How to Pray Better

The following is a written preview of our new Q&A style podcast where Pastor Foley takes questions related to the Whole Life Offering discipleship training model. Subscribe now!

Q: One of the key things we learn about in Healing and Comforting is the danger of self-centered prayers. The message we portray when we pray this way is that we believe in a being who, if we’re good enough, is going to grant our wishes. What are the things that we should be praying for and how we can go about learning to pray better (i.e. more Biblical)?

A: We have a tendency when we get sick to become very focused on ourselves. So what does the church across Christian history do to be able to deal with this? It reminds us that no matter what our physical situation is, we can pray for other people and be a meaningful part of the kingdom of God working on Earth. That’s pretty exciting! There’s already a shift there from saying, “My nose feels kind of stuffy today” to saying, “Even though my nose feels stuffy today, I can still impact the work of God.”

Prayer is our permission. We invite and invoke the presence of God to be active in those specific areas of our lives and the lives of other people. Healing prayer, unfortunately, tends to be synonymous with very self-centered prayer: “Lord, I am really sick; therefore, heal me.” Is there anything wrong with that? No. Is it sufficient as a prayer life? No. The more you get sucked into that kind of prayer, the more efficacy is lost. That kind of prayer says that in order to be an effective Christian, I have to be healthy, I can’t be in debt, etc. Wow! That’s symptomatic of the way the church thinks today.

Karl Barth, the great theologian of the last century, said we have a human inclination to constantly look inside ourselves and say, “There’s nothing good in there.” God says, “Yes. Obviously. I know. So stop doing it.” Our focus, instead of looking inside and seeing that there’s nothing good in there, is to do what Jesus did. He said, “I only ever do what I see my father doing.” We should do what he calls Peter to do when summoned to walk across the water: we have an unerring focus on Jesus. If we find ourselves focused on anything else, we return our focus to him. And we need not fear that because we’re focused on Jesus that he won’t notice that we’re sick. Trust me, he’ll notice because he is a good father. If we’re not feeling well, the father knows it. So we say, “Lord, I’m turning myself over to you today, but I’m not going to allow my illness to stand in the way of carrying out my responsibility as a minister of the Gospel. I’ll pray for my own needs, but it will always be part of interceding for the needs of others.”

Q: This is an area that I think a lot of Christians struggle with. If you were to put on a seminar titled, “How to Pray Better” you would sell out! Christians go to church, they pray these self-centered prayers, and they have this feeling or knowledge that they’re not adequate or sufficient. But they don’t know what to do because that’s all they see modeled in the churches they’re in. Previously, you blogged about praying through the hours and praying the Psalms; can you go through that and any other ideas that will help train us to pray better?

A: Your distinction is a good one. We’re not talking about praying “better” as if by praying more eloquently, God hears you more. What we’re saying is that prayer is an integral component to the way that God grows us to fullness in Christ. As a result, we can’t pray to our lowest common denominator which is to be self-focused: only whenever we feel like it, at the times that we don’t have anything better to do, etc. We’re not going to grow that way. So the church has instituted various disciplines like praying through the hours, like prayers we memorize. People say, “Well, if I memorize it, then it’s not authentic,” but that’s absolutely not true. If that were true, we shouldn’t be singing any of the hymns or worship songs in church, we shouldn’t be reciting wedding vows, and we shouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance.

We have a tradition as human beings of knowing that if something is written down you have to make sure you’re not just going through the motions of rote memorization and speaking while your brain goes somewhere else. But the reason why we pray the prayers that the church has entrusted to us over these two thousand years, including the one that Jesus himself entrusted to us, is because we grow  into those prayers. They reshape what we think about when we pray and how we pray.

Submit your questions to Pastor Foley by posting a comment or emailing us at [email protected].

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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