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Developing a Pattern of Prayer

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Developing a Pattern of Prayer


One thing you may have noticed when reading the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:5 is that Jesus begins with, “when you pray…”.

  • You see, Jesus just assumed that the disciples were making regular time for prayer.

  • Yet, if we were to be honest, we’d have to admit that Jesus couldn’t make that assumption today.

  • Granted, we live in a different world… a far more complex and busy world where many of struggle to find time to initiate or maintain a regular prayer life.

  • I know that most of you want prayer to become a more vital part of your life… yet you continue to struggle making it a regular part of your day.

So, what can you do to change that? Like anything else, if you want to develop in a particular area of your life—whether you want to learn to play the piano or get into shape… you know that you’ll need to practice regularly.

  • The America’s Cup champions from New Zealand practiced without a break for 2 years, 6 days/week, 8hrs/day, taking the sport of sailing to a whole new level.

  • I was looking again at Matt’s website… honestly… you look at some of that furniture, like that 7-foot armoire, and you realize in a moment that this guy’s been working at this for years!

  • Simple truth is that whenever we get serious about doing something, we make time for it in our schedules. Prayer is no different.

If we are going to be a people of prayer… that is, a people who make prayer a habit in their lives, then we will need to start praying regularly.

  • I have to say that I haven’t discovered any great formula for making prayer a regular part of my own life.

  • Like getting into shape, I have found that in spite of all the ads for this herb or that silly thing you plug in, the only way to do it is to actually go to the gym and work out.

  • And so, we need to purposefully set apart that time where we will shut out the world and tune into God….

  • To focus on Him, talk with Him, sit quietly before Him, to listen to Him.

What I’d like to do this morning, then, is to look at some core principles that can help us develop a regular pattern of prayer in our lives.

  • Again, there are no tricks to this… and perhaps I won’t be telling you anything new.

  • My hope, though, is that you leave here today with a renewed comittment for prayer and with a plan for how to make that happen.


1. Get away from distractions. While praying in the car is a great thing to do… or in Barnes and Noble, as I like to do… the simple truth is that ultimately, we need to find a quiet place… a quiet room, empty office, some secret place away from people… where you can get alone with God.

  • The reasons are pretty clear… the fewer the distractions, the better.

  • Now, you may be wired differently than me… and so feel free to modify what I’m saying to “fit” you.

  • But, I tend to get very easily distracted… and so, while sitting in the woods praying can be a great time, even the sounds of birds and sight of ducks can distract me.

  • I will still pray there… and be blessed by the environment. But when its time to get down to the business of prayer, I need to be tucked away in a room that is totally quiet… no cell phone, no clock ticking. Just quiet.

  • Another reason why finding a prayer place is so important is that you sort of develop a special relationship to that place… whether it’s the laundry room or walk-in closet… so when you go in there, you know what you are there to do.

2. Create a Special Atmosphere:

  • A lot couples have a favorite restaurant where they go for special nights out… places where the atmosphere is just right.

  • For Joyce and I, that special place is Mohonk Moutain House in New Paltz. It’s a place full of beauty where we can more easily talk and just hang out.

  • In the same way, when you create a secret, special place where you can regularly go and pray, over time, you will look forward to going there.

  • Remember, it doesn’t have to be a beautiful chapel… it can be a utility room, your living room after everyone’s asleep or before anyone gets up, or the inside of your car parked somewhere quiet.

  • And try to engage the Lord in prayer there at your best time during the day.

3. Be Real with God

  • Especially when you are just starting to pray more regularly, it can be easy to get caught up in a lot of clichés.

  • Even though these things sound so right and spiritual, we need to stop and consider the implications of what we’re praying.

  • For example, sometimes we pray things like, “Dear Lord, please be with me as I go on this new job interview,” or “please be with me as I go on this trip.”

  • You see, God has promised that He will always be with us… Heb 13:5 “I will never leave you.” Matt 28:20, “I am with you always”.

  • One of Jesus’ names, “Emmanuel” means “God with us.”

  • Instead, we need to really engage the Lord in conversation… asking Him to help us be more aware of his presence.

While I would never want to say that traditional prayers are wrong, we do need to be careful of prayers that we tend to repeat over and over…. Like we often do at the dinner table.

  • With globs of grease, sparkling with salt, with the sugared drink ready to wash it down, we pray, “Dear Lord, bless this feed to our bodies and grant us strength and nourishment from it so that we may do your will.”

  • What if God’s will is for you to move away from the table and give that meal to the dog?

  • We just need to be real with Him.

  1. Pray from the Heart

  • God doesn’t ever want us to engage Him in words that aren’t coming from our heart. He wants us to talk to him as a friend… as a father… authentically, reverently, personally.

