Short Prayers Count (Pod cast at the foot of the page)
This is not about how to pray for the sick, or about intercessory prayer, or deliverance prayer – it is less about the object for which you are praying, more about you the prayer.
Psalm 141:1 O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me.
Psalm 142:1 I cry aloud to the Lord: I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
Psalm 143:1 O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy.
These prayers, & others like them in the bible are interesting examples of what is prayer is. This morning, I want to help you find new, simple ways of praying which help you become a prayerful person.
On the one hand, prayer is so natural & automatic. The human being, especially at times of crisis, spontaneously cries out, “Oh God, help me!"
On the other hand, you may feel that your prayer life is dry & empty.
Or you may feel that you are disqualified from praying – because your spiritual life isn’t up to it, you’re not a good enough person.
You may feel guilty about prayer, or the lack of it in your life.
Maybe you sufer from Prayer Status Anxiety – what the psychologists call Upward Comparison. I can’t enjoy my prayer life because there is always someone who is doing it better & longer than I am.
For those of you who do pray – tell me, how do you pray? What is prayer for you? What do you do when you pray? What do you say?
Shopping list (Bruce Almighty)
Meditation or reflection
A shout of joy
A cry of despair
Saying things to God
Listening to God
Cry for mercy (Psalms)
Everyone is different
People pray in different ways about different things:
Extraverts love to pray with noise & colour, with fervour, vibrancy & shouting
Introverts pray best in solitude or silence with meditation & quietness
Thinkers like to pray through concept & scripture
Feelers pray through the ups & downs, riding the undulations of their emotions
Intuitives pray with the huge cosmic possibilities in the world right in front of them, with vision & passion
Sensors pray in the immediate moment, they like things to hold & feel & look at
Some love to pray in creative chaos, all sorts going on all over the place
Others love to pray with order, almost like a military operation, discipline works well
So, pray as you are, not as you are not. Pray as you can, not as you can’t.
Examples of prayer
St Francis of Assisi – Make me an instrument of your peace …
St Patrick’s prayer – Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me…
Matthew 6:9-13 – the Lord’s Prayer (50 words)
Luke 22:42 – Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.
Mark 15:34 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
1 Samuel 3:10 – Speak Lord, your servant is listening.
They are not long prayers, some are very short. The Psalms are a record of many, many prayers, long & short.
Some people asked Smith Wigglesworth, a great Apostle of Faith in the first half of the 20th century, about prayer. They said, “Smith Wigglesworth, you’re a man of faith & miracles, you’ve raised people from the dead. You’ve cast out more demons than we’ve had hot dinners. Tell us, how long do you pray every day?
“Well, the apostle replied, “I don’t ever pray any longer than twenty minutes.”
“What?” his questioners exclaimed. After pausing for effect, Smith Wigglesworth continued, “Yes, but I never go twenty minutes without praying”.
Interviewed by a reporter, “When you pray what do you say to God?” “I don’t say anything, I just listen.” “What does God say?” “He doesn’t say anything, he just listens. And if you don’t understand that young man then I can’t explain it to you.” The deepest prayer is not an exchange of information but yielding to the presence of God.
If you are feeling a bit guilty about your prayer life, or a bit uncertain about how to pray & grow in prayer, I want to show you that short prayers count and can make you into a prayerful person.
1. Short prayers count
The evidence shows that when people pray little & often, it makes a big difference. When psychologist try & pin down common characteristics of people who seem to make life work well – becoming more like Jesus in their character, more effective followers – there seems to be a consistent pattern of frequent prayer.
It’s not how long you pray but how often.
2. Short prayers change me
There has been much research (Leslie Francis, Professor at University of Warwick) into the role of prayer in achieving well-being. Praying frequently is strongly associated with:
Short prayers said frequently make the difference. It’s not the word count or the hours spent in prayer that matter most but the frequency – bringing each moment of your day to God, constantly turning to him about the events of your life changes you, draws you into relationship with your creator & healer which brings about change in you.
living healthily & living longer;
a longer lasting & satisfying marriage when you pray for fiance/partner;
positive characters traits – compassion, forgiveness, persistence, gratitude.
3. Children love short prayers
We learn to pray as children. Cognitive psychology tells us that young children take naturally to the idea of God & to prayer. Although they will be somewhat confused about who God is (I still struggle with that) they will learn readily from adults.
But children have well-tuned hypocrisy detectors & will see through any performance prayers.
They love to pray short prayers, taking things to God & caring for others through prayer.
We teach them how to pray in Vineyard Kids & they may pick up other guidance as they learn to read or at school, but their main source of learning, the models for their prayer life are their parents. Just like everything else they will watch & listen to you – that’s how they will learn to pray.
4. Short prayers are wood for the fire
Sometimes we think we can’t pray because it is too noisy, we are distracted, I can’t concentrate, I certainly don’t feel holy. But prayer is a fire always burning & everything can be wood to be thrown on the fire.
