Teaching Men To Pray
By Dale Schlafer
Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, began training camp the same way each year. He would gather the players around him and, taking a football in his hand, would yell, “Gentlemen, this is a football!” Now, you might ask, didn’t his players know a football when they saw one? Of course they did. But this was Lombardi’s way of getting back to basics. Every year, he approached camp as if no one had ever heard of a football or had ever run any of the team’s offensive or defensive plays. And almost every year, the Packers were con-tenders for the NFL championship. In a sense, my purpose is the same in this chapter. I am not trying to suggest that your prayer life is less than championship caliber, but I do want to establish the primacy of prayer in the building of a championship-caliber men’s ministry.
Prayer Must Be Learned
The most obvious point to make about prayer is that we must learn how to pray.’ In Luke 11:1, one of Jesus’ disciples says to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples” (NASB). In other words, prayer is not natural for most people. Prayer needs to be taught. Most people would say that they talk to God. In fact, a recent survey showed that 90 percent of Americans pray. But in that same poll, most of the respondents said that prayer is boring and that they don’t enjoy it.
Too often, we tell the men in our congregations to pray, but we give them no help or models. We somehow expect them to be able to pray the minute they come to Christ. If prayer is a relationship, and it is, then we must teach men how to develop an effective prayer relationship with God.
If you have worked with men for very long, you know that building close relationships is not a man’s strong suit. Give a man a task, and he is right at home. But ask that same man to establish a relationship with someone, and he’s a lot less comfortable. Now consider what it is like when we say to a man, “You need to have a quiet time and pray to God. Have a relationship with the King of the Universe!” We are almost guaranteeing his failure. But give that same man some directions and suggestions on how to build a relationship with God or, better yet, model how to pray so he can see it in action, and he will be much more willing and able to take that next step.
Men operate best with procedures. Once a man becomes comfortable with the model, he begins to try some new ways on his own. But unless we supply the initial help, we can almost guarantee that our men will be weak in prayer or prayerless. If you were coaching football, you would never allow a player to step onto the field unprepared.
Prayer Is Work
We must also recognize that prayer is work. Hebrews 5:7 says that during his days on earth, Jesus “offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears” (NASB). In other words, Jesus didn’t just read through his prayer list in some unemotional way until it was completed. No, Jesus was involved in his prayers “with loud crying and tears.” It was hard, emotional work. It costs to be a man of prayer. It costs in time. It costs in energy. It costs in sleep!
As you may know, there is an on-site intercessory prayer team that prays during every Promise Keepers men’s conference. Because my wife was involved with these teams, I would often go to the prayer room to pick her up after the meeting was over. As I looked at those dear people who had gathered to pray throughout the conference, I saw folks who were incredibly tired and spent. They had fought spiritual battles, and they were exhausted. Sometimes I believe we give men the wrong idea concerning prayer, that it doesn’t require effort. It may be easy to say prayers, but it is incredibly difficult to really pray.
Prayer Is Listening To God
Prayer is not a monologue in which we do all the talking. Think about our earthly relationships. What kind of a conversation would it be if we did all the talking with our spouse or a friend? It took me a while to learn the importance of listening to God, because the tradition I grew up in did not emphasize this part of prayer. It crystallized for me, however, in 1989, when I was a delegate at the Lausanne II conference in Manila. Delegates came from more countries than were represented by the United Nations at that time. This focused time of worship, prayer, and evangelistic strategizing became a life-changing experience for me.
The highlight occurred one afternoon when we were introduced to an old Chinese pastor. We were told that he had been in prison for almost twenty years. Most of that time had been served in solitary confinement. The Communists hated him and gave him the worst job they could, working in the cesspool of the prison. It was such a filthy job that his guards would not stay there.
As best I can remember, this is what the pastor said: “This cesspool became my garden. For since no one was there, I could talk out loud to my Master, which I was not permitted to do in my cell. I could sing quietly to my Master, and I could hear from him.” Then he shared how God had ministered to him in his “garden.” Near the end of his remarks, he began to sing in Mandarin a song that every delegate in the room knew because of the tune. He sang: “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
More than a decade later, this song still reverberates through my being. Prior to the Lausanne II conference, I had rarely taken advantage of listening to God in my prayers. Spurred on by the challenge offered by that elderly Chinese pastor, I began to study in the Bible and from church history about listening to God. Any reading of history makes it clear that listening to God has always been part of prayer. Jesus him-self says that the Spirit of God “will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will [tell you] what is to come” (John 16:13 NASB, emphasis mine). Oh, the change that has come to my life and ministry as I have learned to listen for the voice of God! Listen to what God is saying to you, in your prayer, from God’s Word, and by his Spirit.
Prayer Must Be Regular
We must set aside regular times for prayer. Throughout the Bible, you’ll find men and women who set regular times for prayer. Daniel “continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Dan. 6:10 NASB). “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NASB). As Stanley Jones was fond of saying, “You cannot expect God to come into the occasional, if you refuse him in the continuous.” There needs to be a fixed time each day when we go into our prayer closet.
