Statistics from a Christianity Today survey found that 48 percent of the Christians surveyed were unhappy with their prayer life, 34 percent revealed that they did not know how to pray, while 31 percent were not sure that God ever responded to their prayers. For anyone who has ever questioned the practice of prayer or become frustrated with a lack of spiritual fervor, Organizing Your Prayer Closet offers a holistic, new approach to revitalizing this important spiritual discipline.
Organizing Your Prayer Closet both inspires and equips with Scripture, inspirational quotes, and space for journaling. In the first section, author Gina Duke illuminates the importance and power of prayer as the best connection to the source of all strength. Then, she breaks down tough spiritual concepts into practical exercises with 52 weekly worksheets that guide and equip you on a yearlong prayer journey. Each week you will be challenged to complete lessons on interacting with scripture, overcoming prayer hurdles, learning to pray authentically, holding yourself accountable, and more.
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Organizing Your Prayer Closet
A New and Life-Changing Way To Pray
By Gina Duke
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Gina Duke
All rights reserved.
PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING
Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy! Know that the Lord is God— he made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture. Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise! Thank him! Bless his name! Because the Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever; his faithfulness lasts generation after generation. —Psalm 100
Prayer should always begin with praise and thanksgiving. Psalm 100 tells us to "enter his gates with thanks; / enter his courtyards with praise! / Thank him! Bless his name!" (v. 4). As you begin to organize your prayer closet, survey your day to recount the things you want to honor God for in praise. It may be that you received a kind word from a coworker, or you realized at some point during your day that God's presence was evident in a particular situation. Thanksgiving brings a humble posture to prayer. In reflection on God's blessings and many provisions, a thankful heart is appropriate.
In church, have you ever noticed that sometimes there is an awkward silence just before a congregational prayer? It usually follows the question, "Does anyone have a praise to report?" There are always plenty of prayer requests, but typically few praises. Unfortunately, I think this may be the norm in a lot of churches. I'm always upset when no one, including myself, can think of even one good, noteworthy thing God has done lately. It is incredible. God is definitely doing great things in my life, but with the everyday hustle and bustle and a multitude of distractions, it is hard to get a clear thought for an appropriate response to that question.
Since I began journaling my praises along with those things I am thankful for, I can more readily give an account of God's goodness. The department of Praise and Thanksgiving is the first area to review as you begin to organize your prayer closet before a formal time of prayer. Praise and thanksgiving are the segue into God's presence.
Praise = Presence
Psalm 22:3 states, "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel" (KJV). This gives me a marvelous word picture of God's presence resting above the voices of a worshiping congregation—or a worshiping individual. And when I can feel God's presence in such a manner it is incomparable to anything joyful, exciting, or awesome this world can offer. To feel as if I am truly standing near God is something I seek!
You and I live in a rough world where people are randomly killed in movie theaters, spouses are abandoned, and children are abused by their parents. To have a moment where I can feel engulfed by God's presence and escape into the heavenlies for a divinely imposed break is priceless to me.
With some creative license I'd like to stretch Psalm 22:3 into another connotation by rephrasing it this way: The more I praise and thank God, the more I will experience God's presence in my life. This thought raises the value of worship. There have been times when I have desperately cried out to God to feel His presence in my life, times when I felt distant, disconnected, and full of worry. Scripture says to "come near to God, and he will come near to you" (James 4:8). One way I know to come near to God during these difficult times is through praise. Maybe this is why we are taught by Jesus Himself in the Lord's Prayer to start with praise, so that God's presence will come close (Matthew 6:9-13).
In the human experience of checking off lists and climbing the corporate ladder, it is valuable for me to acknowledge that God is also working on my behalf in ways I cannot always see. This understanding reassures me that I am loved and cared for in a tremendous way, no matter how things may appear. As I capture those moments in my day where God has divinely interjected Himself, I am reminded that my life is about something more than to-do lists and personal success. For me worship is a place to pause and admire the one Person who can never fail me and loves me unconditionally.
When Praise Seems Elusive
Whenever I am having trouble beginning my time of prayer with praise, I ask myself the same question Jesus asked in Matthew 22:42: "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?"
Your answer to this question might surprise you. Think about it—who is Jesus to you? I was surprised by my own revelations as I stewed over this question.
The Pharisees who surrounded Jesus that day answered Him, "The son of David" (v. 42). Jesus being a son of David held special meaning to the Jews, just as Jesus' personal meaning to us individually can be just as special. For me, it all started with a friend with whom I was working on a ministry project. Her constant dialogue about Jesus stood out to me. I considered myself a pretty radical follower of Christ, but there was something about her real, ongoing love affair with Jesus that disturbed me. Why?
Because I realized I wasn't sure I felt the same way about Jesus. I had received salvation, but from listening to my friend, I became keenly aware that something was not right on my end. So, I did what most of us do when we become uncomfortable with a confronting subject—I shelved it. Some time later the Holy Spirit confronted me with the pointed question from Matthew 22:42; it was as if the Spirit was demanding, "Gina, what do you think about the Christ?" The question was so convicting that I was startled by its intensity. Over the next few months, this question stayed with me, and I began to hash out my thoughts during my daily commute to work.