  • Ps 62:8 says, “Pour out your heart to him”.

  • That’s what He wants. Say to Him, “Lord, this is how I feel today… I’ve been thinking about this recently. I’m worried about this. I’m depressed about that.”

  • Talk with the Father sincerely…. And talk with Him specifically.

  1. Reflect on Your Time with God

  • Reflection is so important to us as people… and it is so important for us in terms of our prayer life.

  • We need to try and honestly reflect on our life… on how we are living our lives and walking out our relationship with Him.

  • “God, here are some frustrations in my life. They aren’t going away, so I might as well take a look at them.”

  • “God, thank you for these blessings you poured out in my life.” And then reflect on them.

  • We underestimate how much we can grow through these times of reflection. We can so easily move along in life without thinking about what we’re doing and what it all means.

If you journal, which I really encourage you to do, then read that journal through with God… invite Him into all you were feeling then and how you feel about those same things now.

  • I have made writing out my prayers a regular part of my prayer life.

  • Like it or not, there are times where I don’t get any further than, “Dear God”, that my mind is already drifting on what I will be preaching on or who I am meeting for lunch that day.

  • Writing out my prayers helps focus me… and helps me remain in reflection.

  • But regardless how you live out the discipline of prayer, just live it out consistently.

So, how can you live that out consistently? As I’ve already said, there is no trick to help you make the time. In the beginning, in particular, it is a matter of shear discipline… just like it is going to the gym.

  • I can honestly say that I really enjoy going to the gym now

  • But it isn’t enough for me to just go to the gym… I need to develop a healthy workout that helps me both condition myself with re to cardiovascular and strength.

  • And so, I develop a regular routine… a regular pattern that works all the muscles and strengthens the heart.

  • If you don’t then you can end up looking like the hulk who gasps for air after a half a lap. Or you can look like that guys running effortlessly around the track, yet, from his appearance, you know he has to get his wife to open the pickle jar!

In the same way, as important as it is for us to make the decision to develop our prayer life, we need to also develop a routine or pattern for prayer that will keep us conditioned and balanced.

  • To one degree or another, we all know about imbalanced prayer… when we realize that most of our prayers are about us… where we might, at best offer praise and thanksgiving.

  • The end result of those imbalanced prayers tends to be a frustration about prayer in general… and that frustration leads to prayerlessness.

  • So what I’d like to do, then, is to share with you what has been sort of a “classic” prayer regime.

  • Needless to say, it’s not the only helpful pattern for prayer, but it has been the routine for many believers for a long time now.

  • And that is Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (or, the acrostic, ACTS)

ADORATION: It is so important to begin our times of prayer with adoration or worship. At least for me, it sets the tone for the entire prayer… reminding me whose presence I have entered into.

  • starting with adoration helps me get my attention from my issues to Him… it forces me to slow down to set my gaze, as David says, upon Him.

  • During this time, I will either grab my guitar and praise Him for the attribute the song is addressing.

    • So, I can put on Rita Springer… “Holy, you are so holy…” and just focus on that… blessing Him for his holiness

    • Or I will start my prayers worshipping Him for an attribute such as His omnipotence… that there is nothing He can not do… that no one stands in His way.

    • Or His Sovereignty… where I bless Him that He is never caught off guard… that He is always on the offensive… always acting, never reacting…

    • When I’m in the plane or in another country, I often worship Him for His omnipresence.

    • When I find myself stuck on a passage such as 1 Jn 3:1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!”… I am so moved… that an all-powerful, Sovereign God loves me like that!

  • Regardless of what you find yourself adoring Him for, this time of adoration tends to soften our hearts and we find that our agenda begins to change… and we become more hungry for what’s on His heart.

How do you adore God? Sometime you may want to list out all He has done for us… or list out as many attributes as you can think of… or sometimes you may just want to focus on one.

  • You can pick out a Psalm of praise or sing out a song to God expressing your adoration

  • You may find yourself focusing in on an attribute that relates to where you are at… if you are in need of guidance, then you can focus on how He guides us and promises to never leave us.

  • Sometimes I say these things out loud, some times I sing them out, and sometimes I write them out in my journal.

  • In the beginning, you may feel a bit silly… but you will find yourself cherishing those moments on the Father’s lap adoring Him, embracing Him.

CONFESSION: In a way, I think confession is one of the more neglected areas of our prayer lives today.

  • That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we’re confessing our sins per se.

  • But rather than taking our sins to the Father, we tend to simply throw them all into a big pile, without even considering how we got there.

  • We just confess those sins from last week in one sentence and move on.