Throughout church history, prayer is always referred to as a discipline. Discipline is always required to accomplish any worthwhile goal. If you want to be the best free-throw shooter on the basketball team, it takes hours of practice. If you want to sell the most insurance policies in your company, it takes discipline to achieve your goal. Every important achievement takes discipline. And along with the discipline comes its companion: drudgery. Let’s face it, discipline day after day gets hard. But if you stick to the discipline long enough, it finally leads to delight. That’s exactly what happens in prayer. Through the centuries, men have acknowledged the difficulty of the discipline of prayer and the drudgery that accompanies it. But great delight occurs when we break through to a wonderful intimacy with God.
Regular Prayer Has A Regular Place
We all know that we can talk to God wherever we go, but a disciplined prayer life will have its own space as well. There is something special about having a place where we know we are going to meet God.
I have a number of friends who have built special prayer closets in their homes for this purpose. I know others who have curtained off the space under the basement steps to use as a place of quiet. In the homes where I have lived, I have always had a special chair and a place that has been my quiet time location. It is important for us to pray daily in a special location.
Prayer Is Personal
God loves you and delights in spending time with you. How do those words strike you? If you’re like most men, your immediate inclination is to take the concept of God’s love and make it theological. “Yes,” we say, “`or God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ God loves the world, and because I’ve received him as my Savior and Lord, he loves me.” In a way, we keep God at arm’s length by theologizing the passages that talk about his love for us. But God’s love for us is very personal and intimate.
Recently, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I needed to deepen my experiential knowledge of God. I had a good, theological grasp of God’s love in my mind, but my feelings were in need of further engagement. I began to spend a great deal of time in the Song of Solomon, the wonderful love story of a bride and groom. Numerous interpretations of this lyrical book have been offered, but most would agree that it speaks of the bride of Christ, the church. In this context, God is the lover, and we are the bride. As men, we might have difficulty adopting the feminine perspective, but listen to what God says to you: “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse” (Song 4:9 NKJV).
Do you believe that? God’s heart is ravished by you! In the NASB, this passage says that we make God’s heart “beat faster.” He loves you. And there is not one thing you can do to earn it. Nor does your sin affect his love for you.
Elsewhere, the king says to his bride, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me…. Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song 2:10, 14). I can hear some guy saying, “This is mushy! This isn’t manly.” Brother, don’t you get it? God loves you, and he’s not hesitant to tell you so. Meeting with you somehow fulfills a longing in God’s heart. Yes, you and I have a great need to be with God, but have you ever realized that he wants to see your face and hear your voice?
Not only that, but “the Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3.17). God loves yin heaven right now singing over you.
Prayer Is Passionate
Prayer also gives us a chance to tell God how much we love him. We’re to have an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. That is, in our prayer time, we have the opportunity to tell the Savior of our love for him. As men, it is sometimes difficult for us to express our love to God. In fact, I read recently that Christian leaders are being encouraged not to talk to men about loving God because it is too difficult a concept for men in the twenty-first century to grasp. Bunk! We know what it is to love and be loved. After all, that’s what separates Christianity from every other religion in the world. God wants us to be in a love relationship with him. God loves us, and we can tell him of our deep love and affection. “We love [or have the ability to love], because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NASB). While ministering in Iowa recently, I contracted a bacteria that caused bleeding in my stomach. As a result, I spent two nights in the hospital. Though my situation was serious, I have had no further problems, but God used my sickness as a wake-up call in my family. On my second day the hospital, when I was free to call my kids, my twenty-eight-year-old son said to me, “Dad, I thought you were immortal.” Of course, he knew that someday I would die, but he’d never thought about it. So when I went to the hospital, it dawned on him that someday I would die.
When I got home from Iowa, my son came to visit. We had a great time together, laughing, talking, and reviewing my hospital experience. As he was leaving, he gave me a kiss and a big hug, as he always does, then got into his car. He sat there for a moment, then got out, walked around the car to where I was standing, and gave me another big kiss and hug. Then he got back in his car. This time, he started the engine, but then he got out once again. He came back over to me and said, “I love you, Dad,” and gave me a third kiss and hug. How do you think I felt? “That’s my boy! He loves me!” Even now, months later, I am basking in those three kisses and hugs! How do you think God feels when we tell him that we love him? “That’s my boy; he loves me!” Men, we take time to pray so that we can renew our love relationship with our heavenly Father. You always spend time with the one you love!
Prayer Is Surrender
Yet another reason to pray is to surrender. That is, we have the opportunity to surrender our purposes, our plans, and our wills into the hands of God, acknowledging his superiority as our Creator. As Stanley Jones puts it in How to Pray, “Prayer, then, is the surrender of the wire to the dynamo, of the flower to the sun, of the student to the processes of education. The Gulf Stream will flow through a straw provided the straw is aligned to the Gulf Stream, and not at cross purposes with it. You as an individual, surrender to God and then–shall I say it?–God surrenders to you-His power is at your disposal. You are working with an almighty purpose and an almighty purpose is working with you.”
Prayer is never trying to get God to do our will. It is not trying to bend the Almighty to accomplish our purposes, but rather it is to cooperate with his design for our lives.
