Helpful Things: Fostering Confidence in Prayer
By William M. Cwirla
Editor's Note: Pastor Cwirla wrote this article for the winter 2010 issue of Higher Things Magazine but there is so much wisdom in here regarding the "art of prayer" that we thought it would serve as a springboard in your conversations with your youth, whether they are struggling to pray on the fly privately or publicly. Enjoy!
“My brother is sick and in the hospital, would you pray for him?" "My best friend is in a lot of trouble and I don’t know what to do, would you pray with me?”
Now what do you do? And what do you say? Some of us are good at speaking on our feet and can rattle off a prayer on demand. Most of us just get embarrassed and tongue-tied, and if we say anything, it comes out as a jumble of random religious phrases punctuated with “we just.”
So how do you pray on the fly? You need an outline. And you have a great one in the liturgy! The Collect of the Day--it’s that prayer before the readings that collects the thought of the service in a single sentence. It has a simple five-part outline. Learn it, and you’ll have a great outline for the next time someone says, “Would you pray for me?” Here’s how it goes.
First, you address God. Now you wouldn’t say, “Hey God,” although God wouldn’t mind. “Lord” is okay, but we confess God as three Persons. Jesus taught us to pray to “our Father,” so “Father” is probably best. You can pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, too, but your Father in heaven loves to hear from you. Prayer flows from you to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. And it’s easier to keep your Persons of the Trinity straight. Just say something like, “Dear Father in heaven.”
The basis is the foundation of your prayer. It says something about who God is or what He’s done. Yes, God already knows that, but He loves to hear that from His children. It’s like a little confession of faith. It presumes you know your Scriptures, so now you have one more good reason to read your Bibles daily. It gives you words for prayer. So if you are praying for someone who is sick, you might say, “Dear Father in heaven, Your Son Jesus healed many people in His earthly ministry and is the source of all healing.” Or if you are praying for a family going through a divorce, you might say, “Dear Father in heaven, You established marriage when you created Adam and Eve and your Son blessed marriage and affirmed it as your good and gracious will.” Or, you might keep it simple and say, “Dear Father in heaven, Your Son Jesus healed lots of people.”
You’re talking to God about God and building your prayer on what God in Christ does. Prayer begins with God, not with you. And you are also proclaiming God’s goodness and mercy to the person for whom you are praying.
Tell God what you want. “Heal Sally of her sickness.” “Bring peace and reconciliation to Ted’s family.” Don’t be afraid to tell God what you want. You’re not telling Him anything He doesn’t already know. Saying it is good for you and the person for whom you are praying. You are coming to a good and gracious Father who knows to give good gifts to His children.
Tell God why this is important to you or what you hope will happen. “Heal my friend, Tom, so he can return to school and rejoin his friends.” “Bless our pastor so that he can preach the Word faithfully.” This helps you express why you are praying and often helps the person for whom you are praying to express their thoughts and feelings, too.
All prayer flows through Jesus, our High Priest and Mediator. We confess that in our prayers by saying “in the Name of Jesus” or “through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” And then say a strong and bold “Amen!” As the Small Catechism reminds us, “Amen” is not a wimpy word, but is faith’s confidence that your Father in heaven will hear your prayer and act on it, according to His good and gracious will.
Let's Try It
“My dog is sick. Will you say a prayer for him?” (Yes, you can pray for animals!) Dear Father in heaven, You made all creatures great and small and you give special ones to us as our companions. Bring health to my friend’s dog, that he would be able to enjoy his company for as many years as You will, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
“My parents are facing divorce and I’m scared. Would you pray for our family?” Dear Father in heaven, You have set us in families and ordained marriage for our blessing. Bless my friend’s family with peace and reconciliation, that their hearts would be turned to repentance toward You and love for each other, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now you try it. Let us pray. . .
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California. He is also a president emeritus of Higher Things.
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