It was the first Sunday of my mission trip to England.
My team and I gathered in the home of our British leader, James, for a time of fellowship and to cook him a traditional American breakfast for dinner- pancakes and bacon.
After we ate, James suggested we pair off and pray for each other as we begin our week of work in the school and church, as well as praying for any spiritual gifts we wanted to receive.
Abigail and I awkwardly sat down in the corner of his living room. “So we’re just praying for our week here, right?” She asked.
I nodded. “And for any gifts we wish to receive.” I wonder what that means.
We held each other’s hands, bowed our heads and quickly prayed for each other. When we finished, we glanced around the room and noticed the other groups were finished as well, except for James and his partner.
James eventually realized that everyone else had finished talking. “Yous are done already?” he asked, surprised.
We all nodded.
He raised his eyebrows.
“You guys need to learn how to pray!”
Now my eyebrows went up. Learn how to pray? Excuse you, I’ve been praying my whole life!
James motioned for us all to gather in the middle of the living room. “Alright, Vonne you stand here in the middle and everyone else place your hands on her.”
Hesitantly, Vonne took her place in the middle and we all stood around her.
“I want yous to be vocal as you pray,” James said. “I know you can pray quietly in your own hearts, and some of yous may prefer to do that. But when you pray vocally it encourages everyone around you. And you can pray vocally at the same time as someone else. Just pray as you feel led.”
He then started praying for Vonne, and a few of us joined in afterward. Then it was Katie’s turn. Then Abigail’s. As Abigail took her place in the middle, James said, “Get ready, this one is going to be deep.”
I briefly wondered what he meant as he began to pray for her. Then we all began to pray for her, voice on top of voice, prayer on top of prayer. The Holy Spirit’s presence filled the living room, and Abigail began to cry.
I heard a voice deep inside of me whisper, “Sing.” My heart began to pound. I never, ever sing solo, especially in front of other people. And this was prayer time, what would they think of me? Sure, James had sung during prayer time before, but that was different- he’s really good at singing. What if I messed up?
As the whispered prayers continued around me, I could not get the feeling that I should sing out of my head. So, I took a deep breath and decided to follow the Spirit’s prompting. “Then sings my soul, my Saviour, God, to Thee. How great Thou art. How great Thou art.”
And to my surprise, a few other of my teammates joined in on the song and Abigail began to cry harder. After that, more of my teammates started singing songs as prayers to God.
The presence of God was so strong in that room I myself began to cry. Never before had I felt the Spirit give me words to pray like this.
The praying and singing lasted for about an hour, but it seemed like merely a moment.
Later in the week, Abigail came up to me and said, “I just wanted to thank you for singing the other night during our prayer time. How did you remember that worship was my Spiritual Pathway?” she asked, referring to a test our leader had us take back in February.
I looked at her, stunned. “I- I didn’t!” I admitted. “That was totally a God thing. I never just sing aloud, so that was very new and scary for me. I just felt God telling me to sing.”
“Wow!” She paused, “Well, thank you! Once y’all started singing, I felt so much at peace. That night was amazing!”
That night was amazing.
And I am so thankful it happened at the beginning of the mission trip. My entire team had a breakthrough that night and truly learned how to pray.
In those few hours, I learned more about prayer than I have learned my whole life. And today I want to share them with you guys.
It’s no secret, really. In fact, the key to deep prayer is so obvious I don’t know how I’ve missed it all these years. It took me traveling across the ocean on a mission trip to finally learn how to truly pray. So in case it’s been hidden from you as well, here we go…
The Secret to Deep Prayer: Be Moved by the Spirit.
Often times when I pray, I know what I want to pray for, but my heart doesn’t know how to express the sentiment in words.
Typically when that happens, I use key phrases I have heard all my life.
“God, bless so-and-so.”
“Place a hedge of protection around her life.”
And I tend to throw in holy sounding fillers so I sound more confident than I feel. You know, words like “Father” or “just.”
But finally, that Sunday I realized what I had been missing all of these years:
I don’t need to sound cool or holy when I pray.
Me trying to impress others by the words I use when I pray is not the point of prayer. In fact, doing so turns my focus onto me, when really my focus should be on God. It is Him I’m praying to, after all.
Remember that parable in Luke 18 with the Pharisee and the tax collector?
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 ESV
Notice the difference between these two prayers? The prayer of the pharisee was all about him and how great he was, whereas the prayer of the tax collector recognized his need for God.
I strive to be like the tax collector, focusing my heart on God rather than myself.
So when we pray what should we do?
Be open to the Holy Spirit in us speaking to God through us.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26
The Holy Spirit will form our deep heartfelt desire into a prayer for the Lord. That’s why we don’t have to be vocal when we pray because God already knows what we need.
But God already knowing our heart and knowing what we need isn’t an excuse for us not to pray vocally. However, this truth should enable us not to feel pressured to use big fancy “holy” phrases and fillers when we pray.
It should free us to pray as if we’re just talking to our best friend.
That Sunday night I was so overcome by the presence of the Spirit that I became speechless. All I could softly utter was, “You’re cool, God. So cool.” In my mind, I knew that probably sounded lame, but my heart knew that didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that I was longing to glorify God.
So if while you’re praying you get the overwhelming desire to praise God for all He has done for you but the only words you can think to say is “You’re so cool, God!” then don’t just sit there in silence until you can think of a more spiritual way to phrase that thought (like what I used to do).
Just exclaim it! “YOU’RE SO COOL!”
Who cares what other people think? Be honest with God in your prayers. He isn’t interested in holier-than-thou attitudes anyways.
On the other hand, if the Holy Spirit is leading you to pray what I classified above as a “typical prayer phrase,” then by all means still use it!
I don’t care which words you use, and neither does God.
So when you pray, pray with humility from your soul as the Spirit leads you.
And that, my friend, is just the beginning of deep prayer.
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