Creativity In Prayer
“I don’t think I’m reading the bible as much as I should.”
“Maybe I should pray more?”
“I can’t worship on my own at Uni because it seems selfish to my housemates.”
“I don’t have time to pray before 9am lectures.”
Living as a Christian at University is really difficult. Alongside learning your way around a new city, learning about your new friends and most of all… learning how to cook Asda Price baked beans; you have to find a way of balancing a real-adult-life with your faith. More than that; you have to find a way of making your faith your real-adult-life.
There are particular aspects of Christianity that can be difficult to 'keep-up' at university. Prayer, Worship and Reading the bible are essential activities for believers, but how much of this stuff should we be doing? What’s more important: a 9am lecture, or finishing the Old Testament before tomorrow? Praying for my housemates, or cooking them breakfast? Subjecting my housemates to Matt Redman, or listening to the latest Kendrick album with them?
The truth is, all of this stuff is important. However, after a recent discussion with my student friends, some questions came up about making sure we are still worshiping in our own time, and still praying for our housemates – even when it seems like they’re way too far from God to even care. As an ex-Student, and a slightly ‘out-there-creative’, I’ve seen some interesting ideas from Christian friends in an aim to keep up with prayer, worship and scriptures alongside their studies. Somewhere in-amongst all of these ideas were some really great, genuinely helpful ways to pray, worship and read the bible at University. The point of this blog is not to give students answers on how to be the most holy Christian going, but to offer a few creative pointers that have helped me deepen my relationship with Jesus while studying for my degree.
Prayer is the first topic I wanted to cover. It is something we all do. Even non-believers pray from time to time. Yet, when was the last time you prayed through a list of things? Or prayed for your Country’s leaders? Or just thanked God – with no strings attached, no requests? We see Jesus teach on prayer a lot.
Luke chapter 11 sees Jesus teach using ‘the Lord’s prayer’ – a framework we’re given by Jesus to utilise for our own prayer life. For me, when I was growing up, I used the bare-bones of the Lord’s pray in almost every prayer I prayed. The old classic: Thanks, Sorry, Please. Jesus also teaches us about the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1, giving us the go ahead to keep on asking God, begging, until it gets annoying. In John 14:13 Jesus tells us anything we ask in his name that glorifies God, he will do for us. Exciting, right…? A recent revelation of mine, after reading ‘A Praying Life’ by Paul Miller, is that we should be more child-like in prayer. Miller makes reference to Mark 10:14, when Jesus takes children into his arms, explaining that the kingdom of God belongs to children. Miller then uses the example of Jesus praying in Gethsemane, crying 'Abba, Father' - comparing this cry of need to a child calling his father-figure. If Jesus, the Son of God, still cries out in pain and anguish to the Father, how much more could we - helpless sinners - cry and ask out of desperation the Father to intervene. Are we too formal in times of need? Too polite?
Praying at Uni is difficult. It’s weird to talk to someone that you can’t see. A bunch of Christians praying at the same time on a Sunday morning is normal to us. But to think about praying for a long time at home, out loud, or with our non-Christian housemates - that’s weirder. No one else at uni has a prayer wall, or spends half an hour before bed, praying. It’s weird to be the odd one out.
In addition to this, it’s hard when we don’t see an answer to prayer. If we don’t see an answer to healing, or if we’re praying for someone to accept Jesus into their life and nothing seemingly happens. There are countless scriptural examples in which we’re called to pray for healing: Luke 18:1 (we should not give up in prayer), Matthew 8:16 (Jesus heals many), 1 Corinthians 12:9 (the gift of healing to Christians) and James 5:15 (prayers in faith, will heal the sick) - to name a few. There’s legitimate reason to believe God can heal through us and does answer our prayers - but what about when this doesn’t happen. If we’re praying for someone’s faith-journey, and the bible says in Luke 18:8 we’d see justice in our life and in John 15:7 we’re told whatever we ask for would be done. It’s hard to take when we don’t see breakthrough in a situation if this is what we believe.
The truth is we can take heart from what the bible says when it seems our prayers are going unanswered. We can feel encouraged by looking toward the Old Testament, to the promise made to Israel, and the years of hardship, pruning and growing that were done in the wilderness and in exile. To find comfort in knowing that God took a long time before Israel felt assured in their promises. Furthermore, although applicable in its context as purely aimed at Babylon, we can learn about God’s character through Jeremiah 29:11, in that God has a plan. If we cannot foresee it, it does not mean the plan is null.
Another example of keeping faith in prayer is simply that Jesus says in John 14:13-14, ‘And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the son. You may ask me anything in my name, and I will do it.’ This is a qualified statement from Jesus. This is not Jesus saying we can get anything we want by just finishing a prayer with ‘in Jesus name’. Our prayers should be those that bring glory to the Father through Jesus. In Jeremiah 32:27 God says: ‘I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?’ – a statement that shows the power of the father, qualifying his power. Obviously, Jesus qualifies his statement in John 14 by saying ‘so that the father may be glorified in the son’, because our prayers must glorify the Father, and as we see in 1 John 5:14, God hears us if our prayers are in line with his will. It goes without saying there is power in the name of Jesus. The power to cast out demons, to heal and to forgive – evidence for this is found throughout Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. I personally take great faith in this because it shows the sovereignty of the Father outworked in the Son, and that same power, we can ask for through prayer.
Finally, in scripture we see that God has ultimate control. Ecclesiastes 3:1 states this: ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ 2 Peter 3:8 states this: ‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ Acts 1:7 states this: ‘It is not for you to know the time or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’ It is clear that the Lord has time under control, although not by any earthly method. Therefore taking encouragement from this as students is crucial. We believe in a God that is Sovereign.
How do we outwork this as students then?
In a creative sense, this is not going to be a list of activities that will get you closer to God. The creativity comes from your realisation that prayer is necessary. The creativity will come from your realisation that prayer is a conversation. This will be freeing for you.
If Jesus needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray?
Because prayer should be a constant conversation, where we bare all to God - we shouldn’t need a crazy, fandangled system through which we pray about every different area of our friends’ lives. If it’s on our hearts, we should be sharing it with God. Take Hannah’s example in the book of 1 Samuel. Hannah was not able to give birth. It was bringing great shame upon her through her marriage. She wants a child. Hannah prays and the author writes ‘Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard.’ Hannah says ‘I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.’ God answers her prayers and gives her a child. Not only that, she gave birth to Samuel; the last Judge of Israel, a Judge to make way to the Kings of Israel, but more importantly, a Judge that will foreshadow the true King of Israel, Jesus.
God cares about our hopes and dreams. God cares about what is on our hearts.
Therefore, be creative in how you carry out this conversation. How you share with God what is on your heart. If that means grabbing a cork-board and putting photos on of people you can be praying for, do so. If that means praying as you’re waiting for your lecture to start, do so. If that means praying for everyone who appears on the first ten pictures of your Instagram, do so.
Just be praying.
The point is – prayer is a conversation. And God listens.
No two people are going to pray in the same way. Just start with what’s on your heart and follow Jesus’ example.
About the Author
Ben is a member of the City Students team and currently participating in the Intentional Discipleship (ID) course at City this year. Ben attended Canterbury Christ Church University over the past 3 years, during which time he studied Primary Education. Hobbies include shredding guitar and drinking fancy teas.