How to Pray: Petition and Intercession

How to Pray: Petition and Intercession

In this reflection, I want to turn to the subject that comes to mind when most people think of prayer: petition and intercession. Petitions are the things that we pray for ourselves, and intercessions are what we pray for others and the larger world. In both cases, we are bringing the requests of our heart to God.

Why Ask if God Already Knows?

Some people wonder if we should even be doing this. Isn’t God pretty busy doing big God things such as running the universe? Does God even have time for our little prayers? Others think that, since God already knows everything, prayer must be redundant. If God knows what I am going to pray billions of years before I say the prayer, what’s the point? Still others look at a long laundry list of unanswered prayers and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work anyway.

All of these are important considerations, but they miss the central point of coming to God with the concerns of our heart. If you look at the Lord’s Prayer, you will notice that it begins and ends with praise, but in the middle is a small laundry list of petitions: “Give us this day our daily bread… forgive us our sins… save us from the time of trial… deliver us from evil.” Jesus’ intention was to show us that we should be praying these on a regular basis.

Of course, it is not limited to these four. Jesus was giving us a template for prayer, and teaching his disciples regularly to come to God in prayer: “Ask and it will be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” So why should we bring these things to God even if God already knows what we need?

The Central Point

The central point is that God wants to be in relationship with us. This is what we have to grasp to understand Christianity. Jesus referred to God as Father because the ‘being’ at the heart of the universe is not an impersonal force or principle, but a God who cares and loves. It doesn’t matter how much smaller we are than God; God has the ability to be fully present to every atom in the universe. He wants us to come to him, to bring our hearts, our needs, our fears and joys to him. It doesn’t matter that God already knows.

I think of this relationship as being sort of like the one I have with my own children. They will start to tell me a story, and I recognize it immediately and know everything that is going to happen in the story. But there is something more important than the information in the story. I am delighted to have my children telling me stories and coming to me. They trust me and know that I love them. I am not just listening to a story; I am listening to THEM telling me a story. This is how God is to us.

Tips for Petition and Intercession

How do we practice this kind of prayer? There are no rules. You just talk to God and tell God your petitions and intercessions. Here are some tips that I have found helpful:

  • Make an actual prayer list. I keep my prayer lists organized on my phone. There are some prayers I pray everyday, and others I pray once a week. My lists help me to organize them. I personally have four lists that I work through: a personal one for my own prayers, a list for my family, a list for people I am praying for, and a list for the world.
  • When you pray, don’t rush. If you find you are reading through your petition and intercession lists as a laundry list, slow down. Usually I try to spend a moment on each name, imaging the person and holding before God their needs.
  • When you tell someone you are going to pray for them, make sure you put it on your prayer list for at least a short time.
  • Be a prayer warrior. What this means is that you should consider making this a part of your identity. See your calling as pray-er for the world, standing before God and holding the pain of those around you. People will know they can come to you for prayer and know that you will take their needs seriously.
  • Some people find it helpful to imagine putting these prayers somewhere. You might imagine placing your concerns at the foot of the cross.
  • Keep praying. Sometimes you can pray for years with no answer. In prayer we are stepping out in faith. There is a great virtue in perseverance. We underestimate its importance. Keep coming back to God. He does hear us and loves us.

I don’t want to minimize the anguish and stress that can come from the fact of unanswered petitions and intercessions. I also don’t want to give a simplistic answer to why people pray and sometimes nothing happens. In our next reflection, we will look at the question of unanswered prayers, but for today, I want to emphasize that prayer is the heart of our relationship with our loving Father.

How to Pray: Bless the Lord

How to Pray: Bless the Lord

Adoration and praise are some of the central acts of being a Christian. In the last reflection, I used the writings of C.S. Lewis to show us that we praise God not because God is egotistic, but rather as an act that draws us out of ourselves and connects us to the source of all that is true, good and beautiful. Today, we’re continuing that conversation with what it means to bless the Lord.

To praise God truly is to be awake to what is. The world around us is shot through with miracle. There is a reason that children can spend a long time just looking at ants! In the right light, everything is interesting and beautiful. G.K. Chesterton points out that the problem is not that the world is dull, but rather that our eyes have stopped seeing:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

God is even bigger than the creation in which we wonder. The Scriptures invite us to go beyond creation and contemplate the fact that there is a ‘being’ who radiant, sovereign, omniscient, the source of everything that is true, good and beautiful.

