“Oops, I forgot to pray . . . again.” 5 Easy Ways to Remind Yourself to Pray

One of my biggest challenges to developing a prayerful life is simply remembering to pray.

To be honest, I forget to talk to God. Crazy, isn’t it? He’s right here, with me all the time, closer than my own breath, and yet, I can glide right by without saying a word. Some would call that rude! I’m glad our Father isn’t petty.Remember

But I do want to pray more, to talk more, to listen more. I want to see prayer–that is, meaningful conversation with God–more integrated into my everyday, everywhere life. Maybe you do, too.

So how can we do that?  One way we can develop a more prayer-full life is by establishing reminders for ourselves, triggers that help us pray when we would otherwise have simply forgotten. Many of our brothers and sisters from the past knew this and established prayer rhythms to help each other. In fact, it’s been said that the clock was originally invented by a monk as an aid to regular prayer. Today, that monk would use an app.

Knowing how often I get distracted, I need prayer reminders, especially when I’m trying to establish a more regular prayer life. To help, here’s 5 ways reminders you could use. Maybe one of these will be helpful to you.

5 Easy Ways You Can Remind Yourself to Pray
  1. Post a simple note.  It could be a short verse of Scripture, such as “Pray without ceasing” or the name of a person that you want to remember in prayer. These can be posted anywhere, from your office to your car to your barn, washroom or garden. They can be more long-term (like a wooden sign), or a Post-it that changes every few days.
  2. Establish a set routine. Many people pray at meals, or before going to bed. We can also remind ourselves to pray by setting up routines for prayer, such as always praying with your kids for 30 seconds before dropping them off at school, or saying the Lord’s Prayer every time you walk to the mail box. These set routines take extra focus to get started, but once established they can become helpful reminders to talk to the Father who is always with you.
  3. Set an alert on your phone. Make the monks proud–use your smart phone to call yourself to prayer. This is pretty simple to set up using your repeating calendar alerts. There are also prayer apps that can be downloaded through iTunes or Google Play (though I haven’t tried them.) Alternatively, you could use a simple alarm clock at a set time of day, too.
  4. Find a prayer partner. Many of your friends want to grow in prayer, too. You could get together to pray, but knowing how crazy our schedules can be, why not start with some kind of regular check-in with each other? Send a text or give a quick call, just letting them know that you are praying for them. Make it about encouraging each other, not keeping track–this is about helping, not guilting each other!
  5. Create easy triggers.  There are things that happen everyday, and these events can be used as reminders to pray. A friend of mine who was struggling with judgmental thoughts toward certain people started cultivating that as a trigger to pray–whenever they say a certain type of person, they would pray for them (it was absolutely transformative). Another example: every time you put your car into drive, say “Thank you Lord for giving me direction in life. Lead me now.” Simple, short, effective. Other triggers could be eating, seeing or hearing a certain bird, passing a landmark, brushing your teeth, making coffee and waiting to pick up a child. Use your imagination–triggers are all around you.
So what’s been helpful for you? How do you integrate prayerful conversation into your day?
Which one of these suggestions will you try this week?

 

Is there a formula for prayer? How the Lord’s Prayer Provides a Framework for Relationship rather than a Formula for Results

We love formulas. Tell me what I need to do, step-by-step, in exactly the prescribed way, so I can achieve the results I want (or, more likely, the results you got).

Health, sex, fitness, diet, sleep.

Writing, parenting, investing, teaching.

Spirituality, religion.

And prayer.

Is there a formula for prayer?We tend to love formulas for prayer. How many times have we been told that if just prayed a certain way, with a particular mind-set and the right amount of faith, combined with a set way of speaking and believing, we’d see the answers we want from our prayers? Certain preachers sell that line of thinking; some pop gurus do, too.

Don’t get me wrong. There are often very good steps we can take to achieve good results. Learning from others’ experiences is critical to personal growth, and following the path others have laid can be very helpful.  Some formulas seem to work: if you eat healthy and exercise regularly, you will be in better health–a good formula to follow!

But when the formula begins to prescribe too much, offer too much, promise too much, especially in an area where relationships are involved, we can quickly go off the tracks. Formulas can become a way of manipulating others to get what we want, and we all know how dangerous that can be.

Across the spectrum of Christian tradition, there has been a tendency toward formulaic prayers, prayers that, rather than driving us deeper into relationship, reduce our conversations with God to one-sided monologues directing God to a certain, desired response. Perhaps this is no where more true than through the use of the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer which has remained central to the Christian faith and tradition.

