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.
- Mike Boling wrote on four keys to a consistent and purposeful prayer life.
- David Dunham wrote on the importance of prayer in counseling.
- Today Matthew Fretwell writes on three ways to improve your prayer life.
Every believer should have a connecting time of prayer and devotion. Each of us may have different rituals, practices, places, and/or times for our petitions to be made known, but one thing we should agree on, prayer is imperative for our healthy relationship and walk with Christ. For me, I tend to dive into the Scriptures and see how Jesus connected with the Father. What I see is, the Gospel writers describe Jesus finding time alone. While prayer can be done anywhere and anytime, I believe in the importance of seeking God’s presence in the loneliness of prayer. The Psalmist exclaimed, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1a). Waiting is something we may not desire to do, but it is something that we should long for—to sit and have reflective time with God—allowing Him to speak to our hearts and bring our souls rest. Here’s three ways that may help you find that.
There were moments when Jesus intentionally sought time to be alone (Mk 6:47); “He would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16). I’ve read and heard preachers say, “If it was good enough for Jesus then it’s good enough for me.” Perhaps, but that sounds so generic to me; it’s like saying, “