Beyond the Creation to the Creator

Then, move even beyond that to consider that this God knows you. God has loved you since before time existed. God knows all your joys and delights and all of your struggles. If we are willing to listen, God guides us and gives us grace. These are amazing truths! What do we do with them? How do we express them? The Bible gives an odd answer that at first doesn’t make sense. It tells us to bless the Lord. Here are a few examples:

And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 8:10

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Psalm 100:4

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.

Psalm 145:1-2

Does Blessing God Even Make Sense?

This seems odd because of course God is the primal blesser. God is the giver of all good things. When God gives blessing to us, we are somehow strengthened or helped. But we can neither strengthen nor help God in any way. God is perfect. So how can we bless God? Scripture answers that we bless God whenever show our gratitude, whenever we praise him, whenever we give glory.

Blessing God is simple. We give thanks and name before God everything we love and find amazing about creation, life and God. We might talk about how wonderful the mountains are, or thank God for the gift of loved one. Recognizing who God is is part of it as well: thank God for his attributes: his love, sovereign power, grace, goodness. We say them out loud, not because God doesn’t know these things, but because the act of saying them connects us to God in a simple and primal way.

Sharing God’s Life

Each act of praise is one of the ways in which God shares his life and self with us. So why is this a blessing for God? Because it is giving him the one thing he can’t do without our cooperation: we are giving him our heart. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, ultimately God does not want anything from us, he just wants us: our love.


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How to Pray: Adoration and Praise

How to Pray: Adoration and Praise

In the last reflection, we looked at the central action of lifting our heart to God. As I mentioned earlier, finding a time and place is the first step to prayer. After that, we place ourselves before God by lifting up our hearts. The question that often follows is what is the content of our prayer? What is it that we are ‘supposed’ to say?

As we explore the content of prayer, I will be following Pete Greig’s nine paths of prayer: Stillness, Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Perseverance, Contemplation, Listening, Confession, and Spiritual Warfare. (Always note that different teachers have slightly different lists.) Today I want to start with Adoration and Praise.

Adoration and Praise Is Natural

In some ways, Adoration is the simplest and most natural of prayers. If you have ever been in the mountains, and the sheer beauty and vastness of the landscape hits you, and you exclaim “Wow! This is amazing!” then you know adoration.

As Christians, we believe that everything good and beautiful in creation and in the lives of women and men ultimately comes from God. God is the absolute source of all that is true, good and beautiful. This is important because the true, the good and beautiful are qualities of the world that move and inspire our souls. They provoke emotional responses that are meaningful in our lives.

If good and beautiful things move us because of their power, just imagine how incredible must be the being from whom they come. God is the ultimate artist. Therefore, we praise God. The Westminster Catechism calls this the purpose of our lives: “What is the chief end [purpose] for humans? It is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” To glorify God means to praise him for who he is: to be in love with God. God commands our adoration and praise, and this is the reason for our creation.

Does this Mean that God Is Egotistical?

Here, we quickly need to clear up a confusion. C.S. Lewis asked these same questions, and he found this a hard teaching because it made God seem very egotistical. He wrote, “We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand… Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers threatened to appear in my mind.” I think this is a common question for people when we talk about the need to praise and adore God. Is God petty and insecure?

Praise Completes Enjoyment

As he pondered this question, Lewis had two insights. The first had to do with the nature of praising itself. He had been thinking of adoration and praise as complimenting God. But then he noticed that “every enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.”

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

He realized that the praise actually completes the enjoyment of an activity. It is like when you read a great book and you need to find someone to tell. To praise God is to complete the enjoyment of the things that God has made. More than that, in praising we come to enjoy God as the source.

God Communicates Presence in Adoration and Praise

This was Lewis’ second insight. When we say true things about God such as how great and awesome God is, we find that we actually experience God through our praise. Lewis writes, “It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to (us.)” The adoration and praise is not so that God can receive something from us, but that the worship is intimately bound up with God giving himself to us.

