Connecting to God

Through Songful Prayer

Connecting to God Through Songful Prayer

Dr. William P. Payne, PHD

Many years ago, I began the practice of outdoor praying. On a typical night, I would go to a back corner of my yard, sit on a stump, and pray underneath the canopy of heaven. Since my childhood, I have loved to pray under the stars. When I was assigned to Iraq for a year, every night I prayed while walking between locations. I feel exhilarated when I can look deep into the vast expanse of heaven. Over the years, my prayers turned into chants. For me, chanting is “singing my prayers.” At some point, my chants turned into spontaneous praise. Over time, I began to sing in the spirit. Literally, at any moment, a song of praise might bubble up from my soul. To be clear, when this happens, I am not singing songs that I know. Instead, God gives me new songs that I have never heard. As I cooperate with the Spirit, the worship flows from my soul.

Ephesians 5:19 tells us to sing and make music from your heart to the Lord. Colossians 3:16 gives more clarity. It encourages the believer to sing to God with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Clearly, this distinguishes between known songs (psalms and hymns) and spirit songs. Psalm 30:12 says, “my soul will sing praise to you and not be silent.” Throughout the Psalms, we read, “with your heart, sing a new song to the Lord.” When David sang with the Spirit, he had such a strong anointing that evil spirits would flee from King Saul (1 Sam 16:23). In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. This connects to Paul’s admonition when he emphasizes that Christians should sing with understanding and sing with the spirit (1 Cor 14:15).

I realize that this may sound like an exotic practice to many readers. It is aligned with the scriptures, and it is something that can be practiced as a spiritual discipline. Here is some guidance to singing in the spirit.

  1. Begin with prayer. As you pray, listen to God. While God is revealing himself to you, align your prayers with God’s will. Don’t control your prayers. Let your words flow from your heart. Trust that God will guide you as you pray.
  2. As you feel the presence of God while praying, intersperse spontaneous praise. Psalm 22:3 reminds us that God inhabits our praises. Literally, heartfelt praise connects us to God.  
  3. Once you feel comfortable with the above pattern, try to chant your prayers. Don’t worry about rhyme and rhythm. In the same way that you learned to pray from your heart, let the chants flow from your heart. Trust that God will string them together.
  4. As you practice chanting your prayers and your praises, stop thinking about the words you speak. Keep your heart focused on God. At some point, you will slip into spirit singing.

My prayer for you is that, as you open yourself to the presence of the Holy Spirit, God would renew your spirit as you commune with him. I hope you enjoy your adventures in spirit singing.

About the Author,
Dr. William P. Payne, PHD


Dr. Bill Payne is a natural evangelist, a seasoned pastor, and a gifted professor. Since he believes that teaching is a spiritual gift, he invites the Holy Spirit to come into his classes at Ashland Theological Seminary. During many class sessions, he has clearly sensed the Lord’s substantial presence. At times, a class devotion has turned into a spontaneous outpouring of the Spirit, shaking things up in ways that only God can.

Dr. Payne is not only a professor; his 29.5 years of service with the Navy and Marine Corps have provided him with ministry opportunities in 27 countries. Before retiring, he served as Deputy Force Chaplain in Iraq and the Military Sealift Command Chaplain in San Diego. Additionally, he pastored a Cuban refugee camp in Panama, served as the community manager for all Reserve Force chaplains, worked as a hospital chaplain, commanded a unit of 17 chaplains and enlisted specialists, and deployed from Okinawa during Desert Storm. He has a military subspecialty code in religion and culture and is a Fleet Marine Force Qualified Officer (FMFQO).

Dr. Payne graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary (Ph.D. Intercultural Studies), Emory University (MDiv), and Florida Southern College (BA Religion). He is ordained in the United Methodist Church and is a full member of the Florida Conference. He has served the local church as a student pastor, associate pastor, pastor, senior pastor, and interim pastor. During his last pastorate, he planted a large Hispanic ministry that included satellite outposts throughout Tampa Bay.

In addition to expertise in evangelism, world missions, and chaplaincy, Dr. Payne has published widely on early American Methodism, Latin American Pentecostalism, folk religion, and spiritual warfare. He especially enjoys preaching, consulting with churches, and doing inner healing. He developed and directs the chaplaincy study degrees at ATS.

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