Welcome back to the End Average Fundamentals series! If you are new to this, please begin reading the series from the beginning by clicking HERE. Although the messages work on their own, there will be more context for you if you follow them in sequence. Make sure you’re signed up for the newsletter and I’ll send these directly to you so you never miss a new post. You can sign up right on the EndAverage.com homepage. Now let’s get right to it!
Prayer and Listening to God
There are thousands of books on prayer. I’m not about to write another one. However, I am going to tell you about the way that my journey toward understanding prayer unfolded. This chapter of the End Average Fundamentals series contains the framework that my prayer life is based on. There is no magic to it, this is about as basic as it gets. I like it that way, and it’s working very well for me. I hope it does the same for you!
I grew up in a Christian home. I had prayer around me from the very beginning of my memories because my parents prayed before meals, when putting us to bed, at church, and so on. My sisters and I knew what a “good prayer” sounded like. We could imitate this style of praying out loud and we always sounded like we knew what we were doing. Even though I could barf out a great sounding sentence or two, I still felt like I was just talking to the wall. This attitude toward prayer kept going until my young adulthood. At best, I viewed God as some sort of request vending machine who would wave a magic wand when I wanted my soccer team to win or when we wanted a parking spot close to the entrance of a store.
What changed my mind
When I hit my inflection point I formed a mindset that I had to become the man God intended me to be, the husband my wife deserved me to be, and the father my future kids needed me to be. This transition in my head caused me to feel slightly helpless and that I really needed to revisit this idea of actually asking God for help. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.
So I started to try praying as best I could. I felt like I was forcing it and my consistency was dismal at best, but I kept at it. I imagine this process like someone who has a bunch of head knowledge on something, but has never actually acted on it. Like a person who has read the instructions for swimming, watched swimmers, purchased a speedo (heck yeah!), and is sitting at the edge of the water telling someone how to perfect their technique. The problem is that this person has never actually gotten in the water! So me praying was much like someone with all the head knowledge, but I was flopping around in the shallow end feeling dumb. My consolation was that I’d finally gotten in the water.
I started learning
My first weeks were rough. The second month was easier. The more established my habit of prayer got, the more I was able to pull new ideas and concepts into my prayer life. Because I wasn’t starting from scratch it became easier to tweak and structure prayer that I felt was actually “getting through” to God. I sensed the effect of dwelling on the blessings I had and thanking God for them. I started actually hoping that God would actually work the changes in my life I was asking Him for. It was encouraging. The journey took a good amount of trial and error along with a lot of listening to people preach or teach on the power of prayer for me to formulate the following “system” that I use today.
My simple system
Everything I do habitually has to be simple. If I overcomplicate things I get bogged down and lose momentum. The following steps are the exact steps I take for my morning prayers, hopefully they make sense for you.
I try to make praise the absolute first thing I do in my day. Acknowledging that I look up to an almighty God who loves me is humbling and it shapes the perspective for everything else I’m going to pray for. This is the way I protect myself from falling into the trap of thinking that God is my personal genie, granting wishes and fulfilling my selfish wants.
I’m constantly working to improve myself, but I frequently fail. This is where accepting that I’ve failed again comes in. Newsflash – failure is a part of life in a fallen world. The only choice you and I have is what to do when we fall down morally. Failing to confess your sinful habits or patterns of disobedience to God is like trying to fly a hot air balloon without letting the sandbags out of the basket – it’s nearly impossible. Once you see what happens in your life when that first sin pattern gets cut away, you’re amazed at how dumb you were for not doing that right at the beginning! Ask me how I know. A simple example for me was that I needed help cleaning up my language. I knew this behavior wasn’t glorifying God, so I confessed the lack of self-control to the Lord. The answer to my confession was God’s forgiveness (see 1 John 1:9) as well as a gradual change in my heart when it came to the crowd I was choosing and the TV shows and music I was listening to. The Lord changed what I was hungry for. And as I removed the garbage going into my brain, the eventual result was cleaner speech coming out of my mouth. Until I accepted and confessed my shortcoming to God, I was completely unable to change on my own.
This is self-explanatory. Take a break from reading this and make a list of ten things you’re grateful for and then come back. Go do it. I’ll wait.
Doesn’t that totally make your problems seem insignificant?! Start your day doing this same practice for a week and your gloomy self pity starts fading. Do this for a month and complaining starts fading away. You get the picture here, right? Change your outlook on everything by thanking God for the blessings in your life. Happy is the man who wants what he already has!
I find it hard to ask for a lot of material things from God after the whole gratitude bit. I ask the Lord for wisdom, discipline, and community. This is also where I bring up things that are out of my control like a neighbor in a hard situation, a friend who is hurting, or if one of my kids is sick. I can’t control the outcome and I will ask for a positive outcome, but I’m praying that I would be able to accept God’s will. Here’s a confession for you: I still hesitate to ask for patience, or that my accountability partners will have the insight to see through my excuses or inconsistency. This is scary sometimes, because asking God for something that will force me to change will undoubtedly make me work or suffer through correction!
I didn’t make this up
I’ll briefly point out that all of this structure is directly out of the Bible. Jesus’ instructions on prayer to his disciples is found in Matthew 6:5-15 and again in Luke 11:1-13. These passages contain what is known as the Lord’s Prayer, go look it up, I’m sure you’ve heard it recited before. Note that the key of this passage is HOW to pray. Reciting this verbatim out of habit is just as useless as me knowing how to make a public prayer sound good so that others think I’m a good Christian. I think the Lord’s Prayer is to be used to kickstart your conversations with God. But prayer needs to be personal.
Throughout the whole Bible we see examples of wise men and women pointing out (through example) different components and benefits of prayer. So if the last session in this series wasn’t enough to convince you to read the Book then this is another push in that direction.
My prayer life has a lot of room to grow. I have seen the effects of prayer in my life and I intend on nurturing my communication with God until the day I get to see Him face to face. I also encourage you to journal your prayers and thoughts because going back every six months or so to read what you wrote is an incredible experience! This gives me the ability to look back and see the things I was freaking out over and praying about, and then I realize that God has actually answered many of my requests… often when I was not even aware of what He was up to! Journaling has been a huge benefit to me and hope you will at least give it a try. (Shameless plug) The End Average intentionality journal is a structured journal that you can use to track your steps and it should help you create the habit of talking to God and staying in the Bible consistently. You can find out more about it in the store on EndAverage.com.
The most important part of this
A wise pastor of mine was preaching a series about taking head knowledge and turning it into heart knowledge. After his sermon one Sunday, I told him about all the things I was doing right like reading the Bible every day, journaling, praying, and teaching my kids the Bible. I went on to tell him that that for some reason I was feeling a bit out of touch with God recently and wasn’t really hearing Him consistently, but I really wanted to. I was asking him for a “life-hack” activity that would turn my relationship with God up a notch. My pastor calmly stopped my rambling. He looked me in the eye and said, “stop doing, and just listen”. Then he continued, “for the next week I want you to take the time you normally spend every day journaling and reading and just go for a two mile walk with no headphones or distractions and just listen to God”.
It was such a simple thing, but I’d missed it for a long time. Even though it might be scary to seek His will because He might take you off the course you think is best for your life, I promise that it’s absolutely essential. How can you have a relationship when all the talking goes one way?
Let’s get going with the communication that is essential for a real relationship with God. Let’s ask Him for forgiveness, self discipline, and the wisdom we need to glorify Him in our families and communities and live a life that truly matters for both now and eternity.
Let’s end average together.