Whereas Jesus, only moments earlier, had warned his followers not to “keep on babbling like pagans” we can take this prayer and use it in just such a way, mindlessly repeating the phrases, over and over, hoping to get what we want from it.

Lord's Prayer as a frameworkBut the Lord’s Prayer is not a formula for results–it’s a framework for relationship. The Lord’s Prayer can guide us in conversation, helping us grow in friendship with the Father.

Now, formulas may not look that different than frameworks, but the contrast is vital.

  • Whereas a prayer formula obsesses about the perfect execution of specific words in a particular way, a prayer framework opens up pathways of connection with God.
  • A prayer formula focuses on what we do–our action is central. A prayer framework focuses on who God is–his character is central.
  • A prayer formula treats our actions as initiating God’s response; the Lord’s Prayer as a framework guides us to respond to God’s already initiated love for us.

But even a helpful framework, such as the Lord’s Prayer, can become a formula if we start using it as a means to get something rather than connect to Someone. We can lose sight of the point of all prayer: to grow in our relationship with the Father who loves us. Getting something from God is not nearly as important as getting close to God, though in that context the Father invites us (commands us) to ask him for what we need.

So here’s my suggestion: rather than see the Lord’s prayer as a formula for results, use it as a framework for relationship. Take this simple prayer and let it guide you in conversation with our Father. This is not an original idea, but one that many Christians have used to enhance their friendship with God.

How can I use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework? Maybe this will help:

Starting with the first phrase, simply walk through the Lord’s Prayer and pause during the conversation, allowing your heart and mind to wander as you both talk and listen to the Father.  Linger on ways you’ve appreciated his Fatherly love and care this week. Boldly speak of the places and relationships and conflicts where you want to see the Father’s kingdom come and his will to be done. Humbly bring your needs to the Father who loves you and knows exactly what you need before you even ask him. Don’t be shy about what you feel you are lacking–let him be the judge of how he should respond in your best interest. Take time to reflect on ways you need him to forgive you, ways your heart has despised others or your mind has judged the sick. And be honest about the people you are struggling to forgive, asking for the Father’s help in offering forgiveness. Take time to listen throughout. Pause. Wait. And then move your conversation toward areas you are worried about–trials and temptations that drive you, anxieties that consume you, asking for his protection and guidance and leadership in your life. And close the conversation (but it never really closes) by giving God the glory for being the One who is truly over all, worthy of all praise and honor and love.

The Lord’s Prayer is a beautiful framework for conversation with the Father. Jesus gave it to us to use, like a guide upon a mountain trail, leading us deeper into friendship with our Father.  We don’t use it as a formula to achieve results, but as a framework to enhance relationship. And I believe as we do, we will see growth in our relationship as we enjoy conversations with our Father who loves us.

  • How has the Lord’s Prayer helped you grow in relationship with the Father?
  • How does this contrast between formula or framework help you? What do you find challenging about it?

Evil Keeps Pounding But We Keep Praying

When evil seems unceasing, how do we keep praying for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done? What does that even look like?

Daily we witness a seemingly unstoppable barrage of evil. And I wonder: how can I keep praying for these people, these lives, these tragedies, as Jesus taught us to? I’m not sure I even know how.

My heart aches for the many lives devastated by this religiously-fueled hate crime in Florida. I listened for my first time this weekend as Christie Grimmie sang “In Christ Alone”, wondering how her family and friends must be struggling to make sense of her tragic murder. And then I think of the mourning family of Robert Hall, yet another hostage beheaded in the Philippines after long months of praying for his release. And dare I even mention the young woman so callously disregarded by her Stanford rapist?

These four tragedies only sample a few days worth of life-destroying evil, main page kind of stuff we’ve all heard about. How many more stories, untold, unnoticed, reek and fester in the cracks of our broken world?

And yet this is the world the Father loves. This is the world Jesus came to redeem. This is the world over which the Spirit hovers, bringing new life and promising more.

And it is into this mess that Jesus taught us to pray, asking our Father–his, yours, mine–that his kingdom would come and his will would be done on this earth, this world, in these communities, in these lives–as it is in the very place where God rules supreme.

And so I keep praying, feeling inadequate, confused, and not possessing all the facts. I pray unaware of all the complexities and ignorant to the many tragedies which unfold unreported. I pray with a sense of my own powerlessness. I pray conflicted and overwhelmed. And yet I do pray.

Why do I keep praying?

First, because Jesus taught us to pray. If there is anyone who knows just how short-sighted and ill-informed we are, it is Jesus. And yet he told us to pray this way: “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Jesus did not tell us to wait until we have a full grip on what happened, abstaining from prayer until we know exactly who’s at fault or what’s going on or how we should word things or where stories might go politically. No, he called us to ask our Father for his will to be done, even when (especially when?) we don’t even know what that might mean.

