A Way To Pray

I’m always cautious when writing or teaching on ‘how to pray’. I think most Bible teachers are. Most of the helpful lessons on ‘how to pray’ include how to pray Scripture, how to pray the promises of God, lectio divina, confessional prayer, prayer books (like Valley of Vision), praying the creeds, keeping a prayer journal, A.C.T.S.,  or even praying in tongues (not in this Baptist’s lessons!).

It’s a hard thing to write about, because once a man asked the God of the universe how to pray during their small group and got an answer.

And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4 ESV)

chinese-christians-1998Anything outside of that answer seems… less than. And yet we have hundreds of examples in the Scriptures of various types about prayer. Of course, it is nearly unanimously agreed upon that Jesus is giving us a guide for prayer, principles which we ought to follow in our prayer. This is not about rote memorization. It’s about who we are addressing, how we are to address him, and what sorts of things we ought to say.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer a rubric for prayer that I think is in accord with our Lord’s prayer. This isn’t a ‘these-are-the-things-you-have-to-cover-every-time’ list. It’s merely a guide I find helpful in guiding my prayer times. It’s good for individuals and groups. Because I am a Baptist, it’s in couples that start with the same letter. I can’t help myself.

Praise and Promises
Forgiveness and Family
Neighbors and Nations
Glory and Going

 

Praise and Promises

As we begin our prayers, we ought to remember the most important thing is who we are praying to. We are praying to the God who is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6-7). Everything he has said he will do, he has done or will do.

During this time, we ought to praise him. Praise God for his providence. What do we have that we did not receive (1 Cor. 4:7)? All things come from God. In all he is towards us, he is gracious and kind. Let us then return to him with thanksgiving (Col. 2:7, 4:2).

Having praised him for his goodness within himself and his goodness towards us, we trust in the promises of God. This is a time to turn to God for assurance. This is also a time to ask God for the things that we need. We do not pray promises for possessions or prosperity that do not belong to us. Rather we cling to the promise that God hears the prayers of his people. And whether we get what we ask or not, we pray to God because he hears. These prayers may include asking for the wisdom that he promises to provide (James 1:5), boldness that he eagerly gives (Eph. 6:19-20), comfort when doubting the grace given to us (Phil. 1:6), or the hope of redemption in distressing times (Romans 8:28). [More on praying God’s promises]

Forgiveness and Family

The Christian life is one of repentance. The Christian’s Father is one of forgiveness. 1 John 1:8-9 says that, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We sin every day and often. No true Christian would ever claim otherwise. We desperately need the grace of God. This is a time for asking for forgiveness as well as the power to fight sin in the future: “forgive us our sins…lead us not into temptation.”

At this point, prayers move outward from ourselves. Many of my prayer times are only praise, promises, and forgiveness. There’s certainly a time for those. But when most of us consider ourselves to have a weak or inconsistent prayer life it is because we fail to pray for others. In 1 Samuel 12:23, the prophet says, “…far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you…” That one stings to the heart. But far be it from any of us that we should sin against God by forgetting to pray for those we love. This is a time to pray for our family. We pray for their needs, their salvation if needed, their encouragement, our relationship with them, or whatever they have asked of us. Pray for your family.

Neighbors and Nations

These prayers aren’t so different from the prayers for family. These are the prayers of the Great Commission. Essentially it is the same prayer for different groups. One is microscopic and the  the other telescopic, but both are philanthropic. During this time we pray that God would save our neighbors and that he would save the nations. We pray that he would open their hearts.

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” Psalm 67:4

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!'” 1 Chronicles 6:31

Indeed he does reign. Where we know the needs of our nations or our brothers and sisters among the nations, let us ask for God to provide. This is a time to pray for the poor, for the persecuted, for the populations in darkness. Where we do not know, we pray for salvation. We pray for God to send someone. We pray for organizations and individuals at work.

“Father, hallowed be your name…” in our neighborhoods and in the nations.

