Category Archives: prayer

prayer and the ambiguous direct object infix

image courtesy of heavenawaits

[I’m building a small soccer field in my back yard.  We moved a bunch of dirt around to make the yard level.  Then we added manure and planted grass.  The grass is growing, but it’ll be three or four months before we can play on it, I think.  But that’s all besides the point — just a little aside.]

Five Tanzanian guys helped to plant the grass on the soccer field; and we got it all done in one day.  Christie and I wanted to feed the guys a good Tanzanian meal, so we asked Margaret to cook for the guys — and to cook something they’d really enjoy.  She did.  And the guys anxiously awaited lunch.  

Once we were all washed up and the food was set out, we decided to pray.  Not all these guys are religious, so I asked Kulwa (a Christian) to pray before our meal.  After some discussion as to whether he should pray in Sukuma or Swahili (Swahili was decided upon), he bowed his head and began by saying:


Translation:  “We should thank him (or her).” Or even “Let’s thank him (or her).”

See that little ‘m’ towards the beginning of the word?  That’s a direct object marker; it tells us we’re thanking a single person (or being, in this case).  Kulwa could have said, “Tumshukuru Mungu,” and it would have been a very specific, “Let’s thank (him) God.”  

But the him is assumed when preparing to pray, right?

Not if you’re Oscar, one of the other guys in the group — one who was not so accustomed to praying before meals.  He heard, “Let’s thank him/her,” and quickly responded aloud, interrupting Kulwa’s prayer with an emphatic, “Thank you, Margaret!”

We all had a good laugh.  [Except maybe Kulwa who possibly thought Oscar’s comments sacrilegious.]  In the end, though, God was thanked, Margaret was thanked, the guys where thanked, and I’m going to have a beautiful (yet small) soccer field.

Also, it’s always a good idea to thank both God AND the cook for the food.



Filed under living in africa, prayer, slightly humorous or amusing?

meditative prayer: centering down

image courtesy of heavenawaits

A few days ago I posted several very
practical ideas for improving our prayer lives.  Then I published an essay covering some of the stresses of being a missionary in small-town Tanzania.  Today I want to combine these ideas of prayer and stress by offering you a form of meditative prayer which will (likely) bless you greatly.

I can’t remember from whom I learned this practice, but he called it “centering down.”  And I was told it was a Quaker form of prayer.  I’ve done a little research since then, and it seems the idea of centering down is much bigger than this one very particular prayer practice.  Centering down (as best as I can tell) is the practice of contemplative prayer which allows one to experience God’s presence deep within himself. It seems to reach well beyond thinking about God and encourages us to be one with God and to delight in his presence.

There must exist hundreds of ways to accomplish this.  The method I’m offering today is only one of these.  I’m not suggesting you replace your regular prayer time with this practice, but I do believe it is a wonderful discipline which will bless your life.  Though I now realize “centering down” is a much broader concept, I’ll still refer to this form of meditative prayer as just that.  [I’ve also heard it called “re-collection prayer.”]

  1. Find a comfortable seat. Don’t lean forward, though neither should you slouch as if attempting to sleep.  I like to sit in a hardwood chair or even on a stool.  I’m sure many sit cross-legged on the floor; I do not know, however, if they make an “O” with their thumb and index finger.  I also don’t know if they refer to their sitting as “criss cross apple sauce.”  But I really hope they do.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Place your hands face-down on your lap. This represents letting go of all that has filled your mind.
  4. In silence, give to God all your anxieties, concerns, and worries.  Surrender to him all those thoughts which occupy your mind.  I begin by thinking this phrase:  “Lord I give to you….”
  5. Now, maintaining this same posture, rotate your hands so that your palms are face-up.  This is symbolic for receiving blessings and peace from God.
  6. In silence, ask God to grant you peace.  You may ask for any number of blessings (such as strength, courage, faith, patience, etc). I begin by saying:  “Lord, please fill me with your…”
  7. Sit in silence for some time, focused on God — and simply resting in his presence.*

This form of prayer has helped me immensely over the past few years.  One of the greatest benefits (for me) is that it helps me rid my mind of stray thoughts and concerns — so that I can practice being present with God.  Fully present with him.

I can imagine, too, that centering down would be of tremendous value to those who tend to be anxious or worried.

I can’t help but think of these two passages.  I’ll leave you with them:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7

“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7


*If you read this post and worry that centering prayer will take you too long, you most likely are wrong.  I’ve been amazed at the impact less than five minutes of this centering down exercise can have on an entire day.

P.S. — The irony is not lost on me that the image accompanying this post is of clenched fists during prayer — which could symbolize either 1) an unwillingness to give to God our concerns or 2) a refusal to accept from him his blessings.  But it does make me wonder why our traditional posture of prayer involves clenched (or at least folded) hands.



Filed under how to..., practical advice, prayer

let’s be practical: 9 ideas for better prayer

image courtesy of heavenawaits

I’ve been to a lot of conferences for ministers and missionaries.  And my biggest frustration is that 55 minutes of a one-hour class on “Developing Leaders in the Ministry” will be about why it’s important to develop leadership in my ministry.  Generally speaking, every individual in that class knows the importance of developing leadership; that’s why they chose to attend the class.  What we want is something practical.

