This Template Will Change the Way You Pray

(and it could change your life, too!)

Ever feel like when you sit down to pray your mind instantly wanders? Or you feel so overwhelmed by your life you don’t even know where to start? Me too. Turns out, you and I are not alone–and this is hardly a new problem. Though our modern lives are full of technological distractions, multi-tasking, and over-stimulation, there have always been competing forces that interfere with the ability to pray effectively. Worry. Stress. Hunger, danger, the seductive lures of sin and temptation. No, this is certainly not a challenge limited to present-day believers.

pray

Time and time again, when I need help with my prayer life, I read (and learn from) the Psalms. To me, they are the best biblical examples of real-life, honest, raw, and vulnerable petitions to God. They reveal much about his nature and his character, and they also reveal a whole lot about our nature and character, too. This past week, my small group met over a bowl of chili and Psalm 42, and we talked about this method you can use to revolutionize how you pray.

First, Start With Scripture

 

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
    while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
    amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged,
    but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
    from the land of Mount Mizar.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
    as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
    and through each night I sing his songs,
    praying to God who gives me life.

“O God my rock,” I cry,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
    oppressed by my enemies?”
10 Their taunts break my bones.
    They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

11 Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!  Psalm 42 NLT

Then, Understand What is Being Communicated

What the psalmist is employing here is the ability (and choice) to encourage his own soul despite the circumstances he is experiencing. In fact, the book of Psalms is full of examples of this strategy. And it is a strategy—a strategy to overcome, a strategy to endure, a strategy for ultimate victory and freedom. And that’s what we’re after, isn’t it?

The process of living in freedom and victory is never a straight-line, level-path kind of process; it is by nature full of hills and valleys, victories and setbacks. It is that way because it requires an honest look at ourselves and our situations, while at the same time, being able to see those things in the light of Jesus.

The psalmist begins Psalm 42 with a declaration of desperation: I need you, God. Really, that is the best place for any prayer to begin. He then lays out his troubles and his broken heart before God, knowing that the Lord understands him, that he cares, and that he will help him. He identifies the discouragement within his own heart: Why (what are the reasons)  am I so sad? Finally, he speaks forth the cure for all that ails him: I will hope in God and I will praise him because he’s good, and for what he has done.

You will notice throughout these (and other) psalms, the verses tend to fluctuate between complaints and praise, desperation and hope, and angst and confidence. I believe it is a demonstration of the usual tendency we have towards fear and despair, paired with the practice of countering those things with truth of God and the hope we have in him.

Now, Look For a Pattern

My friends and I were struck by the sad beauty of this psalm, and how much we could all relate to it. But this psalm is so much more than just relatable–it teaches us how to pray! “Hidden” within its format is a template we can use anytime we come before the Lord. Even better, we can copy this template in writing, and fill our prayer journals with psalms of our own. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with journaling sometimes; especially knowing what to write. Several years ago, I noticed that you can find patterns within the psalms that you can copy and put into your own words when you pray, using your own situation.

Of course, this is not limited to only Psalm 42 or other psalms of petition, but to any of them. Making them personal like I’m describing is one way to allow the Word to become living and active within us!

So how do you find the template?  First, ask yourself what the writer is getting at in each stanza. Then, you break it down like this (I’m using the above psalm as an example):

  1. I need you, God. (Why? How do you need him? Use a metaphor that feels personal and relevant to you)
  2. This is my problem and this is how I feel:
  3. This is what I remember about you in the past, God:
  4. Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart sad? (List the reasons!)
  5. I will put my hope in God. (Why? How?)
  6. I will praise him. (How? Why? For What?)

Finally, Begin to Pray in Your Own Words 

Here’s my example:

O my Lord and my God, I need you.

 I need you like a tired body yearns for rest;

       like a weary traveler needs a place to rest his head.

 Like that traveler, I’m worn out from trying to walk this path alone.

 I am lost in my busyness and in my overwhelm;

       I’m in over my head.

Yet you’ve always sustained me, God,

       never once have you made me withstand it all alone–

       just me against the world.

 But I forget so easily and return so quickly to anxiety and disappointment.

I try to do it all so I make myself worthy and valuable,

      but it all works against me, dragging me down.

Yet right now, I choose to reach out to you and cry for help,

      because I know you will answer.

You always have, and you always will.

You are my father, and you take care of me.

I’m so proud to call myself yours and I will praise your name forever,

      because you are worthy of it.

Be Genuine, Be Honest, Don’t Worry How it Looks or Reads

This is just between you and your Father–pour your heart out to him. Because the whole point of doing this kind of thing is to facilitate your relationship with him and to practice praying the truth. Not just your truth, but his truth. And when you begin to pray this way regularly, it can really change your life!

Using the Psalms as a prayer template is a necessary practice to add to your repertoire if you want to activate your identity in Christ. Through studying (and then praying) the Scriptures, we learn the truths that will counter the lies we believe (and speak them out!); we remember and rehearse who God is and what he has done for us, and we encourage our downcast souls with the faith-filled expectation (hope!) that we have in Christ alone.

Are you willing to try it? Give it a shot. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Photos by whoislimos and Ben White on Unsplash