Beyond Shopping List Prayers

- posted by Ian Thompson


“I wish I knew some other way to pray than to list off a bunch of requests to God. It is the only way I have been taught to pray,” a theological student confided with me recently. “I don’t want to treat God like a waiter in a restaurant, ordering the things that I like and complaining about what I don’t like, so I have stopped my shopping list prayers but I don’t know what to replace it with. Will your course, “Theology of Discernment” teach me how to pray?”             


“Would you be content with about two dozen other kinds of prayer?” I asked. “You should find two or three or even more that will ignite your prayer life. I know exactly what you are fighting with. Intercession is only one type of prayer taught in Scripture but I’d only been taught about Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (another word for Intercession). While that gives me a couple more options, it seems to me that the prayers I read in the Bible run deeper and have far more variety than the ACTS acronym suggest.”             

I hope this student takes the class because I am excited about the changes in the past two years in my devotional life and hope that this will happen for him, too.  Reading Scripture is now much more like getting a script from God for my life that engages me in the hard work of attentive reading, character development, dialogue with God about His interpretation of the direction I should take my character, practicing the script and then getting ready for the actual performance of the script. Prayer has moved from a shopping list recitation to varied responses of joy, doubt, argument, courage and gratefulness. I’ve engaged in prayers that focus my thoughts on drinking in the beauty of God, embracing His deep comfort, shuddering at the depravity still lurking under the surface of what I allow others to see and moments when God lets me glimpse glorious truth about His methods. I’m also learning to appreciate the numerous times when the Spirit in my heart utters prayers too deep for words and am becoming comfortable with several apophatic expressions of prayer.            

I wish I had learned these things 40 years ago and yet ecstatic that I’ve learned it now. I don’t know if you can sign up for this winter semester class at Taylor but I’d love to have you enroll or audit the class. I am going to work on other additional short online segments that we can offer online in January, since our web activity information shows that many people who view our website live in other parts of the world. Our blogs for the next couple of months will focus on other expressions of prayer that I hope will expand your prayer life dramatically.             


I hope that you will download our office prayers as they also will help you move beyond shopping list prayers. John’s gospel account draws me into the heart and soul of Jesus’ life here on earth. I feel as I soak myself in those living words as if I have a front row seat to the inner life of Jesus with His disciples and the conversations flowing out of their encounters. Jesus reveals how we can commune or abide with Him – no that is not even close to being accurate! That is our modern or even postmodern way of saying it. Actually He commands His disciples to commune with Him. The alternative to abiding in Christ is that we shrivel up and die and are thrown into the fire (John 15:6). You see, there really are only two options. You either learn to intimately converse with Jesus in ways that will shake up your life so that you let go of other loves and get to know Him or your spiritual life shrivels up and becomes fuel good only for the fire. It really is an either/or proposition if you want to be a disciple of Jesus. Come on out of the admiring crowd and engage with Jesus. He will ignite your life with fire and turn you into the kind of people that the apostles became – ambassadors for Jesus throughout the entire world who turned things upside down! The achievements of the apostles have hardly ever been duplicated but I believe with all my heart that they can be if modern disciples learn to abide with Jesus as deeply as Peter, James and John.

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