I remember being taught as a young Christian to use my fingers to remind me about the different sorts of prayer – Praising God for who he is, saying sorry for wrong things, thanking God for things he’s done, asking for others’ needs, and then lastly, asking about my own needs. As I’ve gone on in my own relationship with God, I’ve discovered that that is only a starting point on the many different sorts of prayer. I’ve also recognised that for me at least, I can’t pray to a formula.
I can just see one of my kids coming in from school.
“Oh dear mother, how wonderful is your cooking, and thank you so much for my breakfast and my packed lunch. I want to apologise to you, dear Mother, for not sharing my sweets with my brother – I will try hard to do better next time. My sister is hungry and wants a biscuit, so I’m asking you if you will give her one; and dear Mother I would be very grateful if you could help me with my homework.”
We just don’t converse like that! If we have a good relationship, we chat about different things – covering all these aspects and many more besides. Our conversation comes out of our relationship, not a prescription!
Genesis 18 v 16 -33 is often quoted as a blueprint for intercessory prayer. But the point here is that it emerged out of a relational conversation between Abraham and the Lord. Abraham had honoured the Lord (v2), sought to serve him (v3 – 5), offered him the best (v7), waited upon him (v8) listened to him (v10) and been envisioned by him (v 14). The Lord then shares his heart with Abraham, and provokes his response which is to plead for the city.
So how does it all start? By being in the Lord’s presence. By relating and interacting with him naturally in any and every context, by waiting on him, and listening to his heart. By praying where he is prodding and provoking our response.
One last thought on this – verses 17 and 18 show that God was deliberately setting out to draw Abraham into prayer because of who he was. God had chosen him because he was a man of faith, and had invested great promise in him. He trusted him to do right, and so he entrusted him with this prayer request. God has chosen me, and has invested a great amout in me. If he reveals a prayer-need to me, then he must trust me with it. That’s a huge responsibility, and an awsome privilege. I’d better get listening!