This wonderful question led me through a beautiful journey of thought and reflection. Over the years, between the time I "shelved" my inferior thoughts about Jesus and the Spirit's nudging me to answer the question, I had seen good times and bad, ups and downs—but Jesus had seen me through all of them. While I've never experienced a real tragedy, I can identify with the brokenhearted. I have had a couple of good blows to the heart that I was sure would do me in, but for Jesus. So as I thought about what Christ meant to me, I knew one thing—Jesus was the Lover of my soul. I'd learned that whatever my emotional need may have been, Jesus could fill it. With Jesus as the Lover of my soul, I know there will never be a day when I am not good or pretty enough for Him. I never have to worry that He is going to leave me. His love is complete; there is nothing lacking. I am confident in His love. Yes, Jesus is the Lover of my soul! It is from the deep places in our hearts that our authentic praise comes forth. From an emotional standpoint, what do you think about the Christ?
This thought-provoking question of Matthew 22:42 has been transformational in my praise and worship experience, to say the least. I once did not know how to start my prayers, but by answering this simple question, I can now quickly enter into an authentic time of praise and thanksgiving, giving Jesus the honor He deserves and God expects. This question was once overwhelming to me, but now every time I think about it, it draws a smile to my face. I am reminded of just how wonderful Jesus is. So allow me to ask you this: what do you think about the Christ? Can you embrace Jesus in such a way to allow Him to meet your needs? Maybe Jesus is your Healer, Strong Tower, Friend, or Provider. Whatever He has become to you, praise Him as you enter prayer.
Why "Boring" Is Good
In 2000, my husband of less than one year, Jamie, almost died from a sudden illness produced by an atypical strand of pneumonia. Prior to his illness, I had been in a rut. Every morning on my way to work, I was filled with dread and complaint. But for the fifteen days I spent at the hospital as my dearly beloved's life hung in the balance, I would have gladly driven that stretch of interstate headed to work as if it were any boring old day. That experience of watching my loved one suffer taught me to love "boring." A day of my normal comings and goings without the unwanted interruption of bad news is the kind of day for which I am thankful. It means all is well.
In moments when I am tempted to digress to that place of dissatisfaction, I remember those long days and nights of camping out in a waiting room full of strangers, while my husband lay unconscious in the Intensive Care Unit. Troubles of sickness, loss, and disappointment distract us momentarily from the running, working, and playing we do for the majority of our lives. Those dreadful moments teach us to be thankful when all is as it should be.
Although happy moments readily come to mind when I am viewing this section of the Prayer Closet Organizer, the very base of my gratefulness rests in the days where I am simply thankful that I can pay my bills, have dinner with my family, and enjoy the day I have planned, even if it is not very "interesting." Valuing ho-hum—because it indicates the absence of deep difficulty—has fostered a life of contentment. And when I am content with my life, I am not longing for something else bigger, better, or newer. Thanksgiving is like a comforting blanket of protection over my life.
When I am discontent with what I have or with my lot in life and begin to live in want of pointless things, I am prone to have a black, thankless heart. Paul wrote, "Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren't acceptable for believers. Instead, there should be thanksgiving" (Ephesians 5:4). May my lips be disciplined by the words of thanksgiving. I have often thought it would be a good experiment to try phrasing all my words in the context of a thanksgiving. Would I be less prone to complain about someone if I am sharing my gratitude for that person with another? I think so.
Thanksgiving Is a Safeguard
Thanksgiving is a great antidote to spiritual atrophy in word, thought, and deed. After realizing how many times thanksgiving is strategically placed in Scripture, I began to place more emphasis on being thankful during my prayer time. Romans 1:21 states that because people did not honor or thank God "their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened." In response to this Scripture I particularly like to try to be thankful for the very thing I want to complain about. That is where the real, true seed of thanksgiving is cultivated. If I am able to thank God only during the good days, then my posture of gratitude is not truly grounded.
I like to spend money; if you don't believe me, just ask my husband. He is apt to show you the pie chart of my monthly spending habits that he often shares with me when we have the "money talk." Thanks to his "encouragement," I am doing much better. Still, my husband continually keeps me in check. As you might guess, I am prone to complain that I can't buy everything I want. I currently have seven different "dream home" boards on Pinterest, not to mention the ones I have for restoring furniture, remodeling, and redecorating, plus ones for dream vacations and must-have stylish clothes. I have actually found Pinterest to be very therapeutic for facilitating fake spending sprees, but when I get to that place where I am really unhappy about the clothes in my closet or the outdated look of my kitchen cabinets, I know that I must reframe my thoughts under the calming influence of thankfulness.
