Basics in Christian Faith and Living
All of us struggle with prayer. Could we be more disciplined? Shouldn’t we pray longer? Our minds rush through all that we have to do when we get up in the morning and it is very challenging to set aside time to pray. Let us see what the Bible teaches about prayer and then apply some of it to our lives.
Remember, we are commanded to pray (Eph. 6:18; 1Th. 5:17). Somehow this has not sunk deep into our souls. We unwittingly make prayer an optional discipline in our lives. It is relegated to the realm of our “feelings” — we pray when we feel like it. We know we are commanded to not murder, steal, etc. but we are also commanded to pray (along with many other things). Furthermore, we are also given a model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). One of the interesting things we tend to overlook is the occasion for the “Lord’s Prayer.” The disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1). The question was not, “Do we need to? Why should we pray? I don’t have enough time to pray so do I need to?” Rather, we need instruction in prayer because we know we ought to pray. The question assumes its necessity.
Great saints prayed. Paul prayed often (Eph. 1:16; 1Th. 3:10). Peter prayed (Acts 10:9). OT saints prayed (Moses, David, Elijah, etc.). We have been given the Spirit of God in order to pray (Rom. 8:26). As it has been said, God has no dumb children—all true children of God can and will pray.
We must remember that Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, etc. also pray. Just being religious assumes that the person prays. Of course they do not pray to the true God and with a renewed heart. We are to thank God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:8; 7:25) as we offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ (1Pet. 2:5, “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”). God works in us that which is pleasing to Himself “through Jesus Christ” (Heb. 13:21). On account of Christ, we can pray and have access to the Father (Eph. 2:18; 3:12; Heb. 4:14-16). This is the privilege, gift and responsibility earned for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. No one else can pray like we can! We can go directly to God the Father (“Our Father…”); we have the Son who intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34) as well as the Spirit (Rom. 8:27). The Triune God has graciously cleared away every obstacle so that we can pray!
Christians have the comfort of knowing that God hears us (1 Jn. 5:14, 15). He will give us everything we need if we ask anything according to His will (1 Jn. 5:14). We do not receive because we do not ask and when we ask, we ask with wrong motives (James 4:2, 3). But the great benefit is that the everlasting God hears us and responds to our miserable prayers.
We can ask for our daily necessities and ask Him to forgive us of our sins. Furthermore, prayer helps us to fight sin (all this in the Lord’s Prayer). Thomas Watson said, “Prayer keeps the heart open to God and shut to sin.”
Many people love to talk, talk, talk, etc. about their problems to every soul. It may make them feel better but the sympathetic ear can only take so much. Would to God that we pray more than we talk to others. They may hear; God hears and can act. There are not many things better than leaving the matter to God in prayer— leaving confidently and with hope, “It is well with my soul.”
Many excuses have been used to avoid prayer. One of the most common is, “I don’t feel like praying.” That rarely regulates our interactions with others. If the queen of England, the President of this nation, or your own boss requested to talk with you, would you say, “I don’t feel like talking today.”? Of course not — prayer is not dependent upon our emotions; it is dependent on the word of God.
Another excuse is that we don’t have time. You don’t have enough time not to pray. Everyone chooses how he or she uses time; it is filled by the choices that we make. Prayer doesn’t fit in because you did not make room for it. If you can eat, then you can pray. Skip a meal? If pressed for time, then skip it and pray. Surely there is something you can skip? You surfed the web, you watched TV, you had “down time,” etc. but did you pray?
Often saints will say, “I feel so spiritually dry. I have no motivation, desire, etc. to pray.” This is probably the most dangerous situation to be in. How we respond at this moment will have an immense impact on our spiritual lives. Go to God and tell Him of your spiritual condition. Tell him how cold and desperate your heart is. Let that be the matter of your prayers. Let that be the concern of your heart—will He not hear you? Have you never complained of your heart to God? Have you never found your heart breaking and warming up as you weep over your cold lifeless dull heart before the Lord? The cold heart is warmed as it is talked about before God. The heart will not automatically become more willing to pray by not praying. What are you waiting for?
Methods & Suggestions
One, do not leave prayer to chance. Set a time or it won’t get done. Too often we leave it as an after thought. Two, have a place to pray. Remember our Lord’s words: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” (Mt. 6:6) Three, use the Lord’s prayer (and the catechism’s exposition)— this is a ready guide to regulate your prayers. Four, utilize a prayer list (not slavishly). Have you prayed for everyone in this room? Have you even mentioned each one by name? Five, pray out loud if your thoughts wander off. Hearing your own voice will keep you focused and help you to consider what you say. Six, use prayer books as guides but not as a substitute. Sometimes, we are wordless and the prayers of godly divines can be of tremendous assistance (e.g. Valley of Vision). Seven, pray scripturally. Learn verses, phrases, general content of various passages of scripture and use them in your prayers. Use God’s word as you pray to God. Eight, don’t just pray about me me, me, me, me, and me. Sometimes your problems are simply YOU. Turn away from yourself and pray for others. Nine, you might find CATS helpful — Confession, Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (I prefer CATS to ACTS though I don’t particularly like cats). These elements may be of help to many. Ten, consider fasting with your prayer. There are times to fast and pray—when was the last time you fasted? Eleven, resort to long seasons of prayer. Our Lord prayed all night (Lk. 6:12). At times, set aside a season of prayer for your soul. You’ve squeezed God into your schedule; break out and commit hours, a day, an evening, etc. to call upon the Lord. Twelve, praise God! Never fail to praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He has done. Thirteen, don’t make driving, walking, exercising times the only occasion for your prayer times. Does He not deserve better than being taken along on your agenda? Where is that secret room of yours? Fourteen, use a notepad and pen. Have one nearby so that you can quickly jot a thing or two down that calls you away from prayer. Fifteen, pray on your knees or fall down. Posture in prayer is more important than you know. It often expresses the attitude of your heart. Sixteen, remember, there is not one thing you will do this day that is better than calling upon the Lord!