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Before Amen by Max Lucado

Get an inside look at Max Lucado's prayer life, the power of a pocket prayer and more from this excerpt of "Before Amen," Lucado's book on prayer.

Hello, my name is Max and I'm a recovering prayer wimp.

I doze off when I pray. My thoughts zig, then zag, then zig again. Distractions swarm like gnats on a summer night. If attention deficit disorder applies to prayer, I am afflicted. When I pray, I think of a thousand things I need to do.

I forget the one thing I set out to do: pray.

We All Pray ... Some

Some people excel in prayer. They inhale heaven and exhale God. They are the SEAL Team Six of intercession. They would rather pray than sleep. Why is it that I sleep when I pray? They belong to the PGA: Prayer Giants Association. I am a card-carrying member of the PWA: Prayer Wimps Anonymous.

Can you relate? It's not that we don't pray. We all pray some. On tearstained pillows, we pray. In grand liturgies, we pray.

This week more of us will pray than exercise or work. Surveys indicate that one in five unbelievers prays daily. Just in case?

We pray to stay sober, centered or solvent. We pray when the lump is deemed malignant. When the money runs out before the month does. We all pray ... some.

Praying with More Fervency

But wouldn't we all like to pray ... More? Better? Deeper? Stronger? With more fire, faith or fervency?

Yet we have kids to feed, bills to pay, deadlines to meet. The calendar attacks our good intentions like a tiger on a rabbit. We want to pray, but when? We want to pray, but why?

We might as well admit it. Prayer is odd, peculiar. Speaking into space. Lifting words into the sky. We can't even get the cable company to answer us, yet God will? The doctor is too busy, but God isn't? We have our doubts about prayer.

And we have our checkered history with prayer: unmet expectations, unanswered requests. We can barely genuflect for the scar tissue on our knees. God, to some, is the ultimate heartbreaker. Why keep tossing the coins of our longings into a silent pool? He jilted me once ... but not twice.

The Peculiar Puzzle of Prayer

We aren't the first to struggle. The sign-up sheet for Prayer 101 contains the apostles John, James, Andrew and Peter. When one of Jesus' disciples requested, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1, NIV), none of the others objected. No one walked away saying, "Hey, I have prayer figured out." The first followers of Jesus needed prayer guidance.

In fact, the only tutorial they ever requested was on prayer. They could have asked for instructions on many topics: bread multiplying, speech making, storm stilling. Jesus raised people from the dead. But a "How to Vacate the Cemetery" seminar? His followers never called for one. But they did want Him to do this: "Lord, teach us to pray."

Might their interest have had something to do with the jaw-dropping promises Jesus attached to prayer? "Ask and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7, NIV). "If you believe, you will get anything you ask for in prayer" (Matthew 21:22, NCV).

Jesus never attached such power to other endeavors: "Plan and it will be given to you." "You will get anything you work for." Those words are not in the Bible. But these are - "If you remain in me and follow my teachings, you can ask anything you want, and it will be given to you" (John 15:7, NCV).

Jesus Gave Stunning Prayer Promises

Jesus set a compelling prayer example. Jesus prayed before He ate. He prayed for children. He prayed for the sick. He prayed with thanks. He prayed with tears. He had made the planets and shaped the stars, yet He prayed.

He is the Lord of angels and Commander of heavenly hosts, yet He prayed. He is coequal with God, the exact representation of the Holy One, and yet He prayed. He prayed in the desert, cemetery and garden. "He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35, NKJV).

This dialogue must have been common among his friends:

"Has anyone seen Jesus?"

"Oh, you know. He's up to the same thing."

"Praying again?

"Yep. He's been gone since sunrise."

The Power of a Pocket-Sized Prayer

Do you think the disciples made the prayer-power connection? "Lord, teach us to pray like that. Teach us to find strength in prayer. To banish fear in prayer. To defy storms in prayer. To come off the mountain of prayer with the authority of a prince."

What about you? The disciples faced angry waves and a watery grave. You face angry clients, a turbulent economy, raging seas of stress and sorrow. "Lord," we still request, "teach us to pray."

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He gave them a prayer. Not a lecture on prayer. Not the doctrine of prayer. He gave them a quotable, repeatable, portable prayer (Luke 11:1-4).

Could you use the same? It seems to me that the prayers of the Bible can be distilled into one. The result is a simple, easy-to-remember, pocket-size prayer: Father, You are good. I need help. Heal me and forgive me. They need help. Thank You. In Jesus' name, amen.

Let this prayer punctuate your day. As you begin your morning, (ITAL) Father, You are good. As you commute to work or walk the hallways at school, (ITAL) I need help. As you wait in the grocery line, (ITAL) They need help. Keep this prayer in your pocket as you pass through the day.

Allowing God to Teach You to Pray

Prayer, for most of us, is not a matter of a month-long retreat or even an hour of meditation. Prayer is conversation with God while driving to work or awaiting an appointment or before interacting with a client. Prayer can be the internal voice that directs the external action.

This much is sure: God will teach you to pray. Don't think for a minute that He is glaring at you from a distance with crossed arms and a scowl, waiting for you to get your prayer life together. Just the opposite.

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you will eat with me" (Revelation 3:20, NCV).

A Recovering Prayer Wimp

He is changing me! Yes, I am a prayer wimp, but a recovering prayer wimp. Not where I long to be, but not where I was. My time in prayer has become my time of power. The Pocket Prayer has become a cherished friend. Its phrases linger in my thoughts like a favorite melody.

When we invite God into our world, He walks in. He brings a host of gifts: joy, patience, resilience. Anxieties come, but they don't stick. Fears surface and then depart. Regrets land on the windshield, but then comes the wiper of prayer.

The devil still hands me stones of guilt, but I turn and give them to Christ. I'm completing my sixth decade, yet I'm wired with energy. I am happier, healthier and more hopeful than I have ever been.

Struggles come, for sure. But so does God.

Prayer: A Simple, Heartfelt Conversation

Prayer is not a privilege for the pious, not the art of a chosen few. Prayer is simply a heartfelt conversation between God and His child. My friend, He wants to talk with you.

Even now, as you read these words, He taps at the door. Open it. Welcome Him in. Let the conversation begin.

Learn more about Before Amen: "Max Lucado joins readers on a journey to the very heart of biblical prayer, offering hope for doubts and confusion. Breaking down prayers in the Bible, Lucado reminds readers that prayer is not just a privilege for the pious, and we aren't the first ones to struggle with it." Excerpted from Before Amen: The Power of A Simple Prayer by Max Lucado. Copyright © 2014. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

With more than 100 million products in print, Max Lucado is one of America's favorite writers. He serves the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Denalyn.
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