Glory and Going

Finally, we pray for two things that are deeply intertwined: the glory of God, and our going for his glory. When we pray for the glory of God, we pray for his glory throughout the earth. We have this promise in Habakkuk 2:14, “…the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” During this time we ask that all we do would be to the glory of God. May he enable us to bring him glory. Not only that, we ask for God’s glory throughout the earth. Ultimately, we ask for his glory to cover the earth: we ask for his return. It is at the return of Christ that the New Heavens and New Earth will come forth and the glory of the Lord will shine forth in all things.

Until his return, we pray for our going. Will we be faithful at work to glorify him and witness to his glorious gospel? Will we be faithful to share the gospel with that service rep we see every week or that coworker he keeps sharing a lunch break with us or that lady who takes the same bus as us every morning to the same part of town for work? During this time, ask God to send us out as laborers into the harvest field (Luke 1o:2). Pray for your church body that it would send people out. Pray that we would always be ‘going’, living as a people who, whether we rest or run, know that we have been sent by our Lord to reach those around us and those far off. Pray for boldness. Pray for help. Pray for sustenance and rest. Pray for people to notice your good works and glorify God in heaven. Pray for humility. Pray for your going.

________________

I hope that for someone reading this that this has been helpful. The work of prayer truly is labor. Yet the God we worship is the only god who hears our prayers and answers them. He is the only source, the only hope, the only one from whom we have received all things. Let us turn then to our Father, and pray as Jesus taught us. Above all, let us ask all these things in Jesus’ name (Jn. 16:23), through whom we have gained  peace with God and access to God. I hope he answers your prayers and you are richly blessed.

 

Scripture Memory For Everyone: The Verse Box

This is my second post on Scripture Memory. In my last post on Scripture memory (over a year ago!), I gave you 8 reasons why you should work hard at Scripture Memory. It would be instructive to you to read that post first by clicking here. At the end of that post, there is a video made by my college pastor, Trace Hamiter, explaining how to do Scripture memory through a verse box. What I want to do in this post is not restate what I’ve already said but instead to explain to to you how to build a verse box. This method of Scripture memory has completely change how I think of Scripture memory. It’s no longer intimidating. It makes sense. I have a mission. I have a plan. It’s easy.

So, without further ado, here’s how you get started on a ‘Verse Box’ and begin memorizing the Word of God.

**Note: this method can also be used for catechesis. I have friends who are moms that have found this very helpful in teaching their kids Scripture and catechism.
***Some preacher friends of mine have used separate boxes for illustrations, quotes, etc. I have done so myself.

Supplies for the Box

All of the following can be bought at Target or Wal-Mart (cheaper Bibles and pens, too!) or whatever fair-trade, Gluten-free local store you shop at.

1. BIBLE

First thing’s first. If you’re going to memorize the Scriptures, you’re going to need a Bible. Here’s an important rule here: Memorize the translation you use! Do not memorize everything in the NASB if you never read anything but the NIV. I would recommend you memorize in either the ESV or HCSB if you aren’t committed to a translation, but it’s up to you. I do not recommend you use the KJV (archaic language) or the NASB (though an excellent translation, the language can be a bit wooden in many cases which makes memorization harder).

 

2. NOTECARDS 

For this method of Scripture memorization, you’re going to need 3×5 notecards (not bigger, not smaller). 3×5, not 5×8.

3. NOTECARD DIVIDERS 

Though not needed immediately, these are going to come in handy later (after you’ve become a walking Bible database). In phase 2, you’ll need 6-7. In phase 3, you’ll need 30.

4. Index Card Box

You’ll want to get a sturdy index card box. See mine below. Duct tape label is optional, but I believe duct tape makes literally everything better. I leave that between you and the Spirit.

Alternative Index Card Holder. These are good and portable. They don’t hold as many cards, however, and break easy. If you start with this, buy 5, not 1. It will tear up.

 

 

6. Main Section Dividers

Main section dividers are for your every day Scripture memory. These are the most important things to get. A typical start would be green in the front, yellow in the middle, and red at the back.

Alternative section dividers: These are my section dividers. Regardless, have 3 dividers which indicate 1) Verses you know word-perfect, 2) verses you are comfortable with but haven’t nailed yet or verses whose references you can’t remember, 3) Verses you don’t know at all or hardly know.

