DIFFERENT WAYS TO PRAY
If we are honest, prayer can sometimes be hard, confusing or just boring. So, when events like ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ (a 10 day prayer event from Ascension to Pentecost) come along sometimes we wonder how we’re going to pray that much! Well, on this page you’ll find excerpts from the book The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook but Miranda & Noah Threlfall-Holmes (click here to purchase your own copy). Although this is mainly geared towards getting teenagers to pray, it is definitely something everyone can have a go at! Some ways will really resonate with you, others won’t, and that is okay. We’re all different so we all encounter God differently.
Day 1 (21st May) – Adoration Collage
The first way of prayer we will look at is focussed on adoration – that is, thinking about how amazing God is. There’s many different ways of remembering how incredible God is, whether it’s watching the waves crash upon the shoreline, seeing a bird soar through the air or hearing the laughing of a baby. You might find yourself full of awe when you see lightning flash across the sky and full of wonder when you see a photo of the surface of the moon; all these ways remind us how awesome God is…so how do we turn that into prayer?
First spend some time thinking about what moves you to a sense of awe and winder, maybe jotting down some notes of even making a mind map. Then, find pictures that represent these things for you and use them to create an adoration collage. You could either do this by physically printing off/cutting out pictures and sticking them down into a collage, or you can create it all electronically. Maybe include some words or phrases too. When you come to actually create the collage write the words ‘I adore you God for…’ in the middle of the page and put your pictures and words all around this. Then you can say that prayer, “I adore you God for…” then say what you see in the pictures or read the words you have included.
Day 2 (22nd May) – Confession Stones
Confession isn’t something we talk about often…but the Bible does! We often make links between confession and feeling guilty or shameful, but the beautiful truth of real confession is the opposite! When we confess our sins we are actually inviting Jesus in to wipe away those sins as well as the guilt and shame that go with it! Jesus makes us brand new; 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we are “new creations” – when Jesus washes us clean we become brand new! Confession is more than just saying sorry though; it is also about owning up to our faith – standing up for what we believe in – many churches literally stand up to say (confess) a Creed (a set of beliefs and statements of the Christian faith). Whenever we pray we are making a confession as we are confessing that there is a God by talking to Him!
God already knows all that we have done, so when we confess we aren’t letting Him into a big secret, we are actually admitting that we have done wrong and committing to change. This is called repentance. Repentance is saying sorry and committing to change so we don’t do it again – in actual fact the Greek word for repentance is metanoia which means to ‘change your mind’, so we are not just changing our actions but changing how we think about our actions and realising that following God’s way is the best way for our lives.
So here’s a way to creatively confess to God:
Get some stones, somewhere between three and seven. Then put a bowl of water in front of you, with the stones in a pile next to it. Sit down and pick up the first stone. As you hold it, think about one thing in your life that isn’t as good as it could be. Own up to it. Then put the stone in the water; you are giving it to God, not holding its weight any longer. And it is being washed clean. Pick up the next stone and think of something else in your life that is not as good as it could be. Repeat this as many times as seems right. When you have finished you may like to end by simply saying ‘Amen’, or using a traditional prayer such as: ‘Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.’
(If you can’t find stones you can always use paper and maybe write down the things you are confessing and put those in the water. You will watch the paper dissolve a bit and the writing blur until it’s practically gone.)
Day 3 (23rd May) – Thanksgiving Jar
‘Thank you’ is a very powerful statement, especially when it comes to saying ‘thank you’ to God. When we do say it, we are doing two important things:
- We are choosing to look at the good things in our lives with gratitude and not just focus on the things that aren’t right
- We are acknowledging that everything we have comes from God
People who have an outlook of gratitude and a focus on the good things they have are generally happier, more joyful people. This doesn’t mean ignoring the bad things and pretending they don’t exist, that’s an unhealthy thing to do. It simply means giving more of our attention to the good things in life and choosing to focus on those, filling our mind with thankfulness, joy, hope and general positivity.
Acknowledging that everything we have comes from God also keeps us humble. It helps us remember God’s incredible love for us, that he showers us with gifts and blessings but that also, He showers other people with these things too. God loves us and loves everyone else and every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). When people give you a gift it is right to say thank you; how much more then should we thank God who not only gave us so many wonderful things to enjoy but also gave us life itself!
It can sometimes be hard to remember all the good things we have, sometimes we get bogged down in the bad news and only focus on the negative. Sometimes saying thank you can be hard. Other times it can just be boring or repetitive. So, to help you focus on your prayers of thanksgiving, try making a Jar of Thankfulness:
- Get an empty, clean jar with all labels removed
- Cut some paper into strips (coloured paper can work really well if you’re using a clear glass jar)
- On each strip of paper write one thing you are thankful for, then place it in the jar. (It’s a good idea to keep some spare strips of paper and a pen next to the jar so whenever you think of a new thing to be thankful for you can quickly write it down and add it in.)
- Once you have your Jar of Thankfulness ready, keep it somewhere safe where you will see it regularly, maybe on a windowsill or on your bedside table. If you have a particular place you like to pray maybe put it there.
- Whenever you go to pray, or when you feel like your mind has been full of the negative things in life and you need to get back to gratitude and positivity, take a handful of the slips out and say thank you for those things. This may also be a good time to add any news ones you may have thought of. Your prayers of thanks don’t need to be long-winded, it can be as simple as saying “God, I thank you for…..”
