13 Thoughts on PRAYER
1. Prayer is faith in action.
We pray in response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we hear the Gospel, we respond in faith, first by praying ‘have mercy on me, a sinner.’ The Gospel then is the continual call to prayer.
John Calvin said that prayer is ‘the chief exercise of faith.’ We live out faith in Jesus by praying, constantly turning our hearts and minds to God.
So, when we pray, God is the focus, not prayer in itself, as we turn to him in faith.
2. Prayer is key to spiritual growth.
If we exercise physically, then we will grow in fitness and strength. The same applies spiritually, if we exercise our faith in prayer, then we will grow.
As we grow in prayer, we will grow as believers. In fact, it is impossible to grow as a Christian without growing in prayer. The opposite is also true, if we are not praying, we will not grow.
If we are to apply scripture that we have read to our hearts, we must pray.
Whether a sermon, bible study, personal devotion or whatever, if we want it to land in our hearts, we must chew it over in prayer, and ask that the Lord might help us grow.
3. Prayer is a privilege, not a burden
Yes, the Bible calls, even commands us to pray, but that is a gift in itself.
Someone who loves to cook will be excited that they get to make dinner. Someone who has to cook will bemoan that they have to make dinner.
Often we have that same attitude about prayer, feeling that we have to pray. But if we grow to love Jesus, we will grow to love praying, and we’ll grow in excitement that we get to pray.
It is a beautiful privilege that we can talk to the King of Kings!
4. Prayer is about trusting God, not about persuading God.
When we turn in faith to Jesus through prayer, it is us that need changed, not him. We come to pray, ‘Your will be done, Your Kingdom come.’ Often, we come to pray with all the concerns of our wee kingdoms, and ask that God might do what we want, as if he needs convinced.
With his word, and the Gospel in our mind, how we pray will change. So, when we pray, we come to reorient our priorities.
Prayer is therefore more about submission, rather than impression. We bow before the true King, rather than attempting to stamp our own desire and authority.
And yet, it is this kind of humble prayer that is powerful, and makes a difference! (James 5:13-18)
5. Pray to depend on God, rather than demand from God.
If we’re to trust God in prayer, then we need to depend rather than demand.
Rather than turning up to pray with a wish list, we can turn up with his word that shows us what we should ask, and what God promises. We can be guaranteed that God will answer these kind of prayers. HOW or WHEN he answers is another matter of course!
What we ask of God will show us what we care about, so we should constantly examine our prayers, and pray that he would provide what we NEED, not necessarily what we WANT.
6. Prayer is about confessing our weakness, not proving our worthiness.
We have nothing to prove as we talk to God in prayer. Instead, as Jared Wilson puts it, prayer is ‘acknowledged helplessness.’
We are broken, weary, and sinful. We can’t show off to God in the slightest. Jesus smashed the Pharisees for being hypocrites who loved to be seen. (Matthew 6:5)
So, there is freedom in not ‘having it all together’ – we’re not expected to, and so we don’t need to pretend we do.
7. Pray honestly, pour our your heart
It is better to pray with honesty than to want to pray perfectly. We don’t need to have all the right words. Yes, we should work at understanding the bible better so that we can grow in prayer, but that shouldn’t stop us praying honestly today.
It’s ok that we will never pray perfectly, but it’s not ok if we never pray. Augustine said, “remove from prayer much speaking, but not much prayer.”
So, it is better to pray 5 words honestly, than 500 impressive words.
8. Prayer won’t happen naturally, so learn to pray.
We might find it easy to pour out our hearts to God, we might not. Regardless, prayer is something to be learnt.
Again, the Bible should shape how we pray. We can go to the Psalms, which is essentially a big book of prayers, or we can learn how people in the Bible prayed. The New Testament is filled with encouragements of what we should pray for.
We can read books on prayer, use models or frameworks to help us think it through.
In the church, we can learn so much from each other too. We can think about how mature believers pray and learn from their examples.
9. Prayer won’t happen accidentally, so plan to pray.
Occasionally, we might respond to an incident or some news, by turning to God in prayer. But the usual reality is that unless we plan to pray, we won’t.
So, plan to pray.
Set aside times, maybe a regular slot in your day makes the most sense. If your week is a bit more flexible, plan set times you know you’ll have some time free from distractions.
It can help to have a place to pray. For me, walking the dog is usually a good opportunity to pray about the day ahead, but I also take time at my wee desk to pray more specifically for things.
It can help to use lists to pray through, or a simple system to help you remember things to pray for and focus. Journaling can help to focus, perhaps writing out prayers in full, or just writing some notes about what you’ve prayed for to keep your mind in gear. Praying out loud can also help, so is worth finding somewhere quiet you can do that in peace.
10. Prayer can become routine.
When we’ve planned to pray, we can build healthy habits, but prayer can easily become a routine, tick-box exercise that we do without much thought.
As you grow as a believer it can be easy to rhyme off the same things over and over, but Jesus warned his people not to ‘babble like the Gentiles.’(Matthew 6:7)
So, think about what to pray. Think about what words and phrases we use, and consider how we might pray differently. Key to this is to engage our hearts and minds together, to be thoughtful, informed and engaged as we pray.
11. Prayer can be hard on our own, and can be hard with others
On our own, we can be distracted, or lack discipline. With others, we can be fearful, intimidated, or unsure what to pray.
Praying on our own will help us pray with others, and praying with others will help us pray on our own.
On our own, practice praying out loud. With others, listen to how they pray, what do they pray for? Ask folks for prayer, and ask how you can pray for them. When praying with other people, encourage those who have prayed with hearty AMENS!
12. Prayer can be easily dropped.
So, keep praying, whether you feel like it or not!
It is all too easy to let prayer be the first thing to drop when we are busy. Or, when we feel like our prayers aren’t making any difference, we can feel like giving up.
Martin Luther said that prayer should be “brief, frequent and intense.” We don’t have to pray for long, but short, often and meaningful prayer will make a difference.
“Pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) “Continue steadfastly in prayer…” (Colossians 4:2 ESV)
Persistence, persistence, persistence.
13. Praise God for answered prayer
Now and then, reflect on what you have been praying for, and look out for how God has answered prayers.
This is where keeping lists or a journal of what you’re praying for can really help, because we would have something to look back over rather just our (often failing!) memories.
When (not if!) we see answered prayers, praise God.