7. A Good Pen

Everyone needs a good pen for these. For my part, I use the Pilot Namiki Vanishing Point fountain pen (see below). This is, without a doubt, overkill. Whatever you choose, make sure it doesn’t bleed through the cards. Try to have a certain pen that you use with consistency. I generally discourage doing cards in different colors.

Using the Box for Scripture Memory

Phase 1:

Step 1: Dividers

Put your Main section dividers into the box. Cards go behind (or in front of — it’s up to you) these accordingly. Thee main dividers indicate the following:

  • Green: These are verses you know. For a verse to be considered ‘known’ you must be able to recite it perfectly, word-for-word with no stumbling. you must know the exact reference. Reading the reference you can give the verse, reading the verse you can give the reference. You can say it fast, slow, whatever. You know it. However well you probably know John 3:16, that’s how well you want to know these. (This is my ‘Got it!’ tab)
  • Yellow: These are verses you kinda know. You may even reference these verses in your daily life. You still mess up some of the words, forget the reference, or get things mixed up. Maybe you need the first word to get started. That’s ok! No big deal. Keep them behind this tab until you nail them. When you first start out, you will probably have the most verses here. (This is my ‘Meh.’ tab)
  • Red: These are verses you don’t know. Some of them are verses you’ve just started to memorize. Some of them are verses you don’t know at all. When you do you time with the Lord and read a verse you want to memorize, write it on a card and stick it here. Even if you don’t get to it for weeks, this tab will hold it for you. This is where cards go when you first start to learn them and it’s where they stay until you are familiar with them.

Step 2: The Cards
Every Scripture Memory Card should be handwritten. Part of the memorization process is writing the cards, reading them in your own writing. If you have bad handwriting, slow down and take your time. I would insist that you write them, though. Trust me on this.
I don’t advise that you do more than 2-3 verses on a single card at a time when memorizing in isolation. I make exceptions for this. I memorized Ephesians in college using this method and I memorized 2 Cor. 4-6  two years ago using this method. When I did those, I left all the cards in order regardless of how well I knew them and each card was full. Except times like these, however, try not to do 4-5 verses. Practically, a bunch of cards that are super long can be discouraging because they take a long time to memorize. You may work weeks with little progress and quit. Instead, try shorter cards with only a verse or two and you’ll move very quickly! There are TONS of great verses to memorize before getting to chunks anyway. Let’s get started on those cards.
The front of the card should have a reference:
The back of the card should have the verse written out. Don’t cram the card.
Here’s a trick I learned from my friend Joe for cards that are really hard to learn. If you’re working on a single verse that you just can’t seem to make progress on, give it a shot. Write the first letter of every word and include the punctuation on the front of the card with the reference.That way, looking at the reference, you can work your way through the verse with what you know and familiarize yourself with the word order.
Romans 13:14 is where I had to do this. Those last few words leading into “to gratify its desires” always gave me trouble.
Step 3: The Verses 
You need somewhere to start.You’ll want to start your box with 30-50 verses– don’t freak out! I know that’s a lot. Remember, most of them go behind the “Don’t Know’ and “Meh” (or yellow) tab. The first thing you need to do is figure out which verses you already know perfectly. John 3:16. Romans 5:8. Romans 3:23. Genesis 1:1. It doesn’t matter what they are. Write them down and put them behind the green tab. Starting with an empty green tab (Got It!) is discouraging. If you don’t know any, I’m so glad you’re starting! Odds are, however, you know at least a few. Get them in the green.
Next, find new verses to add.
Here’s a helpful list of verses I often give to people: VerseBox_Starter
Otherwise, Dr. Tim Beougher, Evangelism professor at Southern Seminary recommends these verses.
Step 4: The Box
Put the box together. Put in your divider tabs. Put in your notecards. I put my notecards in front of the tab. Why? At the back I put about 50-100 blank notecards to add more stuff. (Also, I suggest buying good notecards. Cheap ones bleed and wear out.)
What now?  Memorize Scripture!
Every day is Scripture memory day. When you wake up, when you do your quiet time, before bed, during breakfast….you decide. But every day, find time to memorize scripture.
You can pick verses just for Evangelism, just for theology, just to fight sin, just for anything, really! One important note I will make is to not take things out of context. For example, memorizing Jeremiah 29:11 out of context may be unhelpful since you are not an Israeli exile or if you don’t understand God’s wonderful plan for you in Christ includes suffering for his name (Phil 1:27). Romans 13:14 is fine out of context. Not all verses are. Make sure you understand what you are memorizing!
There are 3 steps in your Scripture memory process:
  1. Go through every verse behind the green tab. It’s so incredibly easy to lose the verses you ‘know’. Don’t believe me? Did you ever learn a foreign language in high school? Do you know it now? Probably not. This is the same principle. You have to keep doing those verses! Every day, if you do nothing else (even if you don’t get to any new verses or ‘yellow tab’ verses) do these.
  2. If you have made it through green tab verses you know and have time, try to make it through your yellow tab verses. Don’t feel the burden to do all of them. That’s great if you have time, but even better is quality time with 4-5 of them. Do these until you can move them to the green tab. No pressure!
  3. If you’ve run through all the green tab verses and moved many yellow tab verses to the green, grab 2 or 3 from the red tab and start new verses.

