I told the pas­tor I’d be glad to pass out brochures door to door. But when he hand­ed them to me, I thought, I’d love to go home, curl up, and read a book. All my intro­vert­ed, shy ten­den­cies oozed forth. But because I’d agreed to pass out the mate­r­i­al, I grit­ted my teeth and ven­tured up the walk to the first house.

As soon as a young moth­er appeared at the door bal­anc­ing a tod­dler on her hip, I slipped into my habit of turn­ing what­ev­er’s going on inside me into a prayer. See­ing the weary mom trig­gered it, I’m sure, because I felt like such a mis­fit when my chil­dren were small. 

I showed her the brochure with the ser­vice times. Give her patience, God. This lit­tle one isn’t pot­ty-trained. When I hand­ed her the pen with the church’s name on it, she smiled. What a glow­ing smile — make Your­self real to her. As I left the house, I saw that even though my offi­cial task was to pass out lit­er­a­ture and pens, my real task was to pray for every­one I encountered. 

Soon I began enjoy­ing this new role as pray-er so much that I stopped at homes aban­doned due to dam­age from our North­ridge earth­quake and prayed for the peo­ple who used to live there. Liv­ing with rel­a­tives can be won­der­ful and dif­fi­cult, God. Sus­tain them. This task of going door to door, which start­ed out as a dread­ed duty, became a fun and inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence with prayer. 

Major­ing in Prayer

We make the com­mand to pray with­out ceas­ing” (1 Thess. 5:17, KJV) more dif­fi­cult and mys­te­ri­ous than it needs to be. Per­haps it’s a sim­ple mat­ter of mak­ing prayer the main busi­ness of our lives,“1 a phrase Richard Fos­ter uses in Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline. When prayer becomes our major life activ­i­ty, we expe­ri­ence what it means to offer a sac­ri­fice of praise to God con­tin­u­al­ly (Heb. 13:15), devote our­selves to prayer” (Col. 4:2), and pray in the Spir­it on all occa­sions” (Eph. 6:18). So many times the word pray is linked with words such as always,” every­thing,” con­stant­ly,” and even night and day” (Col. 4:12, 1 Thess. 1:2, Rom. 1:9,10; 1 Thess. 3:10). Our per­pet­u­al self-talk — the chat­ter in our head as we com­mute, pre­pare sand­wich­es, or do exer­cis­es — can be trans­formed into a con­tin­u­al con­ver­sa­tion with God. 

Does this con­jure up pic­tures of traf­fic acci­dents occur­ring as peo­ple skim their prayer lists while dri­ving? It does­n’t have to be that reg­i­ment­ed. We can turn the thoughts in our head, the long­ings of our heart, and the urg­ings of our spir­it into prayer. 

For exam­ple, I felt annoyed each time I looked at the bas­ket­ball back­stop in our back­yard. My friend’s son Justin had pulled the bas­ket down and when it broke, he laughed and said, I guess it’s not the kind that pops up.” We had­n’t found time to repair it, which meant our fam­i­ly had one less activ­i­ty to enjoy. Every time I looked at it, I felt annoyed with Justin. Then I felt annoyed with myself. Justin had been in a drug reha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter late­ly and got­ten out. His par­ents had their hands full. Why could­n’t I use the bro­ken back­stop as reminder to pray for Justin? So I did. 

What We Can Pray

If we’re going to weave prayer through­out the day, greater inti­ma­cy with God is bound to devel­op. When we run out of things to say to God, we can bring up what­ev­er or whomev­er is in front of us. That is why I prayed for the mom while pass­ing out brochures that day. 

But what do we pray? What­ev­er piece of God’s will we under­stand. Some of His will we don’t see clear­ly, but much of it we do. My friend Karen prayed for God’s will when she was attract­ed to a mar­ried co-work­er. When­ev­er she was around him or thought about him, she prayed for scrip­tur­al truths to become real in his life. I prayed that he would be a lov­ing hus­band and a firm, gen­tle father,” she says. I prayed that God would use him to advance the king­dom. I prayed that I would fig­ure out how to be his friend. It was pret­ty hard to flirt with him when I was pray­ing for him that way, and my feel­ings soon returned to nor­mal.” In the same way, we can pray we will con­sid­er oth­ers’ needs (Phil. 2:3), exam­ine our­selves for sin (2 Cor. 13:5), or ful­fill our part in help­ing oth­ers come to know Christ (1 Cor. 3:6).

