Prayer is crucial for effective spiritual leadership. Most of us would agree with this, but many of us do not feel good about our practice of prayer. One reason is that prayer is learned behavior, and quite a few Christians have never been taught how to develop and maintain a spiritually nourishing prayer practice. Even Jesus’ disciples felt this inadequacy after being with him for some time.
The prayer exercise that follows can lead beyond random and sporadic prayers into a deeper, transforming relationship with God. Try doing it together as a session, small group, Sunday school class, or just find another person to partner with you in this adventure. As Jesus promised, asking, seeking, and knocking will not go unanswered!
Thirty days of Transforming Prayer:
Accept God’s invitation. Any desire you feel to pray is from God. God is calling you. Accept it as a gift and thank God for it.
Make a commitment. In response to God’s invitation, commit yourself to an intentional time of prayer of at least ten minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks. Find a quiet place to pray where you can concentrate.
Show up. It does not matter how you feel about it. Showing up IS a prayer. Offer yourself just as you are at that moment to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). God will honor this prayer!
Begin talking to God exactly where you are. Perhaps there is a confession that you do not know how to pray. Invite the Holy Spirit to pray within you “with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
Confess to God the failings and sins in your life day by day. The standard we measure ourselves by here is Jesus. Then reflect on the cross as God’s personal investment in you, God’s eternal “yes” to you. You are the Beloved of God, forgiven and cleansed!
Claim Jesus’ promise in Luke 11:13 that our God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. You don’t have to understand it or be worthy of it. Simply trust that God is faithful and ask for the Spirit to be in you and around you in the coming day, guiding you and providing the spiritual resources you need. Think through the day ahead. If there are known challenges or things that cause anxiety, invite the Spirit into these things. If there are no known challenges, ask God to lead you and make you useful in spreading God’s will in the world as the day unfolds.
Pray for God’s will to be done in the world and in the lives of others you know or meet. You don’t need to know what the answer is to someone’s problem to pray that God’s will be done in their life. Remember, Jesus said “ask, seek, and knock” (Mt. 7:7–12), trusting that God knows the answer and can use our prayers to make things right.
End with the Lord’s Prayer. Pray it slowly and reflectively, trusting God to be faithful in your life and in the world.
Listen for God through meditation. If you have time, do some spiritual reading either in scripture or the writings of reliable spiritual guides. Read slowly and reflectively, listening for what God might have to say to you. Trust the Spirit to guide you and let your meditation take you where it will. When you are done, try writing a prayer expressing what you think you have heard and your response.
Joan S. Gray has served as teaching elder in twelve congregations. She is the co-author of Presbyterian Polity for Church Leaders, and the author of Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers and Sailboat Church, all published by Westminster/John Knox Press. Joan concluded a two-year term as Moderator of the 217th General Assembly (2006) of the PC(USA) and lives in midtown Atlanta.