You will find it helpful in your Scripture memory time to pray through the verses. This has been the most important use of Scripture Memory for me. For more information on praying Scripture, go here.

Also, meditation on the verses is key. Here is what you need to know about meditation.

John Piper has a helpful sermon on this.

For a practical guide to meditation, go here.

You may struggle with legalism on these. DON’T! Scripture Memory is a tool. It is commanded and it is an encouragement, but it does not and will never give you right standing before God. Don’t trust in how many days in a row you did Scripture memory for your self worth. Donald Whitney, one of the world’s leading authorities on spiritual disciplines, has written a helpful article on resisting legalism in spiritual disciplines. Read it here.

Phase 2:

How can there be more? Well there is! The good news about this Scripture Memory box is that it works. In fact, I have never met anyone EVER for whom this did not work. I doubted it and refused to do it for over a year. Then, struggling in my stubborn way, I switched to this and all of a sudden I was zooming through verses!

So what do you do when you have 50 verses behind the green tab, 40 behind the yellow tab, and 40 behind the red tab (Trust me– this will happen)? MORE TABS! This is where the 7 dividers come in handy.

Adding New Tabs

Once you have 30-40 cards memorized, the green tab can become burdensome to go through. Add 6-7 tabs (Some folks exclude Sunday), one for each day of the week. Once a card has been in the ‘green tab’ for a month or so, move it behind a ‘day tab’. Then, when you do your Scripture Memory time every day, do what is behind the green tab and add the ones assigned to that day. Try to keep the day tabs even so you don’t have 10 on Monday an 2 on Thursday. Even them out. This way you see every verse once a week.

Phase 3:

Adding Even More Tabs!
I don’t have a picture of phase 3. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but I know plenty of folks who have. One friend of mine has multiple boxes, because this method has been so effective.
In Phase 3, keep your ‘day tabs’ and add tabs numbered 1 to 30. Yes, thta’s a tab for every day of the month. At this point, Scripture Memory time becomes ‘green tab’, ‘day tab’, and ‘day of the month tab’. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take that much more time. This will come once you have hundreds of verses. Don’t start the ‘day of the month’ tabs until you have 150 or more tabs behind your ‘day tabs’. I promise you, however, that if you stick to this you will get there within 2 years. Because of my switch to ‘large chunk’ memorization, my individual verse box memorizing slowed significantly. Stick to it, and you’ll know hundreds soon enough.

Conclusion

Remember, this isn’t the Holiness Olympics. You aren’t gaining right standing with God by memorizing Scripture. You are, however, equipping yourself to recite the Scripture when you are discouraged. You are equipping yourself to use these verses in Evangelism. You are equipping yourself to have a biblical theology. You are equipping yourself to know God more truly according to how he has revealed himself.

What are you waiting for?

Start memorizing!