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Undisciplined Disciplined Prayer

This article suggests undisciplined disciplined prayer can be life changing. In fact, it has changed my life.
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Lord, Teach Us to Pray

This is the first of a year-long series of articles attempting to take a fresh Scriptural look at prayer. Many helpful articles focus on prayer effectiveness and setting prayer as a priority. However, this series will take a more diagnostic look at prayer.

How can we better understand the gracious opportunity for prayer in the life of a believer? How can we realize the opportunity for intimacy with our God? What can we do to make prayer a more powerful part of our personal and ecclesial lives?

Our sincere thanks to the brethren who have agreed to write these articles. We would also value your contributions by sending an email to the Editor. We’d be pleased to include your thoughts in future issues.
— Editor 

Recorded by Brother Chris Sales at the Collingwood Ecclesia in Collingwood, ON. 

Disciplined is a word that could sound rigid, or worse, robotic and heartless. That can’t be prayer!

On the other hand, “undisciplined” sounds all over the place, and mostly not in a good place. That can’t be prayer, either!

This article suggests undisciplined disciplined prayer can be life changing. In fact, it has changed my life. 

We get a good taste of disciplined prayer from other religious cultures. Some practices can be admired. The Muslim faith has five prayers daily, a ritual followed by approximately 1.5 billion people. Consult the Internet to find the time for prayer, as it changes with sunrise and sunset.

Conversely, the Jewish culture has three prayer times in a day. The times are not as rigid, but overall, it’s a rule, not a suggestion.

Additionally, many Eastern religions use a prayer mat to pray on. Sometimes the prayer mat must face a certain direction, such as Mecca for Muslims. It can also be a requirement to pray in a clean place.

Does this sound Biblical? Daniel is the example for three daily prayers (Dan 6:10). Let’s learn from the words of Jesus and see the good in these prayer practices.

What Does Jesus Say?

As usual, Jesus is our best example. His elegant teaching on the how-tos of prayer is in Matthew 6. It is in answer to a direct question from the disciples in Luke 11:1. But we will explore all of Matthew 6 because Jesus is teaching more than the actual “Lord’s Prayer.” Something special shows up first.

Here is my rephrasing of the first verses in Matthew 6:5-8. Remember that in Luke 11, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, prompting the giving of the Lord’s Prayer. But Jesus gives them a lot more than a model prayer. Here we go:

When you pray, here’s how I want you to do it. Find a quiet personal sanctuary so you won’t be in view of anyone. Simply be there with Him, you and Him alone. His rewards then come. The world is full of prayer advice about how to get something from God. Don’t follow anyone else. God knows what is needed.

So, here’s excellent advice for prayer from Jesus: Show up! That’s it; show up. Be there with Him. In this passage, Jesus assumes the true believer will pray. There’s never a good reason to not pray! I often hear that many feel inadequate in their prayer life, and it becomes infrequent.

They get tons of advice about prayer and examples in the Bible. But they end up feeling they don’t measure up. Jesus says, don’t get squashed by what other people do! He just wants you to show up with whatever you have. His teaching is the antidote for prayer inadequacy. You are in a quiet place, and nobody is looking!

This is the disciplined part. SHOW UP! Come with whatever you have, brilliant or not, lively or sleepy, eloquent or bumbling.

Here is my personal experience with disciplined prayer. I pray at certain times, and they are quite regular. But there are no rules. This routine started when I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Before cancer, I felt sleepy with God. From the wake-up call of my diagnosis, I began a morning and evening devotional practice. I now tell people that contracting cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Prayer is so important that I acutely feel a loss if something interrupts my alone time with God. It’s nothing I am obligated to do, but I thrive on it. Strangely, though, I think if it were a rule I had to follow, as it is in the Muslim and Jewish traditions, it would ruin the whole experience for me. So, setting aside time to pray really can be helpful, but you need self-motivation to read a book or article like this and apply the principles in your life.

Prayer is nothing I am obligated to do, but I thrive on it.

Also, there’s the idea of a prayer place, on a mat or a quiet place. I like to call it the sanctuary. Jesus says to find a closet. I know a brother who does use a closet! You see, I counsel men with addictions, and if someone is going to replace an addiction, it is best to replace it with a meaningful relationship with God and Jesus and with prayer as the center.

For the disciplined part of this, I recommend these men find a place in their life to go when doing their devotional prayer. Other prayers are great in any setting, but this sanctuary is for your devotional–or disciplined–prayer time.   

