In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, believers are instructed to “pray without ceasing.” However, some of us don’t know where to start, and most all of us at some point find ourselves faced suddenly with a situation so dire and shocking that we are dumbstruck.
So, how do you pray when you don’t know what to pray?
In his new book Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer, respected pastor and best-selling author Max Lucado shares poignant insight gleaned from his own personal struggles with prayer.
“I’m a confessed prayer wimp,” he candidly admits. “I’ve struggled to maintain a disciplined prayer life.
“For more than three decades, I’ve never written anything about prayer and seldom preached on prayer because I felt I was a B-level student,” Max continues. “I wrote this book for other people who struggle with prayer.
“In looking at my bookshelf, I bet there are 15 books on prayer, but they all seem to be written for people who get prayer. I felt I needed Prayer for Dummies or Praying 101. So, I took my copy of All the Prayers in the Bible and began to categorize them, thinking, ‘I wonder if these could help me?’”
Max admits he needed help for reasons that are common to a lot of us: Prayers don’t seem to be answered the way we want or as speedily as we think they should. We also can begin to wonder whether our prayers matter.
“Helping people learn to pray is to teach and assure them prayers do matter, and reminding them that anytime anybody in Scripture came to God with an honest heart, God responded,” says Max.
“While there are guides to prayer, there’s not a real right or wrong way to pray,” he says. “I ended up using The Pocket Prayer as a teaching outline.”
The Pocket Prayer, on which Max structured Before Amen, is similar to The Lord’s Prayer. Rather than being formulaic, The Pocket Prayer is a simple framework that emphasizes relationship: “Father, You are good. I need help. They need help. Thank You. In Jesus’ name, amen.” This outline fosters an intimacy designed to connect our hearts to the heart of God, who is a loving Father to whom we can come in complete confidence of His willingness to hear and ability to help.
“There is power in a simple prayer, for people like me, who fumble and stumble in prayer, who lead somewhat busy lives,” Max says. He speaks from experience. “If I can be so honest to say, today I’ve struggled to pray. I got in at 1 a.m. this morning because of a delayed flight. I slept in late, then I realized I’d loaned my car to my daughter, and I needed to catch a ride to the office. So any time I had between waking up and the first meeting of the day just got gobbled up. What does that say about me? Here I am doing an interview about prayer on a day when I don’t think I’ve been real prayerful.
“I think the devil just wants to do anything possible to keep us from praying, because he knows something happens when we have an honest conversation with God,” says Max. “Helping people see that prayer is really an honest conversation with God gives people great encouragement.
“I believe there is wonderful discovery of strength and power available just by turning my heart toward heaven and saying, ‘Father, You are good. Boy, I need help today. I know people who need help today. Would You bless them? Thank You, Lord, for Your goodness. In Jesus’ name, amen’…and learning to trust that the power of prayer is in the One who hears the prayer, not in the one who says it.
“The only time Jesus was critical of prayer,” Max says, “was when it was done for self-promotion or theater. He was really critical of the hypocrites, but Jesus heard an abundance of requests. In the New Testament, He shows us how quickly He says yes to simple, heartfelt requests—everything from, ‘We have no wine,’ to the thief on the cross saying, ‘Remember me when You enter Your kingdom.’ So, prayer really is ongoing communication—thanking Him, praising Him, turning over our problems to Him.”
Max emphasizes that prayer simply boils down to talking with God. Asked if there was anyone who had helped him learn to pray, he recalls a man he calls his “father in the faith,” a pastor who taught him, “None of us pray as much as we should, but we all pray more than we think.”
“That’s because we’re always thinking,” Max says. “God knows our hearts and what’s on our minds.”
Issued with the book is a 40-day Prayer Challenge, the equation being four minutes of prayer daily for four weeks to be forever changed. “It’s an opportunity to pray more and see if that doesn’t prompt a stronger prayer life,” Max explains.
“There are so many demands on most of us. We need a place, a way of taking these burdens off our shoulders. God says, ‘Bring them to Me.’” Says Darlene Zschech, “You simply cannot have a relationship without communication, and as Max Lucado explains in Before Amen, that’s what prayer is—our simple, honest conversation with our heavenly Father.” Darlene is one of twelve prolific artists who contributed to a music project designed to provide a backdrop to the simple prayer elements outlined in Lucado’s new book. The project also includes offerings from Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, Kari Jobe, Paul and Rita Baloche, Planetshakers, All Sons & Daughters, Soul Survivor, Brian Doerksen, Kathryn Scott and John Mark McMillan. “Prayer and praise are part of how we worship God,” says Lucado. “From the first song to the last, Before Amen: A Worship Collection reflects how our hearts should be tuned to our loving heavenly Father. I was blessed by the music, lyrics and spirit of fellow worshippers on this album.”