CROSSING OVER ♦ PRAYER
I will discuss two important spiritual habits in the next two lessons, prayer and study. I highlight these because they are essential to your growing relationship with God. I don’t mean to make them the most important practices or only disciplines you attempt. You need them all. But prayer is talking to God. He wants to hear from you and to speak to you. Study explains him, his thoughts and ways, and presents all the great promises he’s made to you.
Think of it this way: No prayer, no relationship or spiritual power. No study of God’s word, no personal holiness or spiritual fortitude. You cannot afford to not pray or study.
The Importance of Communication
There are many kinds of prayers, or purposes with prayer. We use prayer to intercede for others and situations. Prayer is our means of request for personal and spiritual needs. Prayer is the battleground in spiritual warfare. The list goes on. Here I am going to present prayer simply as your conversation with God and place of intimacy. Other aspects of prayer will certainly show up here, yet our purpose is conversation and intimacy.
God created humans to be social creatures. In fact, most living things exist in community. A fundamental way community works is by communication. It is how we convey ideas, intent, concern, and more. Moreover, we live in the Information Age in which our ability and methods to connect with others is boundless. It is hard not to realize that communication is at the heart of relationship. There is no intimacy between friends or lovers without it. There is no cohesion in society without it. In fact, little to no communication is a sign of trouble.
You now possess a relationship with God and communication with him is no different. People sometimes think of God in weird, far-fetched, impersonal ways that alienate them from him more than acquaint them. He is not some benevolent, unknowable essence “out yonder,” nor is he “the man upstairs.” He is a person, just as we are. He loves and enjoys our love expressed to him. He wants to know us. He already knows all there is to know about us, but he desires our active fellowship.
Also, he desires that we get to know him better, and we stand to gain much. We know him better when we spend time with him. Time with God, as the spiritual habits go, is more than prayer. Meditation, solitude, reflection, and other practices are equally time spent with God. But prayer is among the most dynamic interactions because we talk to God and he talks with us.
Open Your Heart to God
I cannot think of a more honest way we affirm our confession of faith than by praying. In Lesson 3, I remarked that our faith is contingent on a few things: our belief that God is who he says he is; our confidence that he is the answer to our sin problem; our realization that we are designed for connection to him.
I don’t need to do much explaining here because a look into today’s culture reveals so much. God is not on people’s minds. Prayer—what’s the use?—this is how many people view God and religious things. Blessing our food in public settings is enough to make some people feel awkward, including believers! So to be a person who intentionally seeks to spend time talking with God is a real indicator to people (and ourselves) that faith has impacted the heart.
Prayer is the place where you open your heart to God. Your first duty is to adore him. Jesus begins the model prayer this way: “Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9) or “may your name be kept holy.” It entails our dutiful reverence, awe, praise, and esteem for God in the way we treat him and in the way we uphold his honor elsewhere. Begin your prayers with praise. Love God and rejoice in him. Thank him for saving you. Cherish the beauty of nature. Be grateful for the good things in your life and for the hope of change. Nothing is too small to appreciate. Praising God will change your perspective.
Open your heart by being penitent, or by expressing sorrow for your sin. Although we are born again, we still err in sin. We have done things that we should not have done and omitted doing things we should have done. We have thought badly of our neighbor, spoken harshly to our loved ones, and failed in our witness. There are things about us only God has seen. King David prays, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12).
So godly sorrow makes our hearts soft before God and keeps us honest. If we are honest with God and openly confess our sins, he will have mercy on us.
We also open our hearts to God by expressing our feelings and concerns. A caring parent wants to hear what is on the hearts of their children and will take time to listen. Your heavenly Father wants to hear what’s on your heart—not just the fact that you’re stressed or sick or in need of money. Don’t treat God as though he were your therapist or personal backer. (He’s concerned about your needs, too.) Instead, develop talking to him as you would your own parent. Some people say, “I don’t know what to pray about,” but I don’t think this describes most people. We have real matters to discuss with God, and most people are willing to share them if they feel God is there to answer.
How to Pray
So talk to God about anything, even your complaints. It is better to moan and complain to him than to let yourself get caught up in gossip, murmuring, or unbelief with faithless people. Further, what good is complaining to those who usually cannot or will not offer real help? I take my gripes to a God who turns situations. I encourage you to read through the Psalms. You will never get a more honest picture of the scope of human prayer than what you find there, and some of it is raw! But it’s real and intimate, and God has preserved it as an example for us.
Talk to God daily and regularly. You will sense more and more that he is near you. Eventually, you will develop the instinct to turn your cares over to him as they arise. The apostle Paul says that we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17, KJV). Does this mean that we should spend every minute of the day babbling to God? No, it doesn’t. What it means is that prayer is also an attitude. It is a quiet and constant inner reflection on God. As we talk to God regularly, soon it will become our automatic response to life.
I encourage you to begin your prayer life with a daily period of prayer. Find a place where you will not be disturbed, perhaps somewhere that helps you connect to the divine. I enjoy praying at a favorite park. It has many stately trees, rolling fields of grass, and flowers. Nature makes me feel close to God, so it’s a perfect spot for me to pray. Shut out the noise of the world and your personal cares and focus on being with the Lord.