So, consider calling a separate place your sanctuary and using that space exclusively for prayer. It doesn’t have to be elegant or lofty. Maybe you can sit on a few special pillows in a corner, or a chair devoted for this, on your knees anywhere, or in your car at lunchtime by yourself. I’m smiling because I’ve prayed in all these spots over the years. Be creative! God loves being alone with us.

So, Jesus teaches discipline, but not in a way anyone would have guessed. He’s not giving us a formula. Rather, he’s telling us just to show up and connect quietly.

The Undisciplined Way of Prayer

The undisciplined part comes next. Jesus tells us not to follow anyone else. It’s your prayer to God!

If you are not rigid and yet able to pray, you will find disciplined prayer time undisciplined. It can change daily, and you can add and remove elements. I like what Jesus said; “God knows what is needed.” With that, it takes listening, which means there is no guarantee how any single prayer moment will go.  

My two points in this section are this: Be a good listener, and pray about things that resonate with you.

I can give examples. Lately, what resonates with me is I want to be kind. God’s kindness comes up in all of Paul’s letters. When I pray about being kind, it sends a little tingle up and down my spine. I say, if it resonates with you, pray that prayer!

To add just a little color, consider the positive approach to asking for something, which is to believe you have it already. (Mark 11:24). So, affirm when you pray that “I am kind.” These are called affirmations, and I include a bunch in my devotionals.

Since the programs and advice of others are not influencing us, you will have an ever-changing (hence undisciplined) program of devotional prayer. I have found that my devotionals go longer and longer. New thoughts, experiences, and awarenesses will breed new ideas, and if they resonate, it’s got to go into your prayer!  

After Jesus instructs us to not pray the way others tell us to, he follows with the Lord’s Prayer. I believe he was preparing us for our own devotional prayers. The Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful starting place for me. I pray it first every day in my devotions. Others, like my wife, prefer to end their devotionals with it. It fits anywhere! I also love the way Psalm 23 fits anywhere. Prayers like these are timeless. They can weave in and out of undisciplined prayer.

An undisciplined prayer can have so many more items. Besides the affirmations, the lyrics of hymns are a huge part of mine. They come and go. I’m amazed at how a hymn will pop into my head. I call this being a good listener. So, if it moves you, add it in!

I have a song that never grows old with me, and I love to say it with the tune in my head every day. As a good listener, I recommend being quiet. All sorts of things come when you are quiet. It is interesting to me that sometimes a thought of a person comes in the quiet parts of a devotional. Go with it!! That’s your cue to pray for that person. A time of disciplined prayer can be quite undisciplined.

Now the Pitfalls

Jesus tells us the pitfalls to avoid in this same teaching in Matthew 6.

Disciplined prayer can easily become a vain repetition. The dark side of discipline is that it becomes all too familiar. I’m sure many of us have once forgotten whether we had done the prayer for the meal or not. That meal prayer can be so easily a vain repetition. It’s just that we give it so often. How many ways can we thank God for the food?  

The lesson at the beginning was to show up. We may give the appearance that we showed up, but maybe we didn’t. We see ourselves praying, but we aren’t engaged.  

So, it’s time to go undisciplined. Shake it up!

Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, but it can be an easy destination for disengaging ourselves. It is short and all too familiar. 

I visit a brother in prison, and he carefully ponders each individual phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. Each phrase is a devotional. That’s his way of resonating. I have a technique I use with things that have a lot of elements for my devotional prayers. I take just one part of something and make that the theme of the day.

For example, Philippians 4:8 has the idea of thinking about things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, of virtue, and of praise. So that is my list, but it is just too many things to hit me with at once. So today, as I am writing this, the theme for today is to think of pure things. I like to turn this into an affirmation of “I think pure thoughts.”

This technique works equally well with the Lord’s Prayer. The next theme for me is “Thy will be done.” I have been thinking about this. But these are my thoughts–you may have something entirely different that resonates with you. Remember, don’t follow me or anyone else. But follow God. He knows what you need in prayer.

If you are quiet, it will come. No pressure.  


I am thankful for the good examples other religions set and how they systematically prioritize prayer. Jesus’ lovely teaching gives us a beautiful way to approach our Heavenly Father. So, we follow Jesus with discipline and un-discipline in going places unknown. God gives us what we need.

David Lloyd,
San Diego County Ecclesia, CA

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