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The scripture-based counsel a pastor gave to a person struggling to develop a relationship with God through prayer is helpful to us all.
He described himself to the pastor and me as a former hippie who had been off the drugs for several years. But he and his wife explained that the hallucinogens' effects were still badly slowing his mental processes. We could see that from our conversation.
My part was as a ministerial trainee participating in this pastoral visit with a young couple who had lived hard and wild during the hippie movement years of the 1960s. The man now loaded freight on ships in the Thames River near London. He had muscles for the work but wished that he still had the muscle in his mind.
She had many questions about the Bible and God's way, but one main question plagued his thoughts: "How do I pray? I can't think of much to say." There were tears in his eyes. He really, truly wanted to know how to talk to God.
As the novice on the job, I mentally scrambled for the scriptures that might provide him understanding. The so-called "Lord's Prayer" (in Matthew 6:9-13) came to mind.
It came to the pastor's mind too. He explained that it was actually a prayer outline—not a script for brief recitation. It included an introduction and conclusion of praise for God, requests for God's intervention in world affairs, requests for our daily needs, asking God in repentance for forgiveness of sins as we forgive others, help against temptation and evil—and at least two requests for God's Kingdom to come (which it will at Christ's return).
The pastor continued that when you break Jesus' prayer outline down like that and go into detail concerning each part, you could easily be on your knees for 30 minutes or more.
"Half an hour? I can't think of anything to pray about for more than five minutes!"
Overwhelmed, the fellow leaned forward shaking his head in his hands. It was a genuine heartstrings-pulling moment—and I was thankful that I wasn't leading the counseling. Amazingly, the pastor proceeded to unfold a point of wisdom involving two steps that has stuck with me ever since.
Step 1: Make a list of things you know you want to pray about—however long or short. Take that list and your Bible to where you pray. Talk to God about every item on the list. When you're all prayed out, then go to step 2.
Step 2: Open your Bible to the book of Psalms, a very large part of which was written by King David of ancient Israel. Under God's inspiration David wrote his psalms first as prayers, then as songs. Pick a psalm and tell God in your prayer that you've personally run out of things to say to Him, but that now you want to read to Him this psalm that David wrote as your prayer too—thinking about how it applies to your own life. You can be sure that God will accept your borrowed prayer, because David was a man after God's own heart (see Acts 13:22).
The pastor provided a list of some of David's psalms that applied to circumstances any of us might face.
The tears in the young man's eyes disappeared. He had hope—he could learn to pray by praying David's prayers. He could draw close to God. So can you.
Vertical Thought (Jul-Sep 2012)