Day 4 (26th May) – Supplication (Ask) Prayer Tree
Supplication is an old word, but if you look back at the past three days we can see we have made the anagram ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), but supplication basically means “to ask”. This is probably the type of prayer you are most aware of. This means to ask God to do things, to look after people and to step into difficult situations. Sometimes it feels too selfish to ask God to do things for us, but Jesus tells us to. In the Lord’s Prayer he teaches us to pray “give us today, our daily bread”. This means we should ask God to provide for us all that we need for today. Jesus, in Luke 18, tells a parable of a persistent widow which teaches us to be persistent in prayer for God to breakthrough into our situation. When we do ask God to help we are doing more than just asking God to give us something we want. It means:
- Admitting that we can’t achieve everything we want to happen by ourselves and that we need God
- We are also opening ourselves up to the possibility that we may have to do something to be part of the solution – when we ask we also listen. We listen in case God tells us to do something that will help bring about a solution.
- When we ask God for something we are confessing our faith in God. By asking God to intervene in a situation, we are saying we believe that God has the power to do so. Regularly asking for God’s help cultivates an attitude of hopeful expectancy in us.
When you ask God for something it is okay to be honest. To say what is on your heart and mind, to say what you desire, what you are desperate for; as Christians we believe God knows what we want anyway, so there’s no surprises to Him! Not everything we want is healthy, so God may change our heart and teach us a new way. But much of what we pray for is good and as you pray be expectant for God to breakthrough in amazing ways, prepare for Him to speak to you and to show you ways you could be the answer to the prayers too!
Here’s a creative way to help you think more clearly about what things to ask God for; create a prayer tree:
- Gather some twigs and put them in a vase or empty jam jar; or you could use a fairly substantial potted plant for this, or even a jewellery tree.
- Now get some little notes to hang on the twigs. The easiest thing to use is gift tags with a hanging loop of thread already attached. You could also use paper or card (maybe even cut them out to look like leaves) and punch a hole in one end of the paper/card and pass through a loop of ribbon/thread/wool so it can be hung on the tree.
- Write each situation, or the name of a person, that you want to ask God’s help for on one of the tags, and hang it on the tree, consciously having that situation or person to God and handing over your worry about it to God as you do so. Then place there tree somewhere in your room.
You might want to sit and pray through each of the tags every day, or once a week, and you can add new ones whenever you like. When God has answered one of the prayers you can take it off the tree; you might want to put that answered prayer tags into a box (or maybe your thankfulness jar) to remind yourself of how God has answered your prayer.
Day 5 (27th May) – Lego Bible Modelling
The idea of spending time immersing yourself in the scriptures is even older than Christianity itself. The Psalms in the Old Testament talk a lot about meditating on God’s law. Reading, praying with and thinking about the Scriptures is described as being like a tree, with our roots going deep into the life-giving soil, drinking up the the life-giving water. If we meditate on what is written we become deeply rooted, fed, stable and fruitful.
One famous way of using the Bible for prayer is called the Ignation method, because it was invented in medieval times by St Ignatius. The idea is that you read a Bible story and imagine yourself there.
What does it feel like (hot? cold? windy? sandy?) smell like (dirty people? camels? flowers? blood? water?) sound like (is it busy? shouting? silence? birdsong?) and so on. Then imagine yourself in the scene, Who is there? What about you yourself – what part are you playing? Are you a bystander, or one of the characters in the scene? And then imagine Jesus turning to you. What does He say?
So here’s a way of praying through the Scriptures that’s a bit like that (but less ‘sit still and think’ and more ‘get out the Lego and build’). You are going to recreate, in Lego, a story from the Bible. The challenge isn’t just to work out what the scene would have looked like. You’ll also need to think about what the character are thinking of feeling at different points in the story. Try to choose lego figures with appropriate facial expressions, and pose them in ways that express what you think they are feeling.
- Choose a Bible story – you can choose to model the whole story or just one scene from it. If you want to model the whole thing you could take photos of the different scenes as you go.
- As you build the scene and think about how people felt and noticed what Jesus/God was saying and teaching, use that to help you pray. Maybe you could pray that you feel what the people their felt…or maybe that you would not make the same mistakes that the people in your scene did. Or maybe you scene leads you to pray that you would see God do amazing things like the people in your scene might have witnessed.
Day 6 (28th May) – Praying with your whole body
How much do you think about what you do with your body when you pray? Scientists are continually finding more connections between our bodies and our minds. Our bodies are a part of us, and what we do with our bodies can shape our thinking.
Try this: smile. You actually feel happier when you make the muscle movements that are a smile, even if you are just acting.
In some churches, you will find that people stand, sit and kneel at different parts of the service. It can be confusing if you go to a church you aren’t used to, as not all churches choose to do the same posture for the same bits!
How many different physical ways of praying can you think of? Throughout history people have chosen different postures of prayer; in Roman times people would probably have stood to pray, with their arms outstretched. In the Middle Ages people would often kneel to pray, as if kneeling before a lord or a king. Sometimes, in some places people lie face down on the floor to pray. Nowadays, the most common way of praying is sitting down. There are often some differences with what people do with their hands; clasped together, open on knees or lifted in the air.
So here’s an experiment to try with your prayer times; try out several different postures for prayer, and see how they make you feel about the relationship between you and God.
- Go to your room, or somewhere you know you won’t be disturb.
- Stand with your arms out in front of you. Imagine you are standing before God. How does it feel to be in front of God like this?
- Next, kneel down, either on one or both knees. This is rather like kneeling before a king/queen; or pleading before a lord for some favour, or mercy. Imagine you are kneeling in front of God: how does it feel?
- Now lie down, flat on your front. Legs together, arms outstretched – a bit like a lying-down crucifix. Imagine you are lying down like this in front of God: how does that feel?
- Now sit on a chair, or on the side of your bed. Imagine Jesus sitting next to you. How does it feel to be talking to God in this position?
- If your body comes up with other positions to try, then try them out too. Think about how each position makes you feel, and how it makes you feel in relation to God if you imagine God there in the room with you.