Sadly, I leave these conferences happy if I walk away with only four or five very practical ideas.  This shouldn’t be the case.

Yesterday I wrote about devotion to prayer.  But really… how many of us didn’t already believe our prayer lives could use a little boost?  And so — without going into the details of why prayer is important or how it works or even what it is — I want to attempt to offer some practical suggestions for improving our prayer lives.

Now, these ideas are just that: Ideas.  You may already be doing some or many of these.  You may have tried several of these and found them to be stupid, foolish, or theologically incorrect (I hope not).  But hopefully you will find at least one practice in here that will improve your praying. I’ve tried to offer both general principles and very specific ideas, so there’s a lot of overlap.  Think of this list as a starting point.  Be creative.

9 Ideas for Better Prayer

1. Lessen Interruptions

  • Choose a specific place to pray — one in which you’re less likely to be interrupted.
    • The closet can serve as a special prayer place.
    • Your kids are less likely to interrupt you while you’re in the shower.  [Maybe.]
    • During your morning run.
    • At the office.
    • In your car.
    • At the park.
  • Choose a specific time to pray — one in which you’re less likely to be interrupted.
    • 5:00 AM
    • During your drive to work.
    • Late at night or just before bed.

2. Fix Routines and Make Reminders

  • Pray every time you…
    • enter the kitchen.
    • hear your watch beep on the hour.
    • start your car.
    • put on your shoes.
    • access the internet.
    • see a Bible.
    • have a cup of coffee.
  • Create reminders.
    • Wear a bracelet you wouldn’t normally wear.
    • Set the alarm on your watch.
    • Place Bible verses or prayer cards…
      • on your mirrors.
      • in your cabinet doors.
      • on the dash of your car.
      • over the lintels of your doors.
      • as screensavers or backgrounds on your computer.

3.  Structure Your Prayer Time

  • Make and keep a list.
    • Pray the entire list at one time.
    • Or pray one section at a time, completing the list each day (or even each week, etc).
  • Pray through an acronym.
    • ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication
    • PRAISE: praise, repentance, adoration, intercession, supplication, eternal results
    • PRAY: praise, repent, access, yield
    • PRAYER: pray, respond, admit, yield, expect, rejoice
    • AVAILABLE: you can google this one yourself  [Does someone get paid to make these up?]

4.  Pray Shorter

  • Make your prayers brief and you can…
    • improve your concentration.
    • increase the number of times you pray each day.
    • greatly increase the likelihood that you’ll actually take the time to pray.
    • please God. (Mt 6:7-8)  [Oh, and don’t use big words.]
  • Pray sentence-long prayers for people and places as you encounter them.
    • Pray for each coworker as you pass them in the hall.
    • Pray for the sender of each email you receive.
    • Pray for every school or church you see on the way to work.
  • Combine these short prayers with the fixed reminders above.
    • Tell God one thing you’re thankful for every time you access the internet.
    • Pray for one of your friends or family members every time you look at your watch.
    • Pray short prayers that God will help you develop one fruit of the Spirit in your life.  Assign a different fruit to each kitchen cabinet, and pray for that fruit each time you open that cabinet.

5. Set Achievable Goals

  • I doubt it’s wise to begin by saying, “I’ll pray for two hours every day.”  How about:
    • I’ll pray five times today.
    • I’ll pray in my car — from my driveway until I exit the neighborhood.
    • I’ll pray for however long this light remains red.
    • (For runners, a prayer fartlek of sorts…)  I’ll pray from this tree to that mailbox.
    • I’ll thank God for more things today than I ask him for.
  • Build on what already exists in your schedule.  Add prayer to those habits you’ve already formed.
    • Don’t say you’ll wake up to pray every morning at 5:00 when you usually wake at 6:00.
    • Instead, attach prayer to an already existing running schedule, lunch time, or particular event in your day.

6.  Change It Up a Little

  • Write your prayers.
  • Pray out loud instead of quietly.
  • Memorize a prayer from scripture.
  • Reword a prayer someone else has written.
  • Draw or paint your prayer.
  • Write a song.
  • Just listen.
  • Go on a prayer walk, in which you walk in the specific place over which you’re praying.
  • Be creative.

7.  Pray With Your Family

  • At breakfast, lunch, or supper — whichever you eat together (or all of them).
  • With your spouse before bed.
  • With each child as you’re getting them dressed.
  • In your car before you begin each trip.

8.  Remove Structure From Your Prayer Time (yes, exactly the opposite of #3)

  • Pray in incomplete sentences.
  • Pray vague ideas and thoughts instead of specifics.
  • Attempt to carry on a conversation with God.
  • Place an empty chair in the room, and tell God about your day.

9.  ?????

  • Your turn.  What practical advice do you have for the rest of us?  What’s worked (or not worked) for you?


Filed under how to..., practical advice, prayer, top ten lists