So after you read the commandments, you start to pray. But how? Praying (especially if you do it non-verbally) is a difficult mental exercise. One way to stay the course is to pray out loud. It keeps your thoughts from running amok and after a few minutes you find yourself thinking about how you still need to unclug the sink or finish that document you were working on.
The second way to combat this is by having a structure, so that every time you stray (and in the beginning there is a very good chance you will), you have a line you can get back to, to stay on course.
As praying in itself is a mental exercise, you are training your mind to stay focussed on one particular activity. Doing this exercise consistently without worrying about your progress, will result in you getting better at it. Probably better than most folks, even if that is not what motivates you to keep at it. It is just an added benefit.
But before you get good at praying just because you did it so often and for so long, if you are anything like us normal mortals, you will struggle. This is where a structure comes in handy. Now there are many ways to structure your prayer. Some Christians see our Lord’s prayer as the ultimate template for our prayers. It would be unwise to disagree, but the example of Jesus is much more than just a prayer. It is a whole sermon capsulated in a highly concentrated number of words. That it must be studied profusely is evident, but for the day to day communication with God a much more simplified structure is very useful. Especially since we struggle even with that.
The building blocks for a solid well rounded but uncomplicated prayer are/could be, “Adoration, Thanking, Confession, Intercession and Supplication”. Of these five Confession, Thanking and Supplication are the foundation. When we look more closely at these most basic of building material for our prayers, we see that they are all aimed at providing us with mental/spiritual support.
To adore; to worship, to venerate. These are all words conveying the idea that one is focussing his or her mind on something and loves it, wants reality to be centred around it, wants to work to make that happen.
As Christians our worship and adoration towards God, keeps our minds focussed on Him who is the most important constant in our existence. We strive to be like Him. This is the central navigational point in all our decision-making. The love of God.
A person who doesn’t have to account for his or her own actions becomes unhinged. Every ruler with absolute power over his or her subjects, starts to lose their grip on reality and morality to some extent.
Even people who by a long shot do not have absolute power of others, but can be considered to be part of the elite (however relative this might be), are in danger of this. Simply because less rules apply to them.
Expressing our thanks to God should be very natural. We exist because He willed it. Every circumstance in our environment which supports our continued existence is maintained by Him. We thus have a whole lot to thank Him for.
On a deeper level, being thankful, the exercise of gratitude is a state of mind which is one of the systems God has put in to place, to protect us from depression. He doesn’t need our gratitude to exist, so this system (none of them for that matter) is not created for His benefit. Exercising gratitude is God’s way for a human mind to build up an internal resistance to prevent negative emotion to take root in our hearts.
To prevent us from becoming self-centred, adding interceding on behalf of others is a powerful strategy we can employ. Before I added intercession to my prayer structure, I eventually noticed that there was not room for the needs and troubles of others during my conversations with God.
In general terms praying is often thought of as one extensive wish list you bring before God in the most diplomatic wordings possible. Knowing that prayer is much more than that does not negate the fact, that making all our desires, struggles and wants (righteous or not) know to Him is also very much part of it.
Personally I feel that, there more I am able to dig deep and cough up the most unholy desires I keep hidden in the crevasses of my heart, the more my relationship with Him grows.
Now that we have the building blocks clear and we have found an order that emotionally works for us (some might argue that there is a natural ordering to the blocks), let us look at frequency. How often should a Christian pray?
Well in the bible we find numerous verses in which we are implored to dwell upon the Word, by day and by night. Yes, this (dwelling upon the Word) is not praying per se. It seems to speak more on how frequent we should set aside time for devotion. Yet devotion, without prayer is not very likely. So we can infer that a good prayer rhythm is one with at least a morning and evening prayer. You could also ramp it up to Paul’s level as he was clearly a man advocating constant prayer.
To get into the habit, for some of us, just starting with praying once every day is the route to go. Eventually, we can end up at the level of discipline and devotion that we have a schedule of three times a day. That is a beautiful goal to have, as long as we start somewhere.