As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Psalm 42:1-2
Many Christians do not know how to pray. Most know the Lord’s Prayer and for many, their knowledge of prayer ends with the Lord’s Prayer. I can’t remember in my childhood, anyone teaching us how to construct a prayer. In fact, if anything, we were taught that prayer was like a vending machine. Insert prayer, wait for and expect an answer. We never understood that prayer was simply being with God. And we never were taught the proper words to offer in prayer and that prayer is more than just giving requests to God.
Prayer should have a few elements. It should begin with a phrase that reflects God to Whom we are praying. We all know what the salutation a letter is. It could start, “Dear _____,” or “My dear friends,” or “To my wonderful co-workers,” etc. It doesn’t begin with “Hey,” or with nothing. Likewise, our prayer should open with something addressing God. It could be as simple as “Lord,” or “Dear God,” or “Heavenly Father,” or “Almighty Lord.”
After we begin our prayer, we should have an element of thanksgiving. We should thank God for something, even something as simple as thanking Him for the day we are beginning. There are so many things to be thankful for—our families, our friends, our children, our jobs, our homes, our health, the list is innumerable.
There should be an element of praying for others. To pray by name for those around us, to include them in our conversations with the Lord.
There should be an element of supplication to God. This is where we ask for the things we need. Many people think prayer is only supplication, but it is not. Supplication should come after we thank God and after we pray for others.
Years ago, I made a simple formula for prayer, that I use myself and that I teach others, especially those who are not in the habit of praying. It’s called “The Rule of Five.” We started teaching it in Sunday school, so that our children would know how to pray. The rule of five is this:
After beginning prayer with an acknowledgement of the Lord, offer five things for which you are thankful. On a given day, I thank God for my health (that I’m alive), for my wife, for our son, for the roof over our heads, and that I have a place to go (I thank God for my ministry, or on a rare day off, I thank Him for a day of rest).
The second list of five is five people I wish to pray for today. Usually the list is a lot more than five, but at a minimum five. They include my family (by name), people who I know are sick or are in need of prayer, healing or God’s mercy; close friends; co-workers; and parishioners. If I ever run out of specific people to pray for, I pray for “categories of people,” such as teachers, doctors, those who are sick, those who take care of them, first responders, those who serve in the military, clergy, college students, those who struggle with addictions, and many more categories. The list of categories of people is innumerable as well.
Then I go to supplication, five things I need. There are two caveats here to keep in mind. The first is that what we think we need is not necessarily what God thinks we need. So an element of humility must kick in, to ask God to grant us what He thinks we need. The second is that I limit my supplications to things I need on a particular day. I do not pray any farther down the line that the needs of today, which are generally very few. On a given day I pray for safety, because I drive almost every day, so I hope for safe travels. I pray for patience because this is a consistent challenge for me. I pray for wisdom, because on a given day, I have to make a lot of decisions and I want to be wise in the decisions I make. I pray for efficiency, because I need to have focus and be without distraction, as well as temptation, to get my tasks accomplished and still have time for family, rest, socializing, etc. I also ask God for the opportunity to laugh. Life is stressful and on a given day, I hope to laugh, have fun and enjoy something.
So there it is, the rule of five: Five things for which I am thankful, five people for whom I wish to pray, and five things I need today.
Of course, you can make this list a rule of ten or twenty. The point is that is give some shape to your prayer, and also, the rule of five pray can be done in less than two minutes.
A couple of years ago, I added one additional thing to the rule of five. I started asking God to put one person in my path whom I can serve or encourage on a given day. And I have to say, God answers this prayer every time I offer it. God always provides someone who I can encourage or help on a given day. Sometimes it is someone I know is coming to see me. Sometimes it is a surprise visitor who I wasn’t expecting or a surprise situation I didn’t see coming. Sometimes it happens in the morning and other times it doesn’t happen until late in the day.
One day, I had spent virtually all day alone, writing and doing office work, and I had only minimal interaction with anyone. It seemed as if the prayer to help someone would not be answered. I stopped at a gas station on the way home about 8:00 p.m. that night. As I was pumping gas, a man came up to me, and noticing my black shirt and collar asked, “Are you a priest?” I laughed inside, “I wonder what gave it away.” And I answered, “Yes, sir, I am.” He asked if I would pray for him, that he had lost his job and wasn’t sure how he’d tell his wife and kids and how he would provide for his family. Most immediately, he was just afraid to go home. So we sat on the hood of my car and talked and I prayed for him. My prayer to help and encourage someone got answered, as it always does.
If you are not sure how to pray, remember 5-5-5-1: Five things for which I am thankful, five people I wish to pray for, five things I need today, and a pray for God to place at least one person in your path today whom you can help and encourage.
Lord, thank you for (list five things you are thankful for). Lord, bless (five people that you wish to pray for). And Lord help me (list five things that you need God’s help for today). Lord, put one person in my path today who I can encourage and help. As I strive to encourage others, help me to find encouragement through prayer and scripture reading. Help my heart to stay filled with peace, so that I have peace to give to others. Help my heart to be filled with joy, so that I have joy to share with others. Help my soul to feel encouraged, so that I will be inspired to encourage others. Amen.
Make sure to pray today, preferably at the beginning of the day!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa. www.prayerteam365.com
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.