Breath Prayers

But how do we turn our thoughts so quick­ly? One help­ful method is the time-proven breath prayer” for­mat, repeat­ing a prayer phrase that has great mean­ing. For exam­ple, when sit­u­a­tions grieve me but I am pow­er­less to change them, I find myself pray­ing, Into Thy hands.” 

  • I am afraid of upcom­ing surgery — Into Thy hands. 
  • I don’t want my job to end — Into Thy hands. 
  • I want this per­son to love You, but he does­n’t — Into Thy hands. 

Offer­ing this breath prayer is slow­ly trans­form­ing my self-talk and atti­tude. I’m less will­ful and more open to God’s will. 

To those of us who have spent our ener­gies recit­ing long lists of prayer requests, breath prayers may seem hack­neyed and infan­tile, but they aren’t. Breath prayers are so sim­ple that they’re revolutionary.

Breath prayers are very dif­fer­ent from vain rep­e­ti­tions,” which Jesus described as lofty, impres­sive recita­tions made for oth­ers to notice (Matt. 6:7, KJV). Breath prayers are qui­et groan­ings of the heart that become more mean­ing­ful as we use them. 

We need this sim­plic­i­ty in a cul­ture that wows peo­ple with words — adorn­ing them with graph­ics, using them to manip­u­late and con­vince. Breath prayers resem­ble the unem­bell­ished approach that Jesus rec­om­mend­ed when he spoke of offer­ing a sim­ple yes or no (Matt. 5:33 – 37). For too long, we’ve thought that short, sim­ple prayers are not sophis­ti­cat­ed enough. What a relief to grow into a rela­tion­ship with God where we don’t have to go on and on explain­ing every­thing to God. We can pray sim­ply and enjoy being with Him in peace. 

A breath prayer often flows out of a Bible pas­sage. One time while pon­der­ing Jesus’ prayer in John 17, I set­tled into verse 23, espe­cial­ly the last phrase, Thou lovest me.” (I had grabbed a Mof­fat trans­la­tion.) Since then, when I need reas­sur­ance of God’s love, I’ve found myself say­ing to God, Thou lovest me!” 

Here are a few oth­er breath prayers that have become com­mon for me. 

Show me the heart of this per­son. This prayer can ignite in us the com­pas­sion of Jesus toward peo­ple that oth­ers ignore (Matt. 20:34; Mark 1:41). As I look into the faces of my two nor­mal, yet stub­born teenagers, my self-talk turns bit­ter: Why can’t this kid coop­er­ate? or, Who asked for such a stub­born kid? Instead, I’m learn­ing to turn that into a prayer, ask­ing God to show me what’s going on in the heart of these near-adults. I don’t get telegrams from God, but this prayer puts me in a frame of mind to lis­ten to my kids bet­ter or watch what God might be telling me through their body lan­guage or speech. This prayer has a way of wring­ing the self-impor­tance, lazi­ness or grouch­i­ness out of our own atti­tude and giv­ing us a heart for others. 

Help me to see how I can spur this per­son on toward love and good works is my per­son­al­ized ver­sion of Hebrews 10:24. This breath prayer came about one day when I was meet­ing an old friend for lunch I had­n’t seen for some time. She is one of the fun­ni­est peo­ple I know and as I drove to the restau­rant, I gig­gled think­ing about all the silli­ness we’d enjoyed in the past. When I arrived, I found her down and moody, need­ing me to lis­ten and love her. It took about ten min­utes for me to slow into her gear (and resist resent­ing that we weren’t going to have a row­dy lunch!) and tru­ly tune into her. Through­out our time togeth­er, I prayed this breath prayer, and it helped me lis­ten to her, empathize with her and be the friend I need­ed to be. 

I also offer this prayer when I meet peo­ple I admire and feel like coo­ing over them: You’re just such a won­der­ful Chris­t­ian and I would love to be more like you.” I know that’s not wise or appro­pri­ate, and ask­ing God to show me how I can spur this per­son on toward love and good works reminds me that my hero is also a strug­gling child of God. 

As we incor­po­rate prayer into all the moments of our lives, it becomes part of the rhythm of dai­ly life, a back­drop to all activ­i­ty, so that our heart becomes our pri­vate chapel all day long. What a rich place to be.

[1] Richard Fos­ter, Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline(San Fran­cis­co: Harp­er & Row, 1988), p. 34.

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