J. C. Albert has to be one of the greatest followers of Jesus I’ve ever met. I met him in India in 2012. He was the most open, loving, friendly guy and he had these wonderful stories to tell of adventures with Jesus. He has visited and shared the good news of Jesus Christ in nearly 3,000 tribal villages in India. He has walked nearly 10,000 miles for Jesus while being chased by tigers and bears and Hindu extremists. He is a true adventurer who is fueled by the love of Jesus.
Every need Albert has had since beginning in ministry in the 80s has been met without him ever asking anyone for anything. He lets God determine both the need and the provision. Here is what he says about that in his little book on evangelism:
“Prayer is the fuel that runs our ministry. Every experience, trial and inspiration I have recorded is a result of prayer. The foremost thing I learned in ministry is prayer followed by Bible study. Prayer empowers and gives vision.”
Those words resonate with me and are proven not so much by my faithfulness as my failures. In seasons when my faith has faltered, I can invariably point to a fumbled prayer life. Prayer empowers and gives vision; the lack of it weakens trust and causes me to wander.
Maybe for the sake of improving my vision, God has been leading me more deeply into the place of prayer. For the last two years, I’ve been on a journey with God centered on intimacy. It started late in 2014 when the Lord spoke and challenged me to give my whole heart to him.
On the quest to understand what that means (and at this point, I can only say that I realize just how much I don’t know, and almost nothing about what I do know), I have discovered several interesting ways to increase the potency of my prayer life:
- I learned to pray with beads. I use a repurposed rosary. It helps me stay focused, especially around prayers of intercession. Every bead has a person or ministry attached, to help me be more disciplined in praying for people and things I love.
- I rediscovered the richness of fasting, though it comes and goes in seasons. Our church promotes 21 days of prayer and fasting every January. It has become for us a remarkably reflective and spiritually energizing way to begin the year.
- I’ve found in the Psalms a fresh vocabulary for prayer. In the library we call the Bible, Psalms is the prayer book. I believe the psalms can help us all find a better prayer life. Here, we find the all-too-human wrestlings of David, a man after God’s heart. We hear honest cries for help and deep, worshipful devotion. We get the full spectrum of emotions, not the least of which is anger. What we don’t hear in David’s conversations with God is anything remotely rote. No recitations. No empty wish list. No shallow musings. No generalized litanies of what we vaguely hope for the world.
The psalms are real prayers for real people. They challenge us to think deeply and honestly and give us permission to cry out, to feel, to get close, to give our whole heart. To be rough around the edges.
The psalms challenge us to pray as if God is real.
In Lynn Anderson’s book, They Smell Like Sheep, he offers several practical tips for those who want to learn how pray the Psalms.
- Choose a psalm to focus on.
- Read it through aloud, slowly and thoughtfully to get its sense.
- Pray it aloud slowly, reflectively, in the first person (as your own prayer for yourself). Don’t hurry. Wallow in it. Savor it. Mean it.
- Pray it aloud slowly, reflectively, in the second person (as an intercessory prayer on behalf of some other person).
- Don’t end your prayer when the psalm ends. Let this psalm springboard you into the rest of your day’s prayers for current issues and persons that the psalm has brought to your heart. Let the psalm shape the day’s prayer list.
- Stay there until God shows up. I realize this isn’t great theology. Of course, it isn’t God who doesn’t show up, but us. But from an experiential place, we can admit that when we don’t have patience for the waiting it can feel as if God is nowhere to be found. It isn’t that he doesn’t show up, but that we refuse him entry by rushing too quickly past the moment.
Even if it isn’t theologically accurate to say it this way, I stand by this good advice: Stay there until God shows up. If he doesn’t show up immediately, he will show up eventually.
May God meet you in the place of prayer today, like deep calling to deep.