A Plan For Prayer

At the conclusion of every year I always see a handful of posts about reading the Bible in a year. I have no problem with this and want to encourage you to plan and practice reading through the Bible on a consistent basis. However, Scripture intake alone is not the means by which we grow as a Christian. Just as we have a means to hear God from his Word so we also have a means by which to respond to or “answer God” back in prayer. Calvin remarks, “To call upon God is the chief exercise of faith and hope; and it is in this way that we obtain from God every blessing.”1

Just as we have plans for Scripture intake, we need plans for praying. Perhaps you might feel that this turns something that should be spontaneous and relationally organic into something dutiful and forced, but I would actually argue the opposite. We are not natural prayers, quite the opposite in fact, we neglect prayer often. We aren’t predisposed to talking with God and communing with him. We fill our lives with distraction, noise, hurried business, and anything and everything but prayer. If we want to see prayer become something that is a delight and not a mere duty we must work at it. A plan will help us in this.

Timothy Keller’s latest book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God has been an enormous help for me in developing a prayer plan, as well as Eugene Peterson’s book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. Keller has included a plan for morning, midday, and evening prayer that I feel will be a helpful and good start in developing a stronger prayer life this next year. Here is a summarized version of his plan:2

Morning Prayer:

  • Pray through Psalm 95
  • Read two chapters from the Robert Murray M’Cheyne daily reading plan
  • Meditate on favorite verses within the daily reading
  • Freely pray in the categories of “Adoration” (who God is), and “Supplication” (what our concerns are)

Midday Prayer:

  • Pray through Psalm 103
  • Paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer
  • Self-examination
  • Free prayer for the challenges of the day and moment

Evening Prayer

  • Read and pray through two Psalms, working through the Psalter.
  • Confession and repentance of sins.
  • Intercession for family, friends, the local church, your neighbors, and city.
  • Thanksgiving

Two other suggestions that come to mind in developing a prayer plan are Joe Thorn’s prayer guide through the Valley of Vision. The other is to buy a journal of some sort (I prefer a Moleskine) and write out your prayers. This can force your mind to stay focused on speaking to God and give you a direction in praying so that you don’t mentally wander off.

In any regard having a plan to pray this next year is just as helpful as having a plan to read through the Bible. I would encourage you to develop or borrow a prayer plan for 2015 and grow in your desire and delight in speaking to our Heavenly Father.

What are some of your plans for how you will pray in 2015?

  1. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 340.
  2. See the appendix on pages 263-266. 

The Best of 2014

As we wind this year down (thankfully) and get ready for 2015 here are some of my categorical favorites from this last year:

Best Album

Borderland — John Mark McMillan

This album continues to get playtime in my earbuds and continues to haunt me regularly. Several songs off this album are especially excellent, first among them is “Future/Past.” McMillan sings:

And you,
You are my first
You are my last
You are my future and my past

Honorable Mentions

  • Page CXVI — Good Friday to Easter: Their original song “Roll Away The Stone” is my new favorite Easter song. I will be strongly advocating that we sing it together at Woodside this Easter.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1: True, none of these songs are 2014 natives, but the album as a whole set the tone for the film, and they are fun classic rock tunes. Great summertime road trip music.
  • U2 — Songs of Innocence: It’s U2. Fantastic album. Free album! (Stop your petty whining).

Best Film

The LEGO Movie

While this film is a gigantic marketing piece, it’s also a brilliant, funny, engaging, and enjoyable film. The humor, pace, and story of the entire film is worth-while and I think well done. Plus, LEGOs. So we have that going for us. Everything, in this film, is awesome.

Honorable Mentions

  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Chris Pratt’s other film in 2014. It was a refreshing twist on the super hero formula. Well done Marvel.
  • Interstellar: I am still thinking about this film from Christopher Nolan. There were some things I didn’t like about it, but the fact that I am wanting to see it again says a lot.
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier: The best spy-thriller movie since The Borne Supremacy.

Best Book:

The Psalms by Crossway Books, English Standard Version

It might not be fair to include an entire book of the Bible as the “best book” of 2014 for me, but this book gave me words this last year. It gave me words to talk with God about all that I was going through and enduring. It gave me words to properly cry out for help, justice, healing, and praise. The book of Psalms was exactly what I needed this year. Thankfully Crossway released a “Psalter” that is beautifully set and bound and will last as a prayer book for me for decades. This book has been with me all year long.

Honorable Mentions

  • Make, Mature, Multiply edited by Brandon Smith: A solid anthology of articles on various aspects of discipleship. An excellent resource from my friends at GCD.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Yes, I know it wasn’t written this year, but I read it a few weeks ago and loved it. Such a surprising and excellent story.
  • Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright: A remarkable and well researched book on the resurrection and our hope in it. I don’t always agree with Wright, but his work in this area of theology is sounds and precise. 

What were your best albums, films, or books this last year?

Give Thanks! — The Psalms

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Over the next few weeks (as Thanksgiving approaches) I am going to share some personal things that I am thankful to God for supplying in my life. The Scriptures tell us to give thanks in all things. So in an exercise to remind myself of God’s provision, care, and grace towards me, I want to share ten things I am thankful for.

I love the Bible. I have dedicated my life to knowing God through his Word. The Scriptures are precious to me. They contain the very words of life. Without God’s Word I would know nothing of Christ. His grace and mercy towards sinners like me would remain a mystery and I would be blind to my need for him. The perfect Word of God is my daily bread that sustains my soul. I need the Word daily.

Yet, I am often in need of knowing how to respond to God’s Word. Since his word is infallible, perfect, and sure I don’t always know what to say back to his disclosure of himself to me. How do I rightly respond in my pain back to God? What do I say that will convey the depths of my heart and keep my mouth from speaking foolishness. Surely, Paul is right in Romans 8. I don’t know what to pray, as I ought. There are times when I am stunned by the goodness of God; I don’t know what to say. There are times when I’m so broken that all I can do is groan; I don’t know what to say. There are times when I am angry, frustrated, slandered, and wrecked; I still don’t know what to say. With what words shall I approach the Almighty God and his throne of grace and ask for help? What shall I say to the sovereign creator of all things? How does a finite, tiny, mortal like myself even get a syllable out to the King over all Kings?

That is why the Psalms are so helpful. More than just a songbook in the middle of our Bibles, the Psalms are a prayer book. They give us words to address God. They are perfect words. Words to pray. Words that reflect the soul of humanity before a righteous God. They contain the entire range of human experience. From thanksgiving, praise, and rejoicing to lamentation, desperation, confession, and outright anger - the Psalms provide words to answer God.

I didn’t always understand this, and it wasn’t until earlier this year that I began to see the Psalms as a prayer book. In my contexts the Psalms were relegated to a choir book for the singers and musicians. It was removed from everyday people as a way to speak to God. Yet the Psalms have given me words to approach God. Jesus prayed the Psalms. Most of his prayers in the New Testament, especially in his suffering and death, were direct prayers from the Psalms.

We don’t often know what to pray as we ought. I am thankful for Spirit’s gift of the words to pray. Today I am thankful for the Psalms.