Part I: Prayer - Simple But Not Formless
P-T-C-I-P . . . How Do you Pray?
(This post takes about 4 minutes to read)
When I get “soul weary” it’s often because I’m too inward focused and not getting enough external nourishment. For me, that nourishment comes from quality family time, exercise, and slots in life where I can wedge in great authors who write about people who have changed the course of history or triumphed over great turmoil in their lives.
Recently, rather than find something new to read, I plucked a book off my shelf that I’ve read several times over eighteen years. Devotional Classics lives up to its title. It’s a collection of writings from men and women of faith spread over seventeen-hundred years . . . from St. Augustine (fourth century) to Martin Luther and John Calvin (sixteenth century) to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, and Evelyn Underhill (twentieth century) . . . plus forty-five other iconic writers to keep you engaged every week of the year.
In the section titled the “Prayer-Filled Life” is a short work by George A. Buttrick. It’s called A Simple Regimen of Private Prayer. Checking my rearview mirror of life, I’m encouraged that Buttrick’s “hints” on prayer have served me well over many years. What he says makes a lot of sense . . . and as the title specifies, it’s amazingly “simple.”
Prayer, says Buttrick, is an intimate practice; it’s speaking (even if just by thought) . . . but also listening, something that frequently gets crowed out of our prayer equation. In its deepest design, he says, prayer “is friendship with God held in perfect reverence.”
“Do you pray?” isn’t typically a question you get asked over a Corona and loaded nachos at your favorite Mexican restaurant. But who can deny that it’s a vitally important question, particularly when one is submerged in difficult circumstances? However, I think a better question might be, “How do you pray?” . . . and George Buttrick has a very good answer.
He first suggests that prayer is not necessarily formal, but neither is it form-less. Here’s the hints he offers:
Begin with an ordered quietness of Preparation—a humble and reverent mind focused on God—plus a “belief” that your prayer is being heard by the Sovereign God of the Universe. Can prayer be spontaneous? Sure! Sometimes that’s the right thing to do when life is rudely interrupted, but that’s not Buttrick’s focus.
Second, insert Thanksgiving . . . a deliberate calling to mind of the joys and blessings of life, even in desperate circumstances. This vitally important element of prayer leads us to contemplate life on a broader scale . . . and to fence off our propensity to label ourselves as victims.
Third, consider Confession—a word not common or welcomed in our vocabulary. Confession is couched in God’s grace and forgiveness made possible by the Cross of Christ. But it helps to be specific. Confess your latest hissy fit, a consuming jealousy, or maybe the bondage of a destructive habit. True confession is never a “merciless self-excoriation” says Buttrick. Rather, confession sets-up a personal humility that allows us to stand in the presence of God . . . and open the door to what’s next.
The stage is now set for Intercession . . . praying for the needs of others. However, not mindlessly for the riddance of all sorts of unspecified conflict and evil (as much as we need that). But rather that we would personally bear a heartfelt burden for specific needs of people we intercede for . . . even those of our enemies as is the injunction from Jesus! Personally, I’d prefer to leave that out and regretfully, I often do.
The last part of Buttrick’s informal, but not formless prayer, is Petition . . . the beating on heaven’s door for our personal needs. “To deny (or thwart) a prayer of petition is to deny human nature,” says this former pastor of NYC’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us exactly the same . . . “make your requests known to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Consider committing P-T-C-I-P to memory or write it on a 3X5 card for easy recall. It will better your prayer life.
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).
Source Credit: Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith. Devotional Classics. A Simple Regimen of Private Prayer, 100-103. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.