Jesus exemplified a meaningful prayer life. He took regular time to pray often escaping away by Himself to spend time with His Father. Prayer was an important aspect of His life and ministry. Jesus saw prayer as a time of refreshment, an opportunity for communion, and to intercede to God on the behalf of others.
Many Christians today struggle with prayer. All you have to do is look at most church’s prayer meetings. Pastor Bill Hybels calls prayer, “the ministry” of the church. It is the one indispensable way Christians connect with God. Even if you feel you cannot serve in the church, you can always pray.
So why do so many Christians struggle with prayer? When we first come to Christ, we are full of zeal and passion to know God and learn more about Him. What changed?
I believe one of the things that happen is we become distracted by the busyness of life and the cares of the world. We have so much to do in life. We have our jobs or our education. Parents often have to take their children to various events for school or sports. We have meetings to attend and shopping to do. And we cannot forget our need to socialize, to meet friends for coffee or lunch.
Another issue is we often only seek God in times of need. Why is it only in the hard times that we tend to seek Him? And even in our seeking at those times, we will blame Him for our situation. When the sun is shining, and times are good, and life is comfortable, and our team is winning, and our health is strong, God is present but in our comfort, we tend to forget Him or at best ignore Him.
The Bible reminds us that sin, even comfort, can blind us from God’s goodness. So, when times are good, we tend to ignore God, but when times are bad we tend to blame God. Sin blinds us from the presence of God’s loving care that He gives every day – in the day of prosperity and in the day of adversity.
God is there in our good days and our bad days. Because He is the God of Good Friday and the God of Easter Sunday. He is the God of the spectacular and God of the ordinary and mundane. He is the God of the hills and the God of the valleys. He is God amid our laughter and the midst of our tears. He is God when the market is up and God when the market is down. He is God in the light and God in the dark.
Although He loves to hear our voices when we cry out to Him, I believe His greater desire is to have an intimately growing relationship with His children. How can that kind of relationship be built if the only times we talk in times of crisis or when we want to give Him a list of things to do.
So what are some essentials we should understand and practice in our prayer lives? We are in the middle of Lent, a time of preparation for Good Friday and Easter. One of the purposes of Lent is to be a practical reminder of the importance of getting rid of the distractions of life and focus on Jesus and the Cross.
When you read Matthew 6:5-15, you see and hear the heart of Jesus in His model of prayer. From it, we find some principles that are important in helping us deepen our relationship with God and strengthen our commitment to prayer.
The first thing we see is that discipline is essential. Jesus asked God for things, but more importantly, Jesus spent regular time with God, communing and fellowshipping with Him. His life was an example for us to establish a regular and consistent prayer life.
We find other examples in the Bible. There is Daniel in the Old Testament praying in the morning, at noon and at night. We read in the Psalms of how the writers would get up “early in the morning” to seek God. I know for many of us, what is on our minds at that time of the day is, “Where is the coffee!”
I think for most of us, most often our prayer lives are occasional at best – when we remember. Prayer needs to be habitual, something almost unconscious. Like Paul writes, we need to “pray without ceasing,” or we need to have an attitude of prayer all the time. I have met many people in my lifetime who when I share a need with them, will stop and pray regardless if we are alone or in the middle of a crowded store. Prayer is something we always have a need to do.
Secondly, we need to remember to prepare ourselves in coming to God. In other words, repentance is essential. We need to remember that it is sin which separates us from God to begin with. Although we are “new creations” and forgiven, we still sin.
We should never underestimate the power of sin to effect our relationship with God. Sin is strong enough to widen the gap in our relationship with God and it is strong enough to hinder our prayers. Psalm 32:3-5 says, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength as sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Unconfessed sin becomes like bricks of a wall. Each one adding to the separation between God and ourselves. That is why marriage is such a great illustration and parallel of our relationship with God. When there is sin between couples, the relationship deteriorates. Mistrust enters in, bitterness grows deep and complacency and apathy become the norm. Like in the marriage, sin damages relationships. Our relationship with God is no different. When we let go of sin, God restores that relationship.
After David was called out about his sin with Bathsheba, he wrote Psalm 51 and calls out to God, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Thankfully, we have the grace and forgiveness of God. In 1 John 1:8-10, we are reminded of this when John writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” Sin is easy to remove… it is just one prayer away.
We tend to think of our actions, our behaviour is what matters to God. Although our actions matter, it is often when motivates them that is the real problem. When it comes to prayer, our approach of God, humility is essential – knowing He is God and we are His creature.
In Jesus’ words from Matthew 6, He speaks of the hypocrites praying to get attention and God says the only reward they get is what the people think about them. God does not want us boasting about ourselves or babbling on to bring attention to ourselves. God wants a people who come to Him humbly. He is God, so in reality, how else should we come?
Bernard of Clairvaux said, “So long then as I am not united with God, I am divided within myself and perpetual strife within myself. Now this union with God can only be secured by love. And the subjection to him can only be grounded in humility. And the humility can only be the result of knowing and believing the truth, that is to say, having the right notions of God and myself.” Theologian F B Meyer said, “The only hope of a decreasing self is an increasing Christ.”
It is interesting to note that 2 Chronicles 7:14 has been showing up on all my Facebook and Bible feeds recently. Maybe God is telling us something in the midst of this recent pandemic? “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Humility is not something we see too much in people. Our culture strives for self and achievement. With God all of those things are secondary. He desires, as the Psalmist says, “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Although it is a virtue not spoken about or practiced much, it is necessary in our approach and relationship with God.
Lastly, we need to trust God’s timing. One thing that brings worry and anxiety into our prayer lives is our desire to control the outcomes whether it be results or timing. I think we all have experienced unanswered prayers and if we are honest, it can sometimes discourage us from asking again. It affects our view and attitude towards God which can cause disillusionment with God and distances our relationship with him.
It has been said there are usually three answers to our prayers, “Go”, “No” or “Slow”. When it is either one of the last two, we sometimes become like a child when we do not get our way. We either stubbornly move ahead anyway, we pout, or we get angry. How do we prevent that kind of reaction?
The answer is “Trust”. We have trusted God with our eternity, but do we trust God with our lives, the here and now? Epictetus said this, “I am always content with what has happened for I know that what God chooses is better than what I choose.” Powerful words. Challenging words.
If we believe in a God who knows and wants our best, then we need to trust Him that whatever we may have to face, it is for our best. We also need to believe the words of Jesus, that He will never leave us or forsake us… even when He does not do what we want. We must not lose heart in awaiting answers to prayer. Perhaps the waiting is where our growth needs to occur?
God wants us to have a consistent prayer life with Him. These are just a few of what believe are essential in having and maintaining a consistent prayer life. And a consistent prayer life is what is needed if we are to grow in our relationship with God, with each other, and make an impact for Jesus in this community and world.
Our world is in the midst of a pandemic. People are scared and rightfully so. But we have faith in a God who is greater than any virus or challenge we may face in life. But in the midst of it all, we have a responsibility to pray for ourselves and others. Ezekiel 22:30 calls His people to “stand in the gap” and intercede for our world. Will you do that on behalf of the world? Will you do that on behalf of Christians? Will you do that for each other? May God grant us a willingness and desire to be a people of prayer. It is our privilege. It is our calling.