  • Now, while I want us to be a people who fully embraces the forgiveness that is already ours in Christ, it is still through a thoughtful, reflective life that we grow.

  • My encouragement, then is to, rather than take your sins to Him in mass, deal with each sin separately.

    • “Lord, I told that person that I couldn’t meet with them b/c I had a water aerobics class… but really, I just didn’t want to speak with them. I confess that lie to You, God.”

    • “Lord, today I chose to be ornery, self-centered, uncaring, and insensitive to my wife. I confess my selfishness and the ugliness of how I acted toward her.”

I think you will find that the more specific and honest you are to the Lord concerning your sins, something unique happens.

  • About two weeks into having to confess being greedy, dishonest, unkind, you may just say to yourself, “I’m tired of being that way!”

  • And, because of the time being spend with Him in His presence, you will find yourself being empowered to live differently.

  • You will also begin experiencing more freedom in your relationship with God as you find yourself getting really honest with God. “No more games for me anymore, God!”

  • And, of course, you will be reminded of God’s promises of forgiveness and love.

THANKSGIVING: In 1 Thes 5:18, Paul admonishes us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

  • I think we do ok in terms of feeling gratitude for all God does for us. But we just need to remember that feeling gratitude and expressing thanks are two different things.

  • In the story of the ten men healed of leprosy, we can pretty safely assume that all ten men felt a tremendous gratitude toward Jesus for healing them… as they walked away from Him.

  • But how many came back and threw themselves at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him? Just one!

  • Through this story we can see Jesus’ disappointment when those who felt gratitude failed to express it.

  • I can tell you that it really touches me when one of kids thanks me for something.

    • There are times when Rebecca will look me in the eye and, half asleep, thank me for taking her for ice cream or to the swimming pool.

    • God is moved when we express our thanksgiving to Him.

SUPPLICATION: Having engaged the Lord in Adoration, Confession, and Thanksgiving, it important then for us to bring Him our requests.

  • We know that Paul says in Phil. 4:6, “In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

  • With this, I just remember that I am coming to a God who is able… and who cares. A God for whom nothing is too difficult.

  • So, I just tell him what is on my heart.

  • Sometimes I’m not sure whether my prayers are in line with His best for me… so I’ll just pray, “Lord, I don’t know if this is right for me or not… I’m not sure how to pray for this… but I lift it to you and if you show me another way to pray for this, I will.”

At the risk of complicating things, you may want to separate your prayers into categories.

  • For me it is easier to do that. To pray for the ministry… for Him to have His way in making us a church committed to being worshippers of God and rescuers of men.

  • Then I might pray for people… you guys, other friends and pastors.

  • Then for family… for me to be a more godly husband, help with decisions, for the kids, etc.

  • Then for personal things… mostly relating to my own character. “God I want to be more passionate for You… more humble… more like Jesus!”

  • Keep in mind that in sharing your requests to the Lord, you are not just throwing your shopping list His way but you are turning over your concerns to a God who can make a difference.

Now keep in mind as you consider using this ACTS pattern of prayer that it doesn’t have to take an hour. In fact, it is far better to do it consistently for 15 minutes than sporadically for an hour.

  • Adoration: Good morning Lord! You are so good Lord. “You are so good, You are good, You are so good to me.”

    • Because I know You are good, I know I can trust You… and I know that regardless of whatever I will face today You will be with me and that You are good.

    • David said he would have despaired if it hadn’t been for Your goodness. Me too, God!

  • Confession: I’m just sorry that I didn’t reflect Your goodness to Hank this week… You are so fair and patient… and I just lost my patience and chose to be unkind. I confess that Lord and ask You to put more of You heart for people inside of my.

  • Thanksgiving: Thanks for your forgiveness, Lord. And thanks for that anonymous check we got this week… Thank you for blessing us through them. Thank you for MJ Strellec… for making the school district so open to having us.

  • Supplication: God, I pray for help in remaining disciplined with food, time with You, and time at the gym. Please heal my back pain, Lord.

One good way to get started is to get a journal and write out, “adoration”, and then write for a few minutes, etc. Just structure your time so you have enough time for each part.

  • However you do it, the truth is that we don’t make something a habit until we do it consistently for a while.

  • Hebrews 11:6 says, “for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

  • Start now… and remember that the goal of all of this… and the prize for all of this… is more of Him… knowing Him more intimately than the day before.

  • It can be difficult for us to discipline ourselves like this, but the prize makes that cost seem insignificant.

Let’s Pray

 Much of the material found in this sermon has come from Bill Hybel’s wonderful book, “Too Busy Not to Pray.”

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