By Joe McKeever
“I will sing a new song to Thee, O God….” (Psalm 144:9)
The message from a friend raised a question I’d not thought of: “Can you tell me how to freshen up my prayer time? My prayers all sound the same after a while. I get tired of my own words, so I know the Lord must.”
How, he wanted to know, does one freshen up his prayers?
Herewith my thoughts on that subject. (I speak as an expert on absolutely nothing, but simply as one believer encouraging another.)
1. Freshness is overrated.
When my grandchild enters the room, I’m not listening for something new from her. She crawls into my lap, hugs my neck, and speaks the same words I have heard again and again, but which never grow old or stale: “I love you, grandpa.”
I love you, too, honey.
(A personal word to my grandchildren who read this. I know, I know–you’re growing up and not given to “crawling into grandpa’s lap” the way you once did. The oldest of you is Leah, 23, and the youngest is JoAnne, 15. In between are Jessica, 22, Abby and Erin, 16, and Darilyn, 15. But you will understand what I’m saying here. I so adore these 6 granddaughters and just as much our 2 grandsons, Grant 18 and Jack 11.)
2. Freshness may be more for us than for the Lord.
Since He sees on the heart and knows the mind before a thought is formed, it’s not as if our Heavenly Father “needs” a new or better expression of our devotion. This is why, so long as our hearts are in it, prayers and scriptures we have memorized may still be effective in drawing us closer to the Heavenly Father. What the Lord seems not to care for are mindless recitations of memorized prayers.
I frequently begin my prayer period with scriptures I memorized decades ago but which continue to inspire me. “My soul doth magnify the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). “I will call upon the Lord who is greatly to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies. The Lord liveth; and blessed be the Rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted” (Psalm 18:3,46).
I recite the Lord’s prayer, sometimes more than once if I sense my mind is wandering or not getting into the meaning of those words.
3. Nothing teaches us how to pray and to pray freshly like the Holy Scriptures.
a) We see how others prayed and are instructed by the pattern of their praise and intercessions.
I love the prayer of Elijah at Carmel: “Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel and (while you’re at it) that I am your servant!” (I Kings 18:36). As a pastor, I have prayed that repeatedly when it seemed that a few people were trying to undermine my leadership or countermand my messages. And, I’m happy to say, the Lord always answered.
b) We read a passage and are inspired to “pray those same words.” Praying Scripture–that is, asking the Lord to do in us what He said in that text–is always a great way to lift our intercessions out of the doldrums.
Praying the Beatitudes, we would ask that the Lord would help us to be poor in spirit that we might receive the kingdom of Heaven, that we might mourn over the sinful condition of our world in order to receive His comfort, that we might be gentle and thus inherit the earth.
Jesus taught the pathway to greatness is through serving people (Matthew 19:26-28). So, either privately in my closet or publicly in a worship service, it would be worthwhile to pray for this–for the desire to serve (not just occasionally but as a way of life), for the willingness to lay ambition and self-centeredness on His altar daily, for the love that makes servanthood authentic, and for my focus to remain on Jesus Christ and nothing else.
c) My favorite approach is to find a verse of Scripture that “has my name on it” (that is, it seems to jump off the page, demand my attention, and insist that I camp out there for a while) and reflect on it, then pray it.
Case in point…
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5). We read that verse, conclude there’s nothing notable about it and go on. But by camping out on it, by meditating upon these words and asking the Lord to open them to us, we begin to see wonderful insights.
–He is the God of Jacob. Jacob was his original name, replaced later by Israel. Jacob was the one who lied and cheated and swindled his brother. God is the God of some mightly flawed people. And aren’t we glad of that! This is encouragement.
–God loved Jacob just where he was, but loved him enough not to leave him there. So, the Lord allowed him to go through a testing/disciplining time in the household of his uncle, and later appeared to him for a time of refocusing. God took the flawed Jacob and turned him into a champion, Israel.
–This is the kind of God we serve, who is our help, our hope. Our help today (and in ages past), our hope for all the future.
–And how encouraging is that!
And so, my prayer–inspired strictly by that one verse of Scripture–might go something like this….
“Dear Lord, You have said in your holy word ‘How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.’ That’s us, our Lord. You are our help–the One called along side us to guide and strengthen us for the assignments you have given us. And you are our hope–the One to whom we focus all our expectations for the future, in this life and beyond.
“We find comfort in knowing that our Heavenly Father is the One who took a weakling like Jacob, a man of many faults and flaws, and you showed great patience in leading him through the years, eventually making him a great champion of faith. Father, do that in us please.
“Be patient with our flaws; but give us victory over them. Your word says, ‘He himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.’ So, you are under no illusion about us. You knew you were getting no bargain when You redeemed us. Thank you for redeeming us, for calling us, and for your infinite patience as we have stumbled along. But make us strong. Make us champions for thee.
“Father, lift up our spirits, anchor our hopes in Thee, set our feet on the solid rock and energize us as we go forth into this day to serve Thee.
“For Jesus’ sake, Amen.”
The rest of Psalm 146 expounds on the theme of the Lord showing favor to the flawed and fallen.
vs 7 “He executes justice for the oppressed”
vs 8 “He opens the eyes of the blind”
vs 9 “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow; but He thwarts the way of the wicked.”
There is so much prayer material there.
d) Got time for one more? Isaiah 62:6-7 gives us a prayer-insight in Scripture not mentioned anywhere else, to my knowledge. It’s demonstrated again and again, but this seems to be the only place that refers to prayer as “reminding” the Lord.
“On your walls O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent; You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”
You who remind the Lord.
When we pray, we are not telling the Lord anything He doesn’t already know. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). He already knows, but we will remind Him.
This kind of prayer is demonstrated in numerous Psalms, as well as David’s prayer over the materials collected to build the temple (I Chronicles 29:10-19), Solomon’s prayer of dedication of that house of worship (II Chronicles 6:14-42), Jehoshaphat’s prayer when Judah was invaded by a pagan coalition (II Chronicles 20:5-12), and my favorite, the early church’s prayer when threatened by the religious authorities (Acts 4:23-31).
The thing to notice in these prayers (and so many similar throughout Scripture) is the form the pray-ers used…
–they reminded the Lord of Who He is.
–they reminded the Lord of what He had done.
–they reminded the Lord of what He had said (promised).
–and then, they reminded the Lord of their present situation.
–finally, they reminded the Lord of what they needed, their specific request.
An admission here: This concept is too weighty to address in a sermon, but is ideal for a classroom situation when everyone is relaxed and can take notes, look up references, and ask questions. I enjoy sharing it with pastors, and encourage them to construct their Sunday morning pastoral prayers in this manner.
How many other ways are there for freshening up one’s prayers?
Only a thousand. Use a hymnal, borrow a Book of Common Prayer from your Episcopal friend (or do as I did and purchase one), and read books of prayers. Read books about praying. Go online and listen to the prayers of preachers.
And, if you do nothing else, please bear in mind our first two observations: 1) freshness is probably over-rated and 2) it’s more for us than for the Lord.
Now, let us pray!!
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.