A local pastor prays with those devastated by the Orlando shooting.
A local pastor prays with those devastated by the Orlando shooting. Image source: cbc.ca

Second, I keep praying because somehow, mysteriously and remarkably, my feeble and confused prayers are taken up by Jesus and the Holy Spirit and transformed into meaningful, powerful prayers according to the will of God. Our prayers are more potent than we can imagine, not because of something inherent within them but because of where our prayers go–because of who is hearing them! When I am the most confused, knowing the Spirit and the Son are handling my prayers makes all the difference for me. I don’t need to get everything right. I don’t need to fully understand. I don’t need to measure my words so carefully in fear of saying something wrong. All I need to do is point my prayers in the right direction, and they’ll be taken care of, made right, offered properly to the Father by Two Able Advocates who really are in full possession of the facts and are committed to making this world whole again.

Thirdly, I keep praying because I’m convinced that God transforms us through prayer, softening our hearts and strengthening our resolve, so that, just as we pray for his kingdom to come into situations “out there”, we become more committed to living out his kingdom in our own lives and community. I do believe God hears our prayers and through them affects the world. But the first effect of prayer is often within our own selves–as we let the Spirit take our words, he starts working deeply within us, too.

And fourth, I keep praying because I trust the goodness of the Father who hears us, who asks us to partner with him, who bends down to gather us up, who takes our prayers seriously. And he is powerful. He sees all and knows all and will bring all into alignment with his loving, good and perfect will. I keep praying because God is on the throne, and even though I can’t see how, he really will bring this broken world to full redemption. He really is making everything new. He guarantees it.

So I keep praying. For today, I pray:

Our Father, you are good. We trust you and want your love and goodness to be known in all the world. Let your kingdom come in Orlando! May your will be done in the lives of each person so tragically shattered by this heinous act of hate. May your will be done in the family of Christie Grimmie, in the family of Robert Hall, in the family of both rapist and victim. We pray for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth, on this broken, shattered, sin-filled earth, just as it is where you reign supreme, where your love has overcome, where death is no longer powerful in any way. And for the many situations, tragedies and hurts which continue to seep from the cracks unseen by most, we pray for your all-seeing Spirit to work and to heal and to restore, to bring your justice and mercy and grace to bear where there has been only injustice and fear and terror.

May your will be done in us, your people. Deliver us from evil, forgive us where we have failed to pray, failed to love, failed to forgive, speaking in anger or rage or disgust when you were calling us to speak with love and peace and forgiveness. May your church rise up as the community of hope and healing you created us to be. May we offer solace and comfort, protection and honor. May we offer hope and grace. May we offer you, Father, as the only One who can take our shattered lives and make them whole again.

We don’t know how to pray, but we know you hear us anyway. Thank you for taking up our feeble prayers, making up for our misunderstandings, our vanity and narcissism, our ignorance and our fear.  Thank you for giving us your Holy Spirit, who always intercedes for us, making our powerless words powerful. 

May your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May your will be done in me, in us, in your church. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.

7 Steps You Can Take to Battle Discouragement

Rain on windowLife can be discouraging, even when most things are going well. Then a few things go off the tracks and we’re a wreck. Almost daily I talk to people feeling discouraged in one way or another, struggling to figure out what to do about it. I’m no stranger to discouragement either, and I thought I’d share what I do when I’m feeling discouraged. I hope it’s a help to you.

The next time you are feeling discouraged, try these 7 steps.

