Practice the Language

Because you’ve paid attention at the gate, you want to pray. Because you see Jesus at the gate and have encountered Him at the cross, you are able to pray. Turn what you see into what you pray. This is praying for people. To practice the language of Christ, you have to pray. I’ve never met someone who articulates they are great at prayer. Because we communicate with a great and mysterious God, His followers will always be learning new and different ways to share our praise, our burdens, and our confessions with Him. Three tips from the Alpha Course on how to pray are to keep it simple, keep it honest, and keep it going.3 I love how this approach takes the mechanics out of prayer and keeps it as an ongoing conversation with Jesus, where we pick up where we left off and where He always has our ear! As Christ brings things to our attention, He wants us to stay on topic and pray about what He gives us to see, what He gives us to think, and who He leads us to love.

God’s eyes are roaming this earth looking for those whose hearts are fully committed to Him (2 Chron. 16:9). That’s who He wants to use. That’s who He needs standing in the gap (Ezek. 22:30). Let’s put feet to our faith, action to our aching, and intercession to our intuition. Now is the time to make our voices heard to God. Jesus knows this season better than anyone. He stepped into a world with high tensions, political unrest, scarce finances, low trust, and dwindling expectations for the coming Messiah. Yet Jesus chose to live among us, to learn our names and stories, and to start conversations about what was heavy on our minds. Our communities need people who will first offer prayers of praise, intercession, thanksgiving, and confession.

Prayer walking is just what it sounds like: to intentionally go on a walk for the purpose of prayer. This can be during your lunch break or the last few minutes of your morning run. While you’re strolling with your kids around the park, you can pray for everyone you see. You can invite others to go on a walk and pray together.

John Stott suggested we “begin by speaking back to God on the same subject on which he has spoken to you. Don’t change the conversation!” You may step into stories via prayer that you’ll never step into via life. Our prayers can cause things not to happen and can unleash God’s power to do the impossible.

Sometimes we meet resistance when we pray because we pray. Friends, my encouragement and challenge to us all is to not absorb any resistance we encounter but to release love in that space and in this place. It’s not easy, but we’re not called to easy. We’re called to Jesus, who met the greatest resistance—the sin in all of humanity—and conquered death to give us His love and freedom to share with others. Let us be challenged by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, someone who met resistance often: “Interaction with God must be practiced; otherwise we will not find the right language when he surprises us. . . . We must learn God’s language, laboriously learn it. And we must work at it, so that we will be able to talk with him.”

Pray on the spot.

Perhaps you still resist because you don’t like to pray out loud, or the thought to pray doesn’t even occur to you while you’re out and about. Pause a minute here, right now. Voice a prayer in your heart for what you see. 

Prayer on the spot is often one-on-one prayer with another person. Talking to Jesus, well, that’s between the two of you, and He understands ideas and thoughts in your head that you can’t quite formulate into words. The Holy Spirit speaking through you when you pray? This takes faith, and once it happens, you’ll want Him to do it again. We can be fully human before Christ in prayer because He was fully human before us on the cross.

If Jesus matters to you, and you believe He can do anything, then your heart is turned toward Him and that’s where your prayers start. It’s never what you pray but to whom you pray. If your heart is after Jesus, everything else will come. He tells us to seek Him first and everything will be added. He also says if we ask, seek, and knock, the door will be opened (Matt. 7:7). Turn your heart to start. This is actually praying with people.

It’s common Christian language to say, “I’m praying for you.” Someone shares a concern or burden, and you tell them you’ll pray for them. Later, you actually pray for their need. But praying on the spot is different. It invites the presence of God into our midst immediately because we pray right then, right there.

It’s not you anyway.

Every person we translate Jesus to has two options: to follow Him or stay where they are. We do our part in prayer and partnership with Jesus. He is still the one who saves and works His mysterious miracles. I’ve used the word magic at the gate, for that’s what culture calls it, but Christ calls kingdom work miraculous. Magic has no attachment and is reproducible, just like coffee, chai, and strawberry daiquiris. Miracles have an origin, and every one is a unique story.

The way we learn the language of Christ is through Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. Philip spoke the language of Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–39). Paul went outside the gate to the riverside to pray, and the Lord opened up Lydia’s heart to pay attention to him (16:13–15). The purpose of this chapter, of this book, is to encourage practice. We tell what we know and what we’ve personally experienced with Jesus. No one can argue with our stories, and no one can deny the power of the Holy Spirit in these conversations.

Think of it like this: we want our kids to learn from us and then put those lessons to work in their lives. We want this for others too: not just to hear us but put our words into practice. We want this for our sports teams, master classes, and what we’re learning as a human race. We want to receive knowledge, to be educated, and then to use that knowledge to make the world a better place. Why stop and hesitate on practicing Jesus’s teachings?

Is it possible that because we’ve got other philosophies, other systems, and our own selves in our heads, we aren’t able to fully grasp the truths of Jesus? We can do what we read Jesus did, what we have seen Him do in others, and what other disciples have done for centuries. What have you seen Jesus do? Do you believe the same power that the first disciples had to heal the sick, cast out demons, and teach repentance is available to you?

What have you seen Jesus do that you can do? I’ve seen how He loves me and forgives me and still loves me. I’ve experienced His peace in hard times. Jesus has helped me find joy when my circumstances have been anything but joyful. I can love. I can forgive. I can be a peaceful presence in someone’s life. I can voice words of encouragement and prayer and Scripture to a friend who is in hard circumstances. Jesus sends us out to do what He can do, and He can do anything!

The Holy Spirit takes you to places you can’t believe. Are you ready to talk to people about the hope you have with gentleness and respect? Turn what you hear in your spirit into what you say with your mouth. This is God speaking through you. No matter who you are speaking with, no matter their knowledge of spiritual things, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). At another time, when Jesus’s followers were together and the Holy Spirit came upon them, “they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them” (Acts 2:4 Message).

German pastor Christoph Blumhardt, who spoke during Nazi times, said, “We must speak in practical terms. Either Christ’s coming has meaning for us now, or else it means nothing at all.”

Prompting

Wherever you are reading this, who do you see that you can pray for on the spot? Go and speak a blessing to them—yes, to the stranger.

Excerpted from Translating Jesus by Shauna Pilgreen. Copyright 2023 by Shauna Pilgreen. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. BakerPublishingGroup.com

Shauna Pilgreen
Shauna Pilgreenhttp://ShaunaPilgreen.com

Shauna Pilgreen and her husband, Ben, started Epic Church in the heart of San Francisco in 2010 and have been “living sent” ever since. Shauna is a coach, speaker and writer to ministry families across the country.