Questions and Answers About Prayer 3

Title: Questions and Answers About Prayer 3

Text: Romans 8:26

Time: March 12th, 2013

 

 

During the Easter season this year I’m throwing in another message on prayer because we’re continuing on with Lent, and one of the emphases of returning to the Lord is a return to prayer. I’ve already taught a couple of messages recently on prayer, but today I’d like to talk about it further, and in particular, using a prayer journal or notebook to accomplish more praying. The New Testament teaches, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:6-7.  But the question remains, “How do we pray?” When you think about it, there are many ways to pray – there are many ways to communicate to God. We can pray out loud, verbally, alone or with a group. We can pray silently in our thoughts, also, alone or in a group. We can pray spontaneous prayers that arise from within, within our heart and mind. We can pray written prayers composed by others and set to print in a prayer book or hymnal. We can “pray in tongues,” or as the New Testament describes it, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,” Romans 8:26. I’ll talk more about that in another message on prayer. But today, I’d like to teach on the helpful practice of recording our prayers in a written journal or notebook – first, writing down specific prayer items or lists of prayer topics; second, praying these specific written prayer items; and third, reviewing our written prayers in order to either continue to pray them, or to rejoice in their answer from God. I’ve been writing down prayers for at least fifteen years now, in big journal books that usually last around four to six months before I have to start a new prayer journal because the old one is filled. I probably average three or four new entries a day, not long written prayers, but short paragraph-length prayer items or prayers. I’ve found this extremely helpful in praying and encouraging me in prayer. We all need to find ways that not only help us pray, but help us continue to pray. Prayer journaling is one way I’ve found helpful in praying and staying in prayer. Now I do most of my praying without a prayer journal, because the bulk of my prayers are said as I’m walking for my daily prayer walk for one hour. I start out in one direction from my house and walk for one half hour praying, then turn around and walk back to the house praying for the last half hour. This is my main prayer for the day. But I use prayer journaling inside my house during different times of the day. Let me explain how I do it.

 

First, use prayer journaling to remember what to pray for in prayer. Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for.” One of the first problems we encounter in prayer is knowing what exactly to prayer for. God’s Word acknowledges this is a problem, as this verse in Romans describes. If we know what to pray for we are halfway to knowing how to pray. Now there are rather obvious things that everyone knows to pray for, but apart from these there are plenty of things that we often overlook in prayer. How do we know what to pray for? We trust that God will bring to mind what we are to pray for, and so we also write down what comes to mind to pray for whenever it comes to mind. A prayer journal is a great place to write down what God has brought to mind for you to pray. Sometimes I’m not in my house, I’m not near the my prayer notebook, so I’ll just write down on a scrap piece of paper what it is that God brings to mind about prayer. Maybe I’ll remember to pray for my Brother-In-Law’s job situation, that I learned about a few days ago. I’ll write it down when it comes to mind, so that I can transfer it to my prayer journal later for prayer and review. When some Christians receive a prayer request from someone they always agree to pray for that person, but do they always follow-through and pray for them? Not always. As a pastor, I often get prayer requests from people, but I never promise to pray for them unless I fully intend to do so. I hate it when I feel someone is promising to “keep me in prayer,” but then not really following through with it. If they want to be kind they should say something kind, but not make a promise they don’t plan on keeping. But we should get into the habit of writing down prayer requests or anything that comes to mind that we should pray for. Sometimes I’ll agree to pray for someone or someone’s request whenever it comes to mind. That’s fair. But I usually write down all prayer needs and put them in my prayer journal. What this allows me to do is establish a prayer agenda that isn’t hit-or-miss. I hate the feeling that I’ve forgotten something or that I’m missing something. Do you ever go to the grocery store to get food but then have the feeling you’re forgetting something? We’ve all had that feeling. You can’t remember specifically what it is that’s missing, but you can remember that something is missing. That’s because we haven’t written it down. It’s the same in prayer. We need to get into a habit of writing important prayer requests and items down on paper, in a journal or notebook, in order to be more thorough in our prayers.

 

