This week I want to talk with you about prayer. Most people, even those who aren’t yet Christians, know something about prayer. Lots of us have talked to “the big guy upstairs”, if only to ask Him to give us something we really want or to get us out of a jam. It just seems like a natural thing to do. That’s because it is. You and I were made to talk with God as freely as we breathe. As a believer, your prayer life is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy love relationship with God.
Why is prayer so important for me as a believer?
1. When I pray I re-establish contact with God
As we go about our day to day life, with all its details, it’s easy for God to fade into the background. That’s hard to avoid, since life demands our attention. When we pray, though, our mind shifts back to God and we reconnect. For the moment, we become more aware of Him and of the fact that He’s with us, loving us and helping us. This is one of the reasons that the Bible tells us to “pray continually” ( 1 Thes. 5:16). Continual prayer means that we keep up a running conversation with God throughout our day. The conversation may be very short at times; maybe even just one word, like “help!” or “thanks.” But each time we speak to God we become aware of Him.
2. When I pray my spirit gets renewed
Following Jesus takes energy. Lots of it. Living for Christ in a sinful world means that we have to push against the current; to go against the flow. It wears on us after a while. When we pray, however, it’s like pausing to take a cold drink on a hot day. Our spiritual energy gets a boost; giving us the strength to go another mile. This is crucial, since spiritual stamina is often the difference between victory and defeat.
3. When I pray my spiritual focus gets recalibrated
In the busyness of life it’s easy to forget why we’re doing all this. Why are we working so hard to make money? Why are we raising a family? Mowing the yard? These are essential activities, but, for the believer, they’re only a means to an end. That end is to glorify God and to accomplish His purposes. It’s easy for awareness of that to fade. When we pray, it can create a sort of “oh ye-eah” moment. We remember that our earthly life is short and that our real home is in Heaven. We remember that God’s opinion of us is far more important than what others think. We remember that other people are really important and that they too need Jesus. It’s like putting on a pair of spiritual glasses and letting God’s values spring back into focus.
4. When I pray God is moved to take action
The Bible says that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). Our prayers sometimesprompt God to do things that He otherwise might not do. James tells us: “Youdo not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2d). There’s some mystery here, since there’s not always a clear correlation between what we ask God for and what He gives us, nevertheless, we’re invited, in a number of places in Scripture, to freely ask God for His help and His gifts (John 14:13,14, Phil. 4:6).
1. Talk to God in the same way you’d normally talk to others
There’s no need to go into a “holy whine” or speak King James English (unless you enjoy that). Yes, be respectful. God may be our friend, but He’s not our peer. He’s our Creator and the Lord of the universe. But part of growing in our relationship with God is getting comfortable enough to have a normal type of conversation with Him. This lowers some of the God/human barriers.
2. Talk to God in an honest, open way
“How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” Jeremiah is even more direct: “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? (Jer. 12:1) If we’re going to grow close to God we’ve got to be open with Him, just as we are with other close friends.
3. Keep a running conversation
As mentioned earlier, we’re called to “pray continually”. What works for me is to have at least one longer session of prayer each day where I can relax and really focus. Then I continue chatting with God on and off throughout the day as the opportunity arises. When I’m alone in the car I may get ten or fifteen minutes of prayer. Sometimes, my prayer is just a quick, unspoken thought.
4. Learn to focus
You’ll find, as soon as you start to pray, that other thoughts come flooding in. That’s normal, but it’s important to learn how to deal with distractions or they’ll sabotage your prayer time. When an intrusive thought pops up, gently push it to the side and continue praying. If it’s an “I have to remember this” thing, keep a scrap of paper with you and make a note. It might even be helpful, in our hyper-stimulated media world, to practice some mind-quieting exercises. Turn off the computer. Stare at a tree. Allow your body to relax.
5. Pray with others
We can learn a lot about prayer by observing others as they pray. Be your own person, but borrow what you can from the attitudes and approaches of others. Some of them are prayer veterans and have much to teach us. Plus, their prayers will encourage us.
6. Use a variety of prayer tools
When we think of prayer, the dominant picture that springs to mind for many of us is prayer that asks God for a favor of some sort. This is called a “petition” (Phil. 4:7), and it’s a legitimate part of our prayer arsenal. God is totally rich and we’re totally needy, so it’s normal to ask for His help. But there are other sorts of prayer as well.
There’s the prayer of worship or praise. In this prayer we’re not asking God for anything, we’re giving Him something – our approval and thankfulness (Dan. 2:19-23).
There’s the prayer of confession (Ps 51:1-4). This is where we admit our sins to God and repent of them.
There’s also the prayer of intercession (Luke 22:31,32). This is where we pray for other people We can make a large difference in the lives of others simply by praying for them.
While prayer is not about performance, it is a skill that can be developed. We can learn to focus better, to pray a wider variety of prayers, to pray with more faith, and to listen to God more sensitively. So, wherever you are, jump in and get going! God will bless your efforts to talk with Him. He loves it.