TEACHING SOME PRINCIPLES OF PRAYER
T. PIERCE BROWN
Many years ago when I had a Men’s Training Class, I tried to teach some principles of public speaking, including prayer. The main emphasis was on teaching people how to think, rather than simply teaching the mechanics of speaking. Among other things I gave the class members an assignment to write out a prayer, not because I wanted them to learn to write prayers, but to see if they could think and follow directions. On one occasion I specified that I wanted a prayer designed in this manner: First, address God, naming a characteristic, attribute or quality He has, for which you praise Him. Then make a petition with reference to that attribute. Third, name a spiritual or material blessing for which you thank Him. Fourth, make a petition with reference to that blessing. Then, without further words, close the prayer properly. I even gave them a sample like this: “Our Father, who created all things in Thy wisdom and upholdeth them by Thy power. We praise and adore You for that wisdom and power. (Now a petition with reference to those named attributes). Grant to us the wisdom that is from above that we may have the power to overcome by Thy word all the temptations of the Evil One. (Then name a spiritual or material blessing). We thank Thee for the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. (Now make a petition with reference to it). Help us to so appreciate that salvation that we will be more willing and eager to share it with those around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
I was amazed, astonished, shocked, chagrined, abashed, dismayed and otherwise disturbed when only about three students in my class, Dowell Flatt, Donald Flatt, and Leamon Flatt were able to do the assignment with any appreciable degree of understanding. Even after repeated explanations, most of the prayers turned in were a sort of re-hash of what they had heard or prayed hundreds of times on Sunday morning at the worship hour.
I thought of publishing a book of prayers, taking each chapter of the New Testament and giving thanks or making petitions with reference to outstanding thoughts or verses in that chapter. I neglected to do it for 30 years because I was not sure that the value of helping people strengthen their prayers with a deeper appreciation of the commands, blessings and promises of God would outweigh some possible disadvantage of encouraging the use of the prayers of someone else.
In this belated article, I am trying to help teachers of all classes, at least from primary level up, to help your students do two things. First, learn how to read more thoughtfully what the text says. Second, pray with reference to what the text says, that it may become a more meaningful and practical part of your life.
To that end, I will give a sample of the kind of assignment one can make about any lesson text. I will not give a complete prayer, but a portion to show you how it can work. Suppose your lesson text is 1 Timothy 1. In addition to whatever else you may do with it, you might say to your students, “Write a prayer related to the information you find in this chapter.” The following might be a portion of a prayer related to verses 4 & 5. “Our Father, we thank Thee for the truth which Thou hast revealed so clearly in Thy Word. We recognize that there is a tendency among men to give more attention to fables, tales and foolish questions that produce no good rather than trying to find and do Thy will. Help us to so prepare our hearts and minds that we may be concerned with the things that contribute toward edification and pure living. Let love which comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith be the things which mark us as Thy children and set us apart from the world, and may we so demonstrate that love that Thou wilt be glorified and men will be constrained to follow Thee.”
If you will make such assignments occasionally, you will discover that your students will do two things better than they have been doing them. First they will grasp more deeply the meaning of the passages they are supposed to study. Second, they will absorb them into their souls more readily. They will be encouraged to make them a part of their practical daily life, for they will at least practice framing a prayer that is designed to do those two things.
Anything we can do to prevent the blessed word of God from seeming to be a “dead letter” and to prevent our prayers from being vain repetition of meaningless phrases, repeated parrot-like on every occasion, should be of value. If you try this and find any startling results, I would appreciate your letting me know.