Second, use prayer journaling to know what to pray for in prayer. Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for.” I can’t pray for something I don’t remember or don’t know about to pray for. Yes, I could pray a great big sweeping general prayer, for example, like the contestants in the Miss America contest always pray – you know, prayers for “world peace.” Big it’s much better to get specific, for example, peace in the Middle East. Or even more specific, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, Psalm 122:6. Prayer journaling helps us get really specific about prayer. For one, it doesn’t force us to rely solely on our memories in order to pray. With a prayer notebook or journal, I’ve got the concrete, specific prayer requests before me so I’m not having to spend a lot of time trying to remember what I want to pray for, I can get on with the business of praying, instead of trying to remember what to pray for. That may seem obvious, or it may even seem pretty funny, but it’s a reality. There have been times that I’m in prayer, but I forget what I wanted to pray for – like the problem I talked about going shopping without a list. I spend a lot of time wracking my brain trying to remember what I wanted to pray. But if I’ve got my prayer journal in front of me, I can go right to it, assuming I remember where I wrote it down! I like to think of the pattern of the ancient Jewish King Hezekiah when I use a notebook or prayer journal in praying. 2 Kings 19:14-17, 19, “Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdom of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord and hear, open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. . . . Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” Now the piece of paper before him wasn’t a prayer journal or notebook, but it was a written document that he used as his prayer agenda – that’s my point. It seems to help to have a prayer list before us, in front of us, that we can look down on, even mark off after we’ve prayed. It gives us a sense of accomplishment to go into prayer with a written prayer agenda, and then work our way through the list of prayers, and then walk away feeling like we’ve gotten the job done. I find it helpful to pray from a prayer journal; maybe you’ll find it useful too.

 

Third, use prayer journaling to review and re-pray what we’ve already prayed. Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for.” When we solve the problem of knowing what to pray for, then we’ve already solved the other problem of knowing how to pray. Just like we must trust the Spirit to bring to mind what we should pray about, we should also trust the Spirit to help us pray for these things. One of the ways, like I’ve said, is to write down a prayer list and work through the list in prayer. Having a prayer journal really helps to do this. Now some people think that when they pray for someone or something, once they’ve done so, it’s over as far as they are concerned. They’ve prayed, and that’s that. Wrong! The Bible also teaches us to “pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17. A big part of praying without ceasing is re-praying prayers we’ve already prayed, over and over again. Of course, some prayers are one shot deals, like when we go in for a driver’s test, just before we sit down to fill out the answers. It does us no good to pray for a good test again after we’ve already taken the test, unless we haven’t gotten the results; then we should be praying for good results. But my point is, some prayers we don’t normally repeat. But other prayers, probably most prayers, we will be praying for more than once, and usually repeatedly. A prayer journal or prayer notebook or prayer scratchpad is really helpful in going back over and over the same prayers. Now what I find happening is when I’m going back over older prayers, still waiting for an answer from God, or ongoing prayers, I add things to them. I’ll write down more amendments to the original prayer, or add specific details to the prayer each time I pray. For example, if I’m praying someone who is sick, I will pray the same prayer for their well being, but as I learn more information from them about doctor visits, test results, how they are improving, and so forth, my pray changes slightly. Prayers should develop over time, even when we are praying long-term for the same thing, they should be gradually developing as we grow, change, learn more, experience things, and more. Sometimes God begins to answers specific prayers in different ways, so our prayers will change too. In my own prayer journal, I may check off prayer requests God has already answered, while modifying other prayers that God partially answers. Because prayer is communicating with God, we should expect that our prayers change, simply because we are relating to a living God who works in response to our prayers, so naturally, as God works, things change, and so should our prayers change also.

 

If you aren’t already using some kind of written prayer journal, prayer notebook, or writing down prayer lists or prayers, I encourage you to begin, to try it. Right now, I’m using an 8 ½ x 11 inch prayer journal, it actually says “Journal” on the front; it’s a hardback book. It probably has a couple hundred pages with lines to write on. You may not want to jump right into this, but you can start a lot simpler by buying some kind of notebook or notepad from the store. Start by simply writing down a prayer list before you pray. Then you may want to try to write out prayers, simple prayers, a few sentences or a short paragraph. This forces you to think about what you are praying for; that way you can go back and modify what you are praying, or cross out something that isn’t relevant anymore. The truth is, sometimes we don’t have all the information about something, so we pray for the wrong thing. If you’ve prayed the wrong prayer, or prayed the wrong thing, cross it out, start again, and pray a new prayer. I love to go back and see what I prayed, what I wrote down in prayer over a certain situation or thing. This often helps my faith as I remember how God worked in my life during that time. Sometimes when I run into similar situations and need to pray the same kinds of prayers I once prayed, I’ll go back to see what I prayed before. Sometimes I’ll pray the same prayer I prayed before for my new situation. That’s ok too. It really warms my heart to see how I prayed under different situations. It’s a great way to remember how God works and how God answers prayer. When we pray, we aren’t always trying to get our own way in a situation; we are more importantly trying to get God’s way. We are asking for God’s will in our lives. If we keep a prayer journal, in addition to other prayers that are not written, we are keeping a written record of how God is working in our life. It’s our faith history with the Lord. I don’t know about you, but I need from time-to-time to be reminded that I have history with God, that what he started in my life, he isn’t finished with yet. I have an ongoing life with God, a faith journal that will end up in eternity, in heaven forever. By keeping a prayer journal you are recording for yourself (and others if you share it) your prayer and faith history. Why not start today by writing down a few prayer items and prayers? Find out if this could be a way that helps you pray more and better prayers.

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