Have you ever found yourself thinking that you would pray more and more often if there were guidelines for how to do it? Or maybe you feel a tug to pray for your students, professors, department, college, or university, but where do you start?
One of the biggest falsehoods that hinders our prayer life is the belief that we can never be good enough to ask God for anything. We may think that we do not have the right words, that we are asking for the impossible or because our minds wander we fall short of what we are supposed to do. Dear brother and sisters, these are lies! We are indeed good enough because of our life in Christ. The Holy Spirit interprets for us when we canâ€™t find words (Rom. 8:26-27). And staying focused, well that just takes some practice. God wants to hear from us, even if the only thing we can do is simply utter one single word.
Methods Can Help
While there is no right or wrong way to pray, there are many different methods to help us stay focused as we talk with the Lord.1 There is no â€œone size fits allâ€ method as the main focus is to connect with God in whatever way we can. One method of prayer that may help us keep focused in our prayer time for our academic institution comes from a simple acronym; P.R.A.Y. This is a very simple way to organize our thoughts and prayer time whether we are praying alone or in a group. The acronym suggests praying in this order, Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield (PRAY).
Beginning our prayer with praise reminds us just how great our God is. It can be as simple as praising God because he is our teacher and our source of truth and wisdom. Praising God is about who He is; his nature, character, etc. You could even use a particular scripture verse to praise God for who he is. Starting with praise reminds us that God is almighty and sovereign over all things and worthy of all of our praise.
As we come before the Lord in praise we realize our standing as fallen humans redeemed by the blood of Christ. We naturally recognize that we do fall short and must confess our sin before the Lord. Repenting of that sin means we agree with God that we have sinned, knowing we are forgiven when we confess. This restores our relationship as we seek to become more like him. We may also need to include repenting for something taking place in our academic community.
Asking God for help is a big part of our prayer time. Sometimes we have an immediate need that we take to the Lord and we certainly should do that! God is always listening to us no matter how we reach out to him. However this method of prayer suggests that we hold our requests until weâ€™ve set our minds and hearts right before God. Because of our salvation through Christ, we are able to approach the throne of grace with our needs and the needs of others.
The final part of this method is yielding our will to God. We have given him the praise he deserves, confessed and repented of our sin and asked for what is on our hearts. God always wants to hear from us no matter what is happening in our lives. Yielding our hearts to wait for his answers reminds us that he always has our best interest at heart. His plan for us never fails!
P.R.A.Y. is only one method of organizing our prayer time. There are many other ways to do this, so the method or structure is not â€œwritten in stone.â€ The method we use to connect with the Lord in prayer isnâ€™t mandated, however the need to be in prayer is essential for our journey of discipleship (I Thess. 5:16-22).
The method listed above may feel a little awkward at first, any new way of praying will feel that way. However, with any new discipline time and practice will make it a more natural way of spending time with God. This may also feel like it doesnâ€™t really apply to our specific circumstances. But this is easily adaptable to our specific needs and concerns.
As we spend more time in prayer we begin to hear Godâ€™s voice in our spirits as He directs us. We may have a specific person or situation come to mind, which prompts us to intercede on their behalf. Donâ€™t worry about language; plain and simple sentence prayers touch the heart of God. We are his children and he loves to hear from us!
So what does this mean for us in the academy? What might it look like to be specific about the schools we either attend or teach for? There may be specific students or professors who may be struggling or that we are having a hard time connecting with. Bring those names before the Lord asking for his guidance for you and them. We can also pray for specific needs in our departments or schools. And of course, we can include college or university administration and staff as they are important to higher education as well. It may be helpful to jot down a few things that are on your heart to help to keep the focus. Simple prayers and praying for specific individuals bring needs before our loving and benevolent God.
Donâ€™t Go It Alone
Another way to strengthen our prayer lives is to spend time in prayer with other believers. Yes, that means we will need to get comfortable praying out loud. But remember, God is not looking for perfection in speech, just willing and obedient hearts who realize we need him in all areas of our lives. This may feel awkward at first, but as the group prays, the presence of the Holy Spirit will unify hearts and minds.
But how will we find someone to pray with? Well, pray! Ask God to bring someone to you who may have the same concerns and burdens you do. This is important for both students and faculty as peer groups encourage us and stand with us when we struggle. The only caution here is that if there are specific individuals or situations prayed over in the group, that information is NOT shared outside of the prayer group. Whatâ€™s prayed in the group stays in the group!
This is just one example of how to begin thinking about developing a deeper and richer prayer life. There are no shortages of prayers needed on our college and university campuses, especially for safety. Prayer not only makes us more aware of the needs of our community, it also builds our relationship with Christ as we seek to become mature believers. It is the one of the most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal against the evil one.
Jesus prayed regularly and often. He taught his disciples through his words and actions. The disciples taught the early church about the power of prayer and the cycle has continued through the ages. Remember, God does not need long, wordy or polished prayers, he just wants to hear from us and talk with us. Prayer draws us ever closer to the heart of our heavenly Father!
Here are a few resources that may be helpful:
Moms in Prayer/Teachers in Prayer: https://momsinprayer.org/get-involved/join-a-group/college-praying-moms/
Collegiate Day of Prayer: https://collegiatedayofprayer.org
Every Campus: https://everycampus.com/
Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005.
Claiborne, Shane, Jonathan Wilson-Hardgrove and Enuma Okoro. Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
1One resource for different methods of prayer is Adele Ahlberg Calhounâ€™s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us (InterVarsity, 2005).