  1. First, acknowledge to yourself that you are struggling. I find that the longer I ignore what I am feeling, the longer I’ll be stuck. And what’s more? I end up hurting those I love because they start thinking (just the way I do) that they’ve done something to make me mad at them. When I’m feeling discouraged, I need to sit down and just call it what it is.
  2. Then, examine your heart for possible reasons. Once I’ve admitted that I am struggling, I can start asking why. And while other people may contribute to my discouragement, for sure, I try to be open to ways my own expectations, disappointments, entitlement, lies, sins, or over-activity have contributed to my emotional state. This is not about blame or shame–this is about discerning my heart condition so I can understand what is going on and either come to peace with it or make a hopeful change.
  3. But then, also, be aware of other contributing factors. While I don’t want to immediately assume the problem is “out there”, it can be. And after honest self-reflection, I try to discern other contributing factors. Some are quite “normal”, such as: Have I been getting proper rest and food? Do I need to get an adjustment on my meds? Am I under spiritual attack? Have I underestimated the impact of that event (whatever that is)? Am I upset about what he said to me? We are relational people, and those relationships impact us, often in unacknowledged ways.
  4. After some discernment, ask God for his peace and express gratitude for his goodness. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are told not to worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” What a promise! Not that this comes easily, but I take confidence from these words–as I tell God what I need, honestly and openly, thankful for his grace, he will give me his peace, beyond my own understanding.
  5. Be transparent with your community. This can be hard, but I think it’s essential. Recently, when I was feeling discouraged, I simply disclosed it with a few people I trust. Not to get pity, but to elicit prayer. As a pastor, there is always that temptation to cover my struggles and save face, to make people think everything is “okay.” I’m sure you’ve struggled with that in your own context. Being transparent in community is crucial to becoming a community of honesty and grace. So let’s be honest with others, not spraying it all over but disclosing to trusted friends who can love us and pray for us.
  6. And then, let the Spirit minister to you in your place of need. I say this, not only because of the promise of peace from Philippians 4, but also because of how the Holy Spirit can encourage you through the body of Christ. And we need to let them. Sometimes I’ve been guilty of finally being open about a struggle, and then (perhaps feeling vulnerable) acting as though I don’t need any help after all. We need to let the Spirit love us, however he sees fit.
  7. And finally, focus your attention on the goodness and love of the Father for you. Following Philippians 4:6-7 is the famous “think on these things” challenge, calling us to focus on the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise worthy. I don’t know about you, but when I’m down, that is super difficult for me to do. I want to think about the false, the dishonoring, the wrong–things I feel are worthy of my scorn, not praise. Discouragement breeds disdain. And so it takes work, effort–focus–to intentionally think of the goodness and love of the Father for us, to cultivate our heart’s attention to the gifts we’ve received, the life we have been given, and the lovely way Jesus leads us.

We all have days when we feel at a loss. For some of us, those days are achingly long, stretching on for months. Others among us combine discouragement with a daily battle with mental illness or emotional trauma. And for yet others, long established patterns of negativity drag us down.  Jesus wants to minister to us in our place of need. He wants to lift us up.

These 7 steps are not a cure-all, but a way of being in the midst of discouragement, living honestly and hopefully under the grace of God. I hope they are a help to you as they have been for me.

So let me ask you:

  • What has helped you battle discouragement?

  • Is there one thing you’d wished you’d known when you were struggling?

Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

A Bridge Within The Prayer: How Jesus Brings God’s Big Will and Our Little Lives Together

Have you ever wondered why God asks us to bring every detail of our lives to him? And yet also insists we pray his will, not ours, to be done in the world?

In his teaching, Jesus shows that though God’s will is bigger than any one of us, it includes us in the smallest of ways. Nestled within the larger Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to pray:

Your kingdom come, your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. (Matt 6:10-11 NIV)

The move is seamless. From “kingdom come” to “daily bread”, Jesus leads us to ask for God’s heavenly will to be done on earth and for our daily needs to be met. He commands us to pray for our Father’s name to be hallowed and for our sins to be forgiven. The first half of Jesus’ prayer seems bigger than we can imagine, and then the second, smaller than we had expected. The first, all about God; the second, all about us.

And this leads us into something beautiful.

Like a bridge inside the prayer, Jesus spans two seemingly different realities–God’s large plan and our little needs. Jesus’ prayer connects the big and the small, revealing his Father’s heart–the same God who created the world and oversees its direction also attends to the lives of its little inhabitants.  But this prayer bridge also tells us something about his will, too.

Jesus leads us across a bridge, joining our Father's overarching will with our daily experience of his grace.
Jesus leads us across a bridge, joining our Father’s overarching will with our daily experience of his grace.

As we follow Jesus’ leadership across this prayer bridge, two worlds begin to merge. We discover our big and small petitions are connected. God’s ultimate plan, it turns out, is realized within the world of fed people, provisioned children, delivered families, loved men and empowered women. The Father’s name is hallowed as people experience the grace of Jesus in their struggle to forgive. The Father’s will is done as men are lead away from temptation.  His kingdom comes as once-shackled souls find deliverance from evil. The bigger-than-any-of-us plan of the Father finds its fulfillment in the intimate restoration of each and every person.

What a difference this makes in our prayers. What a change this brings in our experience with our Father. What confidence this instills. Asking the Father for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, leads us to seek his will in our hungry, wounded, tempted little worlds. And as we do, we see God’s big will and our little lives become beautifully joined in his loving heart.The Lord's Prayer as a bridge


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV)