Formula prayers? Forget ‘em.

 

 “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
(John 4:23)

Do you know a good formula for effective prayer? Forget it! From this moment forward, I challenge you to pray limitless, unhampered prayers, guided only by what you have personally discovered is taught in the Bible itself.

Over the years, I’ve watched preachers, writers and missionaries put people in prayer straightjackets. I’ve done it, too. We didn’t mean to, of course. We were just trying to help. And we did, a little. But after you’ve broken the prayer ice by using even the best formula, that’s what you’re left with.

A formula.

God will put up with that for a little while. Hey, somethin’s better than nothin’, right? But sooner or later He’s going to wince, if months later you’re still trying to communicate with Him by formula.

I’ve researched the major prayers of the Bible. There is no formula. Everybody did it differently, depending on the personality of the pray-er and whatever was going on, at the moment.

The Lord’s Prayer

“What about the Lord’s Prayer?” you may ask.

Jesus’ disciples asked Him to show them how to pray, so He did. He gave them a way to pray. It works. I’ve used it countless times. Still do. But the Lord’s Prayer isn’t the only way to pray, nor even necessarily the best way, on all occasions.

Check out Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Right in front of His disciples, He plunges into this awesome dialogue with the Father. But based on what He says here, you’d think He had never heard of the prayer He gave them in Matthew 6! Read the prayers of Jeremiah, Daniel, David, Peter, Paul. They’re all different!

You want to follow Jesus’ prayer example? You want to pray with the greats, like the apostles and prophets? Then throw away the formulas. Be yourself. God will love you for it.

What if your best friend researched your personality and came up with a formula to be used in all future discussions with you? Would you be pleased? No you would not. As soon as you could see what was going on, you would say, “Hey – forget the formula. This is me, remember? Just tell me what’s on your mind. That’s what I’m interested in.”

Unbalanced Prayers

“But I’m afraid my prayers won’t be balanced!” you may nervously protest.

I hope they aren’t. I hope your prayers are as unbalanced as real conversation. The other day my son Abe and I were walking through a parking lot together when he stopped, pulled out his phone and snapped a picture. “Oh, man!” he said. “We’re actually here.”

The picture he took was of Lucas Oil Stadium, in Indianapolis – his first-ever trip to the news digs of the NFL Colts. We had arrived for a night game and we were both pumped.

For the next fifteen minutes we talked nothing but football. I didn’t ask about his job, his son Aidan, his girl friend, or the latest rap he had written. He didn’t tell me he loved me, or point out that I am the greatest dad in the world. We didn’t deal with the situation in the Middle East, global warming or how he likes his new apartment.

Just football.

Unbalanced? You betcha. But he and I were having a blast. This was father/son stuff at its best. No pretensions, no dancing around, no fancy rigmarole, just us, one-on-one, in the easy flow of our relationship, dealing exclusively with that moment in time.

Do we ever get around to all the other stuff? Sure. We have some heart-to-hearts like you wouldn’t believe. Most times we do ask about other family members, catch up on personal news, share prayer requests and express our love for one another. But not today. Why? Because when we’re around each other, we’re just ourselves. We’ve got nothin’ to prove.

When it comes to lovemaking, your wife probably doesn’t want you to use a formula, either. Now, a basic understanding of her anatomy and personality is real helpful, without a doubt. But if you slid into an invariable pattern of stroking her left arm for 20 seconds, kissing her gently for half-a-minute, nibbling at her right earlobe for 12 seconds, returning for two minutes of passionate kissing, then…she might interrupt this program with some breaking news:

“Oh, Sweetheart? Are you there? Great. So am I. I’ll tell you what – tonight, surprise me, okay?”

Real conversation…with a real God

Prayer is lovemaking with God. It’s going on and on about your favorite sport, hobby, project, pet peeve, political candidate, TV show, fear, dream – Father/son…Dad/daughter.

Dare to be creative. Dare to go where the two of you have never before gone. When you’re alone with Your God, let ‘er rip. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind everything you and He ought to deal with during this session and then trust Him to do exactly that. Dare to pour out your feelings, requests, confessions, thoughts, fears, obsessions and desires, in any old order, just as they tumble out of your brain.

Know what? After one session like that, your heart, soul and mind will be on fire. You’ll never again want to return to the sterility of a formula.

And I’ll tell you something else, too. Once this kind of kind of sky-soaring, heart-thumping, soul-searing prayer becomes the norm for you, no one will have to beat you up to make you say your prayers today. A hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex stationed in front of your computer couldn’t keep you away from another one of these unprogrammed, sky-diving, no-chute, free-fall plunges straight into the heart of God.

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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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