Lessons from the School of Prayer

I have been benefiting from D. A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation about the priorities of Paul’s prayers.  The first chapter, “Lessons from the School of Prayer,” is a collection of lessons he’s learned from mature Christians over the years.  It’s well worth your time; what follows is a summary of quotes and paraphrases from the chapter.

1. Plan to pray.

  • “We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer” (19).
  • “Set times for prayer . . . ensure that vague desires for prayer are concretized in regular practice” (20).
  • “It is better to pray often with brevity than rarely at length.  But the worst option is simply not to pray” (20).

2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift.

  • Vocalize your prayers.
  • Pray over the Scriptures.
  • Tie your praying to your Bible reading.
  • Adopt biblical prayers as models.
  • Pray through good hymnals.
  • Walk as you pray.
  • Journal your prayer life and your prayers.

3. Develop a prayer-partner relationship.

  • We learn from each other how to pray.
  • Jesus’ disciples asked questions about His prayers because they observed Him (Luke 11:1).
  • If single, only partner with a member of the same sex.
  • If married, pray with your spouse (not only, but at least).

4. Choose models (wisely).

  • Different people will exemplify different strengths.
  • But “all of them pray with great seriousness” (25).
  • “Every day [my father] prayed, usually for about forty-five minutes.  Perhaps there were times when he failed to do so, but I cannot think of one” (26).
  • “The worst possible heritage to leave with children [is] high spiritual pretensions and low performance.  My parents were the opposite: few pretensions, and disciplined performance” (26).
  • “Study their content, their passion, their unction — but do not ape their idiom” (27).

5. Develop a system for your prayer lists.

  • Use Operation World for world-wide praying.
  • Keep your system flexible, up-to-date, portable, and expandable.
  • “All of us would be wiser if we would resolve never to put people down, except on our prayer lists” (29).

6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession.

  • “The Bible simultaneously pictures God as utterly sovereign, and as a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.  Unless we perceive this, and learn how to act on these simultaneous truths, not only will our views of God be distorted, but our praying is likely to wobble back and forth between a resigned fatalism that asks for nothing and a badgering desperation that exhibits little real trust” (31).

7. Tie as many requests as possible to Scripture.

  • “[O]ne of the most important elements in intercession is to think through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for” (33).
  • “Someone close to us contracts a terminal disease: what should we pray for, and why?  For healing?  For freedom from pain?  For faith and perseverance?  For acceptance of what has befallen?  And would it make a difference if the person in question were seventy-five years of age, as opposed to twenty-nine?  Why, or why not?  Are there some things we may humbly request from God, and others we may boldly claim?  If so, what kinds of things fall into each category?”

8. Know that you are modeling prayer.

  • Many things in the Christian life are more caught than taught.

9. Pray until you pray.

  • “Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying” (36).
  • “[M]any of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front door bells and run away before anyone answers” (37).

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” — Colossians 4:2


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