Sometimes this means prepping for prayer. Hear me: You cannot drink in all the culture and expect to easily connect with God. Sometimes you will need to shut off the TV, radio, cellphone, laptop, and more to focus on heaven. If your thoughts wander, call them back, perhaps with a focus scripture or prayer topic. I like to visualize myself standing before God seated on his throne.
If you feel better standing, sitting, or bowed on your knees, there is no rule to it—it’s up to you. You may wish to jot down things you want to praise God for, things you want to chat about, things you want to request, and so on. A prayer journal is an excellent idea for noting requests and answers.
One key to understanding the spiritual habits is that, apart from minimal ways to practice them, you are free to improvise. How to perform them is largely between you and the Lord. So, for instance, I am encouraging you here to start with 15 minutes of private prayer each day. Okay, you might be picking yourself off the floor right now—Fifteen minutes! But you would be shocked at the amount of time you spend on your cellphone each day! I promise that you’ll look back a year from now—when you’re in prayer a solid hour or more—and wonder how a quarter-hour was once so difficult.
Hold Your Prayer Horses!
Now no good relationship is one-sided. How would you feel hanging out with your best friend and all he or she did was chatter away and each time you tried to speak you were interrupted and the chattering continued? Some of us know how that feels. I do!
Many Christians treat God this way. In prayer we thank God; we recognize his sovereignty; we pray for our family’s welfare; we ask for a raise; we pray for our sick neighbor; we pray for our church; we pray for the world; we pray for the special meeting at work tomorrow—“In Jesus’s name, Amen.”—then we scurry off to our next matter of business.
The problem is not that our prayer is wrong in some way; it’s that we don’t wait to hear what is on God’s heart. We pour all our concerns on him but don’t wait to hear him say “I love you” or for assurance that he will be with us in tomorrow’s meeting. We miss his prodding for us to go serve and pray for our sick neighbor, a prayer he intends to use to heal that person.
Learn to wait for God. This is a major spiritual life lesson. If you’re expecting audible voices and dramatic visions, turn your expectancy dial down for now! Listen for inner impressions, prompting and urging, inspiration and illumination, godly thoughts and ideas, and scripture itself. God’s voice will never contradict his word. Listening and quiet will sharpen your hearing, but it will also teach your soul to be patient and to wait for God’s timing.
A great way to practice quiet is while in bed in the stillness of the night or upon waking, when everyone else is asleep. These are golden moments that you shouldn’t let pass you by. Also, learn to enjoy being at home and in the car with no devices playing. Embrace quietness. It will detox your soul from the noise of life.
My Start in Prayer
Allow me to share one of the struggles with prayer I had when I began growing in Christ. I had a hard time fathoming how little ole me could make any difference to the world with my prayers. I knew God heard them, but what was their effect on the big issues I saw on the news and elsewhere? I was diligent to pray for the President and persons in power, world peace and poverty, the universal Church and persecuted Christians, current disasters and more. But I just couldn’t see where my one small prayer mattered.
I grew to learn a few things. One was that my prayer, no matter how trivial to me, was significant in God’s eyes and works in ways that I cannot understand. God taught me that my obedience and a heart to pray matter more than my capacity to understand. Another thing I learned is that my job is to pray and it is God’s job to answer. I don’t need to figure out how war, hunger, and persecution need to be solved. I just need to call on God.
I also learned that God is providential. This means that he is at work in the world in ways we do not see bringing his will to completion. We may not understand how tragedy and mishap play out in the scheme of his plan, but we trust that he is sovereignly in control. After I learned these “tips,” I had no more problems.
Don’t allow your enemy, Satan, to make you feel like you don’t matter in prayer or the kingdom of God. It’s his way of trying to blind you to the fact that in prayer you’re more powerful than he is. Hear the scripture: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Pray bold prayers for your life, your family, your involvements and expect your Heavenly Father to answer.
Use Prayer to Get Results
Finally, I hope you might now see how prayer acts as a platform to the other disciplines. I cannot fathom undertaking a habit of confession or humility without earnestly seeking God’s mind. It is truly using prayer introspectively, enjoined with another habit, to search ourselves before God.
David prays, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).
Prayer is a habit that certainly changes things; it will change you more than anything else. But you must be responsible to do it. You have a duty to pray and to know God if you expect to grow in the Christian life. This is not your burden, however, but a wonderful privilege to acquaint God intimately and watch him work in you.
God’s Purpose & Your Responsibility
God’s purpose is to have friendship with you, plain and simple. Your responsibility is to get to know him through prayer, to share your concerns with him and to hear his concerns about you.
INPUT: Practice private prayer 15 minutes each day for two weeks. Add ten minutes every two weeks until reaching 45 minutes. OUTPUT: You will develop intimacy with God, a strong prayer life, and confidence in God’s character.
Daily Bread: Prayer
Jeremiah 33:2-3—“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’”
Philippians 4:6-7—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
1 John 5:14-15—“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”
1 Kings 19:11-13; Psalms 41; 63:6; Proverbs 28:13; Matthew 6:5-13; Mark 1:35; Luke 12:32; Romans 8:26-27; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; 1 John 4:4