In other words, in praising God, we find that we are simultaneously uniting with God. We become part of something that is far greater than we are, and our souls are expanded in the praise. This is the great paradox of worship: it is all for God, and yet we find that we simultaneously grow richer in emotion and deeper in faith.

So how do we Adore God? In the next reflection, we will look at what it means to “Bless the Lord.”


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How to Pray: Lift Up Your Hearts

Lift up your hearts

You are sitting in your chair, and you are getting ready to pray. How do you start? One basic move in prayer is the foundation for everything else. It is so simple, and yet so essential. It is easy to do, and it opens us up to the presence of God. In the Christian faith we call this most basic of all spiritual moves ‘lift up your heart.’

‘Lift up your hearts’ in the Eucharist

The words should sound familiar to you. It is at the center of the dialogue we pray at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist. After we pray for the Lord to be with us, the priest calls out to the congregation: “Lift up your hearts!” The congregation replies enthusiastically, “We lift them to the Lord!” This action of all of us ‘lifting our hearts’ sets the stage for everything that follows. As we hear the prayers and take communion, our whole self—body and soul—is united with God.

The Bible on bringing our truest selves to God

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. (Psalm 25:1)

This idea of ascending to God in the Spirit is all through the Scriptures. In Psalm 25, David begins his prayer: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” In Colossians 3, Paul encourages us to “set our hearts on the things above.” In Psalm 141, we have the beautiful image of our prayers rising up to heaven like incense and we pray “may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” The biblical imagery speaks to the longing of our hearts and souls to be united with God. Often the terms heart, mind and soul are used interchangeably. All of them mean that we are bringing our truest selves to God.

‘Lift up your hearts’ in the Christian tradition

The Orans of Kiev, an 11th Century icon of the Virgin Mary at prayer

The Christian tradition has deeply meditated on this action of ‘lifting up our hearts’. In the third century, Cyprian wrote, “When we stand for prayer, most beloved brethren, we should be alert and intent on our petitions with a whole heart. Let every carnal and worldly thought depart, and let the mind dwell on nothing other than that alone for which it prays. Therefore, the priest also before his prayer prepares the minds of the brethren by first uttering a preface, saying: “Lift up your hearts,” so that when the people respond: “We lift them up to the Lord,” they may be admonished that they should ponder on nothing other than the Lord.”

Later, Augustine wrote, “What is peace? Listen to the apostle, he was talking about Christ: “He is our peace, who made both into one.” So peace is Christ. Where did it go? “He was crucified and buried, he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven.” There you have where peace went. How am I to follow it? Lift up your heart. Listen how you should follow; every day you hear it briefly when you are told Lift up your heart. Think about it more deeply and there you are, following.”

‘Lift up your hearts’ in your own prayer

What does this mean for us as we are sitting in our chairs? As the primal move in prayer, lifting up our hearts is just setting aside the things of our lives temporarily and turning our attention to God. But it is more than our attention; we are also giving God our hearts. It is not just our words, but our emotions and desires, our hopes and our fears, our strivings and failures. In other words, lifting up our hearts is giving ourselves in a way that is deeper than words. We can lift our hearts to God with sorrow and lament or with praise and adoration. In both cases, the ‘real’ us connects to the ‘real’ God.

Choose a time and place. Sink into your comfortable chair. Take a slow deep breath and let it out slowly. Then pray quietly: “God, I lift my heart to you…”

How to Pray: Prayer Is a Lifestyle

How to Pray: Prayer is a Lifestyle

This fall, we are looking at developing habits of prayer to help us grow deep roots of faith. By building our faith life on the rock of God (see Matthew 7:24), we will be stronger and more resilient as we walk through difficult times. 

In the last reflection, we looked at finding a time and place in which we can bring our prayers to God. As we develop this habit, it is important in the back of our minds to remember that the life of prayer is much larger than daily times of prayer. Two insights are important. First: at its heart, prayer is the name for a whole life lived in light of God’s mercy. More than just words, prayer is a lifestyle. Second, there is no one way of doing prayer. We come before the living God in an enormous variety of ways. Let me say a few words about both of these insights.