A Pattern Fro Prayer
Over the years, I have discipled many new converts to Christ. Almost invariably, they will ask, “What do I say when I pray?” This question must be taken seriously, because we know that men have a difficult time communicating in intimate relationships. For most men, prayer is difficult. I usually answer this question by telling men to “pray the Bible.” That is, to take the prayers of the Bible and pray them back to the Lord.
The Psalms are a great place to start in learning how to pray the Scriptures. Let me demonstrate, using Psalm 19. I would start like this: “Father, I come into your presence now through the work of Jesus Christ, my Savior. I worship you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With the psalmist of old, I say [begin reading Psalm 19]: `The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge’ [vv. 1-2j. Lord, as I look at the sunrise this morning, I realize again what a great creator you are. The colors today are just awesome. How do you bring all the colors together? My God, day after day and night after night, you display yourself for all to see. `There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world’ [vv. 3-4]. Thank you, Lord, that everywhere on this earth your glory is displayed. `In the heavens [you have] pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat’ [vv. 4-6]. Thank you, Father, that every day you bring the sunlight, and it brings warmth and light to the earth. Father, your creation is awe-some, and it is all about you. It is to bring glory to you. I praise you, my God. `May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, 0 LORD, My Rock and my Redeemer’ [v. 14]. Lord, may everything that comes out of my mouth today and everything that I think about be pleasing to you. You know that I have that meeting with Joe today, and we really disagree. Help me to please you by the way I speak. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.”
This simple approach of praying the Scriptures has been used to help numerous men learn how to pray. By the way, I always encourage men to pray out loud while walking around, no matter what kind of prayer they are engaged in. Why? So they will know when they have stopped praying. Wes Campbell, speaking to the World Congress of Intercessors and Prayer Leaders, once said, “Praying out loud, or prayer mumbling out loud, will take our minds and hearts kicking and screaming into the presence of God and help us to focus. It’s hard to think about anything else when you are talking.”
Once a level of comfort has been reached in praying the Scriptures, you can help men to understand the various parts of the prayers they have already been praying. Examples of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, and intercession are laced throughout the prayers they have been reading from the Bible. Praying through the Bible creates an easy transition to a man’s own extemporaneous prayers.
Prayer Has A Corporate Expression
In addition to instructing us to make time for private prayer, the Bible is clear about the necessity of joining with other believers for corporate prayer. The book of Acts describes many such prayer meetings. To encourage corporate prayer, we must design opportunities for men to pray in small groups, in local church prayer meetings, and with groups of men and women from their city. Widespread corporate prayer has long been missing from the church of North America. But this is beginning to change as more small groups are created that bring men together for support and prayer. In a growing number of cities, pastors are coming together, across denominational and racial lines, for prayer. And large numbers of Christians have gathered together for extended services of worship and prayer. As a revivalist, I am excited about these developments, because historically, revival has always been preceded by seasons of prayer.
January 1999 marked a very significant event in the history of the United States. After an absence of almost one hundred years, a National Prayer Accord was once again presented to the church, signed by denominations and associations representing more than 200,000 churches.
We humbly, yet strongly, request all churches and all Christians to join together, at a minimum, in the following five rhythms of prayer:
* by daily spending time with the Lord in prayer and in the reading of His Word, so as to yield ourselves fully to the control and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
* by weekly humbling ourselves before God by designating a day or part of a day (Friday, if possible) for united prayer with fasting, as the Lord leads.
* by monthly designating in individual churches one service for concerted prayer, emphasizing this call, with special focus on its neighborhood applications.
* by quarterly assembling in multi-church prayer events, emphasizing this call, with special focus on its citywide application.
* by annually participating in nationwide prayer events, emphasizing this call, with special focus on its national and global applications. –National Prayer Accord
In January 2000, more than 35,000 Christians gathered at the Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona, for a worship and prayer service. “Pray Lubbock” was the designation given to a movement of corporate prayer in Lubbock, Texas. I could write an entire book about what God is doing across America through cross-denominational, cross-racial corporate prayer. David Bryant puts it so well in his book The Hope at Hand: “If we know historically that this groundswell of prayer is a gift of God; if it is biblically accurate to teach that God has not only ordained the end but also the means (the end being world revival, the means being the prayers of his people); if this massive chorus of prayer is increasingly focused on nothing less than national and world revival; and if when God stirs us up to this type of praying he does so because he is actually ready to answer us; how can we believe otherwise that world revival is bearing down on top of us?”
My dear brother, nothing is more important for your life or ministry than prayer. Become a man of prayer and teach other men to do likewise!
Two resources I have found particularly helpful in praying the Bible are:
Kenneth Boa, Handbook to Prayer (Trinity House).
Wesley Campbell, Praying the Bible, a series of CDs covering most of the prayers in the Bible (Revival Now Resources, 1-888-738-4832 or www.revivalnow.com).
This article “Teaching Men To Pray” written by Dale Schlafer is excerpted from Effective Men’s Ministry: The Indispensable Toolkit For Your Church edited by Phil Downer chapter 13.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”