We had a great time at an “Enough” prayer evening recently. In my preparation for it, a picture came to mind that helped me think about what we were doing and where we are going in our increasingly rich times of prayer.
We were going to pray for some things that are in a sense the bread and butter of church life, and we could pray some bread and butter prayers: “Please God do X, Y, and Z”. And that would be good. But then I remembered the first time I encountered a bun loaf. Sitting in the middle of the tea table it looked like a normal loaf of bread, but when it was sliced, its true nature was revealed. Inside, it was a glorious golden-yellow colour, and it was sweet and spiced and full of dried fruit. Spread with butter it was far richer and more enjoyable than your basic, everyday staple bread.
I’ve been reading the Psalms lately, and it struck me that many of them are not so much bread and butter prayers but bun loaf prayers. In the Psalms, God is giving us a recipe for praying that has a glorious richness to it.
So it got me thinking. What is the recipe for a rich prayer time? What are those ingredients that, when mixed together, transform good “bread and butter prayers” into glorious “bun loaf prayers”?
Here are a few thoughts:
As we heard at Enough, music/worship helps centre us on God and not the problem. Praise and worship with music is a wonderful context for prayer, and in fact, can be prayers themselves. “Praise the Lord oh My soul” (Psalm 103:1), “make music…” (Psalm 98:5).
The Psalms are rich in prophetic revelation about Jesus: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10, Psalm 22 …) Prayer is enriched by prophecy as God speaks to us and we respond. Prophecy turns a monologue into a conversation and focuses our praying for maximum effectiveness. Prophecy can also be an announcing and heralding in what God is about to do, leading us to pray with increased faith and expectation. Basically, God speaks a lot in the Psalms (Psalm 50, Psalm 46:10…).
The Psalms are full of raw emotions: “Every night I flood my bed with tears” (Psalm 6:6). At times, much of the Psalms seems like complaining, but it was heartfelt complaining to God which can be healthy and healing. There is also overflowing joy and delight: “You will fill me with joy in your presence” (Psalm 16:11)
In the Psalms, there is a rich creativity with language: “as the deer pants for water…” (Palms 42:1). (There is a book on the Psalms with the great title “Poetry on fire”) It’s great to pray with the full range of creativity at our disposal. Praying with music, poetry, actions, and objects can be very powerful. Again, the other night at Enough, Andy did a superb job of helping us pray creatively using a number of prop-filled prayer stations.
5) Prayer to God
As we might expect, much of the Psalms are speaking to God: “Better is one day in your courts…” (Psalm 84:10-12). But not all…
6) Personal pep talks
The psalmist does not just talk to God, he talks to himself: “Why my soul are you downcast, Put your hope in God”? (Psalm 42:5).
7) Public praise and exhortation
There was a wonderful cooperative nature to their praying. They prayed with others, but more than that they talked to each other, exhorting and encouraging one another: “Come let us sing to the Lord….” (Psalm 95:1). Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father” which sounds like several people praying together in some way.
8) Proclamation of truth
The psalmist expressed their feelings, but they also proclaimed the truth about who God was and what he had done: “the Lord watches over … the fatherless” (Psalm 146:9). It’s great to enrich our prayers with scripture and testimonies.
The psalmist commits himself to certain courses of action. He makes promises before God, or at least strong statements of intent: “I will sing to the Lord all my life” (Psalm 104:33).
Ok, I may be stretching the P’s at this point, but what I mean by “prohibition” is they spoke strongly to their enemies. They said in effect “Oh, stop”: “Away from me you evil doers” (Psalm 119:115) They issued decrees and commands with authority and power. Like we might say “Enough” to oppression and sickness and injustice: “No!”
As we learn to mix these things together under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we are increasingly enjoying gloriously rich and fruitful times of prayer.