10. Prayer is not an act of man, but an act of God working through man
Praying involves action! Or more precisely: praying involves asking God to act in my stead. It is the exact opposite of passivity. “Praying is not an act of man but an act of God’s power through man!” Something to consider!
Be careful, praying is not about getting what we want but becoming who God wants us to be! Praying is about developing my relationship with God, speaking with him like a friend, not only to obtain but also to tell him what I think, how I feel, speak to him of my joys, projects, my future and ask him his opinion! Maintaining a relationship is the fundamental reason behind prayer.
A rich prayer life is like a beautiful painting which has been painted using an unlimited colour palette. It’s the variety of colours which gives the painting its richness and value. In the same way, prayer life has variety, for example, adoration, repentance, listening, gratitude, intercession, praying from a Bible passage… which gives it shape and profundity. A “monotone prayer life is like a piano with only one note… a poor and monotonous, repetitive sound. A study and analysis of prayers from the Bible (there are at least 653) shows us that praying is not only about asking for what we want or need. We have a whole palette of different prayers to choose from! Jesus gives us an example with “Our Father” (Matthew 6). Take a careful look at this prayer and you will be surprised at its richness, span and depth.