Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.
- Brian Hedges looked at John Owen on the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer.
- Today C. Walter wrote on the Lord’s Prayer.
- Chris wrote on the practice of private prayer.
- Chris writes on the practice of corporate prayer.
- Today Mike Boling writes on four keys to a consistent and purposeful prayer life.
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about prayer, examining my own prayer life or admittedly the lack of one over the past few months. Part of this examination process has involved wondering what makes some people such prayer warriors and devoted to prayer while others seems to treat prayer as a pre-meal exercise or a quick barrage of words prior to falling asleep. Scripture presents three key truths concerning prayer: 1) It is an essential part of the Christian walk; 2) We have a model of how to pray outlined in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Just do it. There is really nothing fancy about praying. No formula to follow like some sort of Harry Potter spell or charm. We are simply told that prayer is vital, that we should pray that God’s will be done, and we are to pray without ceasing.
So what keeps us from praying on a consistent basis? What are the barriers to pouring out our hearts to the God who so desires to hear from us even though He already knows what we will say and what we need? I think there are three key barriers to prayer:
1) Pride. Yes that ugly enemy called pride tops the list. When it comes to prayer, the issue of pride rears its ugly head when we think we know all things and can go it alone in this thing called life. The finite human far too often believes they have sufficient wisdom to give it a go, not realizing that such a perception is about as false as the day is long. The spirit of pride declares that sufficiency can be found within self. How does Scripture respond to such a perspective of life? We are told such truth as “Prides comes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18) and “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Notice where pride leads and where wisdom is found. Pride leads to destruction and wisdom comes from God.
2) Business/Laziness. Both business and laziness are related barriers to prayer. With all the demands of life to include work, home, church, and hobbies to name a few, prayer gets shuffled to the back burner of the daily priority list if it even makes the list at all. Even when we have time in our schedule to pray, taking a nap on the couch or watching that final game of the playoffs takes priority over spending time in relational conversation with God.
3) Embarrassment/Timidity. How many of us decline saying a prayer before a meal in public? I will raise my hand. The question is why? It is truly out of an attitude of being embarrassed to bow your head and give thanks to God who provided the means by which you can partake of that meal. We are far too worried about what others might think about us saying a prayer of thanksgiving. Related to embarrassment is the attitude of timidity, the feeling like you are not eloquent enough with your words to say anything worthwhile which leads to saying nothing at all. Neither approach is correct.
How do we do battle against these three issues so these barriers to a consistent and purposeful prayer life can be demolished? Let me provide four methods:
1) Humility. Since Scripture says that “pride leads to destruction” (Prov. 16:18) and “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5), then we must grasp the reality that pride is not the answer and that wisdom comes from somewhere outside of ourselves. I am reminded of King Solomon who asked for wisdom from God above all else. Charles Spurgeon once rightly declared “Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God.”
2) Do not let business or laziness become an excuse. Martin Luther once stated, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Jesus often went to a quiet place in the morning to spend time in prayer with his Father. Scripture exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing.” Thus, regardless of how much we feel must be crammed into our daily schedules, nothing should rise to such a level of importance that we do not take time to spend with our heavenly Father in prayer. Furthermore, we can always be in a spirit of prayer, conversing with God throughout the day. With that said, devoted and consistent time spent in the prayer closet is also a must.
3) Do not fear what man might say. The great preacher Leonard Ravenhill once stated, “A man who is intimate with God will never be intimidated by men.” In all honesty, who cares what people think if you bow your head and say a prayer before your meal in public? After all, Jesus did say “whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 10:33) Strong words for certain and to a large degree, being embarrassed to pray in public before a meal can certainly be construed as falling dangerously close to that disowning category. Now mind you we are not to make a big show of praying to draw attention to ourselves. Engaging in that type of prayer is warned against in Matthew 6:7 as something the heathen do – the old Pharisaical approach. We should bow our heads, give thanks from a thankful heart, and partake of the meal. Who knows what seed might be planted in the hearts of those who observe that activity.
4) Just do it. Charles Spurgeon once commented that “True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.” If you’re afraid you’re lacking in eloquence or that you have nothing worthy of saying, put that attitude away from you. Jesus provided a simple model for prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. What is most interesting about that model prayer is it is a conversation between man and his God. It covers all the basics of life such as God’s will taking place, provision being given, forgiveness towards those who have wronged us, protection from the enemy, and giving glory to God. If you’re struggling with your prayer life, follow the keep it simple method. Have a conversation with God. He knows your heart and He already knows what you are going to say but He longs to hear it anyway. “A single groan” is the best place to start.
Prayer must be a part of our lives all day and every day. If you have been struggling with your prayer life, I trust this post will be of some help. If anything, remember this one truth – Just do it. Engage in prayer, exercise that spiritual muscle, and cast your cares upon God for He truly cares for you.