Years ago, my elder daughter, a senior in high school, announced that she was pregnant. Today, she and her husband have two beautiful little boys, a lovely home, a solid marriage, and are serving Jesus; the enemy underestimated the power of my God. Still, I will admit that the first few months after finding out about my daughter's pregnancy were difficult. My response? I kept thanking God for various things about my daughter. On a regular basis, out loud, I thanked God she wasn't sick, addicted to drugs, missing, or spiritually lost. My husband would ask me why I kept saying these things, and I would answer, "Because whatever is going on, it can always be worse." That was how I kept my situation in perspective. Nothing comes to me that has not been allowed by God. God is sovereign, so even when the hard days come, I want to be thankful. Do you currently have a situation in which you need to think of some thankful thoughts?
I encourage you to resist the temptation to gloss over this section of your Prayer Closet Organizer. Praise and thanksgiving will reframe your thoughts and draw God near.
Organizing Your Prayer Closet
Take a few moments and ponder the following, then fill in the lines on your Prayer Closet Organizer worksheet.
What is my praise for the Lord today?
What am I especially thankful for today?
What good thing has happened today for which I want give God glory and honor?
What unpleasant thing has happened today to which I want to attach thankful thoughts?
Some of my examples are:
Praise & Thanksgiving What may I praise and thank God for today?
"Bless the Lord! The God of our salvation supports us day after day!" —Psalm 68:19
As I enter into my prayer time with the Prayer Closet Organizer, I take the Scripture in the header (each section of the Prayer Closet Organizer has a correlating Scripture in the header) and speak it to God in my prayer of specific praises and thanksgiving.
"Bless the Lord! / The God of our salvation supports us day after day!" (Psalm 68:19). Heavenly Father, I come before You with praise and thanksgiving, exalting Your Son, Jesus, the Lover of my soul. Thank You for Your goodness and mercy, and the truth of Psalm 68:19. I am thrilled for Jana and give You glory for blessing her with this baby. I am overwhelmed with joy because of all of those precious souls who received salvation during the Honduran mission trip; I am confident there is rejoicing in heaven as well. I thank You for the spiritual progress being made in Lindsey's life right now. May she continue to be drawn to You through God's people at church. Thank You for leading me to my new job. Even though the hours are long, I am at peace in knowing You have placed me there. Thank You for Your continual leading in my life; You make all the difference. I praise You and I thank You!
Yes, worship of the loving God is man's whole reason for existence. —A. W. TozerCHAPTER 2
FREEDOM AND FORGIVENESS
This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with Him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn't be slaves to sin anymore, because a person who has died has been freed from sin's power. —Romans 6:6-7
Why care about sin? For one, God will not be able to use me to His fullest extent if I am continually living as a sinner. Moreover, I will never grow into a mature Christian. We must be attuned to our spiritual imperfections.
I mentioned in chapter 1 the time my husband, Jamie, became deathly ill. That illness occurred because he had been ignoring his body's warnings. Despite a nagging cough and his inability to sleep at night, he kept working, traveling, and treating his symptoms with allergy medicine. He kept on this way until he landed in the Intensive Care Unit. His mother, a nurse, said that he must have been out of touch with his body and unable to recognize what turned out to be a dangerous, life-threatening illness.
And so it is with many of us, when we become out of touch with our flesh and the sickness of sin spreads to destroy our spiritual health. We may be going through all the motions of obedience by attending every church service or volunteering for every good initiative as expected, and still we may be ignoring some important symptoms.
Freedom is a word we can all truly love and appreciate. Because of Jesus' death on the cross, we no longer have to live in bondage to the sins of our flesh or as victims of the enemy. God wants more for us than we even want for ourselves. Second Corinthians 5:17 says that I am a "new creation" in Christ Jesus. I am different now, from who I used to be and from this world. God has set my feet on a new path where I desire to be more like Jesus. If I am freed from sin, I cannot be content to act like my old self. I want to be diligent in my process of becoming more like Jesus, more like the person God wants to me to be.
Now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Don't lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. (Colossians 3:8-10)
At some point, we all have to deal with our junk. So let's get started. When I look at my issues, I see a sometimes loose tongue, overactive bouts of self-centeredness, and some lingering memories of schoolgirl regrets that tend to set me back. Most of us go through our days without realizing what we are displaying to the world. We are not aware of our actions and reactions and how they can bring a reproach to the name of Christ and the local body of believers with whom we serve. We must look at our issues, and bring them before the Lord, our Healer and Deliverer. I did not become a Christian just so I can stay tripped up in sin! Neither did you. Here is where the Prayer Closet Organizer comes in handy.
Excerpted from Organizing Your Prayer Closet by Gina Duke. Copyright © 2013 Gina Duke. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Praise and Thanksgiving 5
Chapter 2 Freedom and Forgiveness 15
Chapter 3 Prayer Petitions 25
Chapter 4 God Answers 35
Chapter 5 At the Right Time 45
Chapter 6 My Heart/My Passion 55
Chapter 7 Ambassador Notes 65
Chapter 8 Insight and Updates 75
Chapter 9 Ears to Hear 85
Chapter 10 Faith and Follow-Through 95
Prayer Closet Organizer Worksheets 110