Brother Luigi Gioia (Benedictine Systematic Theologian in Rome), “The test that prayer is authentic is that you learn how to turn everything to prayer, any scrap of wood is good to feed the fire.”
So all the things that you might think will stop you from praying, which might make you a less holy person – in fact they can be wood for the fire.
See how David the Psalmist is continually turning everything in his life to prayer – good & bad.
Psalm 142:1,2 – I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy; I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.
These are all brilliant prayers emerging out of the detritus of daily life. When you experience sin, frustration & pain, or joy & gladness, you can turn it into prayer. These things needn’t be scraps of wood that trip us up, they can be fuel for the fire of our prayer life.
You walk into church & kids are running around everywhere, parents are stressed, the b& is tuning up, you are aware of a concerned look on one of our Methodist friends as their congregation moves round the back to have a cup of tea. That could all be a distraction, an obstacle to prayer or:
Lord, sorry for getting annoyed, bless those children this morning
Lord, help those parents find peace with their children
Lord, I pray that the worship b& can focus on you
Lord, thank you for the Methodists, may they enjoy their time together
Someone cuts you up in traffic or nicks your parking place:
Oh God, why do people drive like that? Help them to drive better.
You experience a tragedy in your life – just like Alison & I losing our niece to a brain tumour a couple of weeks ago:
Oh God, why? What’s going on? This hurts so much & feels wrong? How could you let it happen?
You get a phone call (like I did yesterday) asking why you haven’t joined the meeting – you’ve completely forgotten:
Oh God, I hate forgetting appointments, help me to get there & calm down.
You find yourself watching pornography or just lusting after a woman in the street:
Oh God, have mercy on me. Make me pure. Give me self-control.
You are really tired & can’t stay awake to pray:
Thank you for your presence God, be with me as I snooze, be with me when I wake up.
5. Short prayer is like taking off the bandage
Brother Luigi Gioia also talks about taking your wounds to the doctor. If you have an embarrassing or unsightly skin condition or wound you cover it up don’t you? You don’t walk around showing it to everyone, you put a bandage on it.
But when you go to the doctor you take the bandage off so that he can see it & apply medicine & a healing touch. You don’t keep everything covered up & go into lengthy explanations & descriptions. Just take the bandage off & show it to him.
Our sin, our brokenness is often an unsightly wound which we keep covered up. We can’t heal it ourselves but we don’t want others to see it. But in prayer we can take it to the Great Doctor, & we can simply admit our sin & brokenness – he has seen it all before, & he loves to extend his merciful healing touch.
6. Short prayers are like breathing
Prayer is always going on. As soon as we start to pray we realise that we are already in prayer, it’s happening. Because prayer is more than just starting to talk or even just starting to listen. Prayer is about being in a place with God, aware that he is always with us, that his Holy Spirit fills us. Prayer is about a way of living leading to prayerfulness – becoming a prayerful person.
Our prayer starts with Oh God, O Lord, Father … because he is always there we can turn to him first. Because he has heard it all & seen it all we can take it to him. When we decide to follow Jesus & invite him into our lives he is always there the presence of his Holy Spirit.
After the resurrection of Jesus he said, “I am with you always”. This is the essence of prayer. If we believe in the resurrection we know that he is with us & we can turn everything back to him.
It isn’t just a conversation it’s a place – someone calls me on the phone & says, “Where are you?” & I say, “I am with Alison”. I’m not just talking to her or even listening to her (mainly), I’m with her. When someone says, “Where are you?” I could say, “I am with God, I am in a place of prayer”.
It’s also a state of being, a way of living, becoming a prayerful person, prayerfulness.
The prayerful person is more confident to step out in prayer for others – to pray for the sick, to lend a helping hand, to share their faith. If those are things about which you feel nervous or inadequate – focus on praying short prayers often & experiencing that ongoing conversation with God.
A life with lots of short prayers changes you. Others begin to recognise it. Why are you at peace in this situation? You seem to be trustworthy, can I ask you something? I would like you to pray for me. You seem to have faith, what do you believe?
You can’t manufacture the presence of God in your life but you can turn to him with short prayers often & you will become a prayerful person – it becomes like breathing. He’s just there, in your life.
I have been explaining that prayer doesn’t have to be a big super-spiritual activity. It’s not something that needs you to be in a quiet & spiritual state. It doesn’t need everything to be OK.
I invite you to recognise God loves you & is with you. Take everything to him in short prayers: the good, the bad & the ugly - often. May your life become a place of prayer & may you become a prayerful person.
Short prayers count – a lot.
Everyone prays differently: pray as are, not as you are not. Pray as you can, not as you can’t.
The things that might frustrate us or which we might think of as obstacles to prayer: events, thoughts, feelings - can actually be fuel to throw onto the fire.
Prayer is a conversation in which you can bring anything from your life & what’s going on in your head to God – good & bad. It is a time of speaking & listening.
Prayer is a place where you are with God, he is just there with you, prayer is always going on, like breathing.
Prayer is a state of being, you can become a prayerful person.