Do you need to reboot some of your spiritual disciplines? I’ve got a great resource to recommend.
My husband and I have been leading the youth of our church through the book Habits of Grace by David Mathis. Mr. Mathis walks you through the disciplines by placing them in three (extremely helpful) categories: Hear His Voice (Word), Have His Ear (Prayer) and Belong to His People (Fellowship).
Last week, our class went through the chapter on private prayer. Here are five tips from David Mathis to help start or renovate your private prayer life:
1. Create Your Closet
Find your regular place for private prayer, and if you can’t locate a ready-made spot, make one. It may simply be a clean desk, or someplace you can kneel. Many of us have found that beside the bed proves more fruitful than lying in bed. Maybe you can find an actual closet, or nook under the stairs, with enough space to sit or kneel, and enough light to read and even capture notes. It will help you be regular in private prayer to have your go-to spot.
2. Begin with Bible
Because prayer is a conversation we didn’t start, but a response to God’s initiation and speaking to us in his word, many of us have learned, with George Mueller, to start with the Scriptures. Mueller says that for ten years, he began each day with an immediate attempt at fervent and extended prayer, only to eventually learn how much richer and focused his prayers were when they came in response to God’s word.
From then on, Mueller began with a brief prayer for God’s help as he read, then he went first to the Bible and would open his ear to God in his word by meditating on the Scriptures, then transition, through the discipline of meditation (chap. 3), into his season of daily private prayer.
3. Adore, Confess, Thank, Ask
After reading and meditating on the Bible, and before opening the gates to “free prayer”—voicing whatever is on our hearts— it can help to have some form ready at hand. William Law counseled that morning devotions “have something fixed and something at liberty.” So also with private prayer.
Martin Luther recommended praying through the form of the Lord’s Prayer with fresh wording each day. One time-tested form is ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. First, adore God with praise for the truth revealed in your reading of and meditation on the Scriptures, then confess your own sins and failings and foibles, then give thanks for his grace and mercy, and nally supplicate—petition him, ask him—for requests for yourself, your family, your church, and beyond.
4. Divulge Your Desires—and Develop Them
First, something fixed; now, something at liberty. This is “free prayer,” where we pray our hearts, and what burdens and anxieties are on us that day and in that season of life. In private prayer, we are our most honest with God and with ourselves. Express your heart to your Father. He knows it already, and he wants to hear it from you. This is an unspeakable privilege.
But prayer to God is not only the place for divulging our heart, but also developing our desires. There is power here. Prayer changes our hearts like nothing else—perhaps especially when we follow the prayers of the Bible, in the psalms and from the apostle (as in Eph. 1:17–21; 3:16–19; Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9–12), as guides for the shaping and expressing of our desires toward God.
5. Keep It Fresh
Change it up for a new year, or a new month, or a new season of life. Regularly, or just on occasion, write out prayers with focus and care (this is a valuable facet of the discipline of journaling, as we’ll see in chap. 11), or sharpen your affections in prayer with fasting (chap. 10), or take a break from the chaos of life with some special retreat for silence and solitude (chap. 12).
Few things are as worthy of your attention and investment as the privilege and power of private prayer.
If you need to grow in the area of private prayer, try these tips this week. And I highly recommend Habits of Grace by David Mathis. The great news is it’s available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/books/habits-of-grace.