1. Prayer is a Whole Life Lived in Light of the Mercy of God

Don’t worry if that is not where you find yourself now. The Christian tradition has always taught that developing a life of prayer is a growth process. Many early church teachers described this process as three stages: purgation, illumination and union. I won’t unpack these stages here, except to say that prayer is like every other serious endeavour: it takes time and practice.

For instance, we all know that if you want to become a master electrician, you can only do it by starting out as an apprentice and working your way through to the journeyman stage. This is not because there are elites at the top who want to keep you out. It is just that to be an electrician, you need experience as well as knowledge. Not only do you need to know how electrical systems work, but you have to practice the trade for long enough that you develop ‘a feel’ for how that knowledge applies in real situations. When you get that ‘feel,’ you know that you are becoming a master.

It is the same with prayer. A mature, centered Christian is someone whose life has been formed by habits of prayer, worship, service, and sacrifice over many years. They develop ‘a feel’ for how God is working in their life and in the lives of others. Every action they do is in the light of God. Ultimately, this is what we mean by a life of prayer. It is far more than sitting in your chair and praying; it is a Christ-shaped life. Prayer is a lifestyle that encompasses and affects everything we say and do. But it doesn’t start there. It starts in your chair.

2. A Lifestyle of Prayer Has Great Variety

Different times in our lives call for different ways of meeting God. Pete Greig describes nine paths of prayer. Other teachers break it up differently. But the point is there is a time for every season under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). A lifestyle of prayer will look different for different people and across different stages of life.

Sometimes, we want to pray for people we love. That is Intercession. At other times, we are so grateful to God that we need to give Thanksgiving. Perhaps we find that we are in awe of something amazing that has happened, and we want to praise God for his creation. That is Adoration. Maybe we have messed up and so we come to God for forgiveness. That is Confession. Sometimes we are grieving and in great pain. That is a time for Lamentation. There is a time for Singing and Praising, and there is a time for Quiet and Stillness. There is a time for Listening and a time for Speaking. All of it is prayer.

Over the next several reflections, I am going to work through Greig’s list of nine paths: Stillness, Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Perseverance, Contemplation, Listening, Confession, and Spiritual Warfare. As we work our way through these paths of prayer, I hope you will find that prayer is not a chore; it is a great adventure!

How to Pray: Getting Started (Dry Ground–Deep Roots series)

How to Pray: Getting Started

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesus was an ancient city on the Western coast of modern day Turkey), he is writing to encourage the local congregation. The early church had lots of things going against them, from outside pressures to internal divisions. As Paul writes to help the church through a difficult time, he also makes praying for them a priority. This is his prayer:

I pray that out of [God’s] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-18

If you have the time, read this prayer through a few times. As you read it, imagine that Paul is praying it for you. Even though it was written for a congregation long ago on the other side of the world, God still uses it to bless his people here and now. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, this blessing is for you.

Hearts on Fire

I have chosen this prayer as our theme for the fall because it speaks so strongly to what God wants for us as Christians. As we are formed in the love of God, we need to find a way to move that knowledge from our heads into our hearts. God wants his love to be a living truth that sets our hearts on fire and becomes the source of our strength and life. We will keep coming back to this verse because it is full of strong spiritual truths to get us through the challenging months ahead.

I also bring up this prayer as an invitation to look at your daily rhythms of prayer. These spiritual blessings need to be nurtured in your life. They are for you, but they can easily dissipate in the face of busyness and difficulty. How can we nurture them? By attending to the relationship that we have with God in Jesus Christ. Like any relationship, it needs to be cultivated and encouraged. One of the most important ways we do this is through a life of prayer.

Prayer is a Way of Life

Remember, prayer is far more than just ‘talking’ to God or reading a list of prayer requests. In fact, we will see later that intercession is just one of nine parts of prayer! Even more than that, prayer is a way of life. It shapes a committed life of discipleship. Through it you will grow closer to God, grow in inner maturity, become a stronger and more compassionate member of the community, and know the blessings from Paul’s prayer, no matter how hard life turns out to be.

How to Pray: Getting Started

I want to come back now to your life of prayer with two simple questions: when and where? Attending to our relationship with God takes both time and location. The irony of course is that for many of us, one or both of those are in short supply. We can certainly pray on the fly, but deeper prayer takes intention.

