photo by Tara Newman, Sela Photography

Prayer is a tough discipline for many of us. I’m not sure anyone feels like they do it well. We want to feel God’s presence, know and understand His will, pray with more authority, and see results.

Using scripture, such as the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, and others as a launching pad for repentance and intercession are helpful practices. Focusing on the reality of God’s presence helps reassure us this is a two-way conversation. Praying in response to God’s voice of comfort, or direction when we read the Bible is another great prayer tip. We can also journal, practice breath prayers, keep a diary recording His answers, grab a friend for conversational prayer, and fall on our faces in times of desperate need.

photo by Tam Hulbert

All these and other prayer tools have been such a help to me, and yet for a while I have felt as dry as an empty corn stalk. I’m doing the work, but have missed feeling the strong presence of the Spirit. Then one little phrase from God’s Word transformed my prayer life with a picture of how the Lord wants us to approach prayer.

Just before His arrest, Jesus took His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what was coming, yet His soul was in conflict. His mission—to take on the sins of mankind and die for us on the cross loomed immanent. His death would pay the debt no amount of sacrificing or rule keeping on our part could ever achieve. Even so, He dreaded the moment of separation from the Father.

So He called a prayer meeting, taking Peter, James, and John further into the Garden.  “He said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:38, NIV). What did they do? Did they pray scripture, or softly sing psalms to encourage Him? Did they cry out to God in bold intercession? Nope. They did what we so often do—they fell asleep.

However, Jesus had told them to, “Watch with Me.” To keep watch means to stand vigil, stay alert, which we struggle to do when our minds wander and our eyelids grow heavy. The key word is “Me.” We are to keep watch with Jesus; be there with Him. He intercedes for us along with our Interpreter, the Holy Spirit, and we’re there to accompany them in prayer.

“Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us… In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:34, 26-27).

He is no longer in the Garden of suffering, but in the heavenly realms sitting at the right hand of God. For me, that changes everything.

photo by Karyn Barnett

 I may be at a loss to know how to pray for an individual or situation, but if I bring it to Jesus He knows just what to say. This quote has helped me over the years when I don’t know how to pray. “He prayed as he breathed, forming no words and making no specific requests, only holding in his heart, like broken birds in cupped hands, all those people who were in stress or grief (Ellis Peter in A Morbid Taste for Bones). I hold them out in childlike faith and cry, “Help, Lord. They need you.”

Now, this epiphany in Jesus’ words from the Garden complete the image. “Come pray with me. Watch with me. Anguish over the devastation of sin and give yourself fully to the Father’s will. Bring me the ones you love, your broken heart, your confusion and doubt. I’ll lead; you follow.”

Some of the prayer tips I mentioned above may be unfamiliar to you. I hope you will try some new prayer tools and experience His delight as you keep watch with our Savior:

From my garden, where I like to pray as I work
  • Use scripture as a launch pad: There are so many great prayers in the Bible, as well as wonderful verses you can make your own. Fill in your name and those of the people or situations you are praying for and watch scripture come alive.
  • Focus on God’s presence: Some people like to set a chair beside them as a reminder that God is right there with them. Find whatever works for you to recognize His nearness.
  • Pray in response to Bible reading: Rather than plowing through a certain amount of reading every morning, I would rather stop and respond as I go. This definitely slows progress, but it is more of a conversation that way. Stop to ask for His forgiveness, for understanding, or say a hearty “You said it, Lord!”
  • Journal: This can be anything from your own original prayers and poetry, to love notes to God.
  • Breath prayers: We can pray anytime, anywhere; breath prayers keep us in constant communication with God. Speak short phrases of praise, calls for help, and intercession for people you encounter throughout the day.
  • Keep a prayer diary: Keeping a record of the date, prayer request, and how God answered each one is a real faith booster. Whenever you begin to doubt if prayer works, you can look back and see the evidence!
  • Conversational prayer: My girlfriend and I meet every week for prayer walk. We pray one topic at a time and go back and forth (like a conversation). You’ll be amazed how quickly the time passes and how the fast pace helps you stay focused. .
  • Change your posture: The Bible mentions praying face down, with arms raised, kneeling, and during work or travel. Changing the position of our bodies not only helps us keep our focus, but also reflects the essence of our prayer.
  • Fast: This is one I didn’t mention above, and something not many practice in the western world. Yet Jesus said His disciples would fast and that when we sacrifice food or pleasure to seek His will, we will have increased power and authority in spiritual warfare.

I hope to hear many exciting reports of how God is changing your prayer life as you keep watch with Him.

#howtopray #watchwithme #JesusintheGarden #intercession #prayerdisciplines