When are you going to pray during the week and where is it going to be? I have a couple of places that I go to for prayer. They are comfortable, and I usually have a hot drink with me, either coffee or tea. Whatever you choose, remember these wise words from Pete Greig:

After decades of night-and-day prayer, I have come to believe that 99 percent of it is just showing up: making the effort to become consciously present to the God who is constantly present to us.

– Pete Greig

Why Are We Still Talking About Prayer?

Why do we keep talking about prayer?

We have been talking about prayer a lot here on the Hope Canteen: how it’s central to a life of faith and is the foundation of a relationship with God. If you have spent much time in the church, you have probably talked about, learned, and practiced prayer for many years.

So why are we still talking about prayer? Why do we keep circling back to the same foundations? Why, yet again, are we looking at these basic ideas?

Going Deeper

As my children have made their way through school, I have noticed an interesting dynamic in their social studies curriculum. Over the years, they return to study the same concepts. A particular country might come up three or four times over the course of their schooling. At first, it seems like it’s limiting their education; why not introduce them to more places so that they can gain a broader view of the world? Of course, there is more involved.

This is a deliberate choice on the part of their educators. They are prioritizing knowing a few places deeply over knowing many different things. They have decided that my children will ultimately receive a better education by returning to the same area of study. And through getting to know those few places deeply, they will learn more about how human cultures and institutions work.

Likewise, we need to keep coming back to prayer because it is so central and so important. The difference is that we return to it with more mature, experienced eyes. Each time, we are ready for new insights, precisely because we have been here before and we are ready to be led deeper into the heart of God. We circle back, because each time, we grow more.

Humans Are Easily Distracted

The second reason we’re still talking about prayer is that we are so easily pulled away. The “worries of this life” (see Matthew 13:22) get in the way. Our minds and attention wander. Our priorities get thrown off course. Many things compete for our focus and distract us. We need to remember and return to prayer, and to get our priorities–once again–right. We need to be reminded and re-called often.

A Living Word

Finally, we return to prayer because we follow a living God. Prayer sets us in conversation and relationship with the Creator. The Holy Spirit is always speaking and moving, and how we listen changes over time. Newness doesn’t come from a new expression of prayer, but from the way that it calls us to God, who is always doing something new.

Every time we talk about prayer, think of it as a call to explore it more deeply, to take an honest look at your heart, and to listen for how God is speaking to you today.

How We Grow in Faith (Dry Ground–Deep Roots Series)

How We Grow in Faith

On the Hope Canteen, we are beginning a new series called How to Pray. We want to help people create a meaning-filled and life-giving practice of prayer.

Prayer is one of the touchstones of my day. It is where I connect with God and have the opportunity to think, centre, pray, journal, relax, and take some time just to be. I have found that people often want to pray, but only know it as reading lists of names. My hope is that by the end of this series, you will see what is possible.

Some Ingredients for Growing in Faith

Before I get into prayer itself, I want to make some preliminary comments about what is necessary to ‘grow in faith.’ While the prayer series is part of our theme for this fall, faith is more than prayer. It is a whole approach to life that grows over time.

Faith starts with saying yes to God. From there, it develops trust in God and learns to receive the love of God. Then it grows to being able to ‘see’ (i.e. discern) God working in different parts of our life. Then again over time, it grows into seeing God in all aspects of life. Ultimately, we learn to see our whole life in God no matter what is happening to us, either good or bad.

Today, I want to touch on four elements we need to put in place to be able to ‘grow in faith’ as a Christian.

1) Knowledge:

As with most other religions, Christianity has doctrines. This just means that we believe certain things to be true and other things not to be true. Having common beliefs is not meant to impede free thought, curiosity, or intellectual exploration. It just means that in the end, we believe that the story of Jesus Christ is a true story.

Like any good story, this story raises lots of questions: who is Jesus? How is he related to God? What is the Bible? What is salvation? What happens after we die? How good do we have to be? What is grace? What is the Gospel? The Christian church has spent a lot of time answering all those questions, and the answers to those questions are the doctrines of the church. Part of growing in faith is getting to know the answers to those questions and asking what they mean for you. The answers are important because they address the HOW of coming to know God, WHY our lives exist, and what is the point of it all. Knowledge gets us going in the right direction.

2) The Journey of Faith

Knowledge by itself is not enough. We are living, embodied people, and we have to be able to live out what we believe. Saying that a journey is important for faith is to say that we need to make the Gospel into the rhythm of our lives.

Pilgrimage is a very practical metaphor for how we grow in faith. This year I was supposed to go to Iona on pilgrimage. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out because of Covid. Going on a pilgrimage is an amazing way to take a journey. Iona is the island where St. Columba landed after being exiled from Ireland. There, he formed a monastery. Pilgrims have been visiting that holy place ever since.

To embark on a pilgrimage is to bring your whole life temporarily into a particular part of the story of God. Iona offers pilgrims the chance to walk in the footsteps of St. Columba. On pilgrimage, I look at my life in light of this story, my own story, the prayers of my heart, and so on.

Ordinary Life is Pilgrimage

The interesting and ironic learning of pilgrimage is that you don’t have to go to exotic places to be on a journey with God. Pilgrimages always point you back to your own life. Make your ordinary life a journey in small ways and large.

For instance, I go on a pilgrimage every single day. As one of my daily rhythms, I get up before everyone else does. I pour myself a cup of coffee to drink while I pray and read and just sit in silence. This has become a cherished part of my day. I look forward to that first sip of coffee in the morning, the first breath of fresh outside air and the first moments of talking to God. It is special for me.

I say that it is a journey because it has a beginning. Then as it goes on, I gain insight as I talk with God and think about what I am reading. Then it comes to an end. The whole process is a small journey that I take every day that feeds my soul.

Layers of Journeys

Photo: Kittelenden on Wikipedia

This small morning journey is not the only one I am on. I am always on a yearlong journey through the church calendar. I go from Advent to Christmas to Easter and back again. During the year, I have so many experiences and joy and frustration, and all of it causes me to grow. In this season of my life, I am also in the journey of fatherhood. Also, every week I journey from Sabbath to Sabbath.

To grow in faith, we need these daily, weekly and yearly rhythms, all lived in the presence of God. Prayer is talking to God, but it also contains rhythms that form our whole lives.

3. Make it Personal

As I have meditated on different Christian programs that have been successful in helping people to grow in faith, three have stood out to me: Cursillo, TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) and Alpha. I have personal experience with these three, but there are many more.

What is it that makes them work? First off, they each combine the first two elements of faith building well. They each give knowledge about the faith. Then, the whole experience is meant to be a journey. The first two are a retreat weekend with a beginning, middle and end. Alpha is a ten-week journey. They all incorporate a very personal element. In each of these three programs, you are given the chance to sit with someone in prayer. The person praying for you is there to keep everything you say confidential, be non-judgemental, and to be a safe and prayerful presence. They give you the space to look into your heart.

Growing in Your Faith

This is not just for sensitive people. I have seen tough men walk this path and discover the living God. Given the opportunity, anything can happen: you can confess sin, you can express your joys, you can talk about your confusions, you can get excited about your breakthroughs, you can admit that you are stuck. There are no expectations. The point is that a space is created where faith can become real and personal. It is no longer information, something your parents made you do, or a habit that you have cultivated. This is about YOU, and all the stuff in YOUR life and YOUR heart.

At some point on the journey of faith, you have to realize that God is actually talking to you personally, and that all of this stuff you know is real and for you. Everything changes when you get to this point.

Programs like Cursillo, Alpha and TEC are by no means the only place you can develop a personal faith. Like pilgrimage, they always point you back to your unique, ordinary life. Faith can be real for you on your sofa all by yourself. But at some point, you need to take the step and make it personal.

4) Grow in Faith with a Supportive Community

Faith grows best when we are surrounded by supportive people who are on the same journey of faith. To that end, we need people in our lives that we can talk with, laugh with, confide in and be real with. We also need to learn to be that person for others. These don’t have to be close friends, but we do need to be able to gather and worship with others.

Ideally, this community would be the church. I know that doesn’t always work for people. But part of the purpose of the church is to be the community that proclaims the gospel, celebrates the sacraments, and loves one another. It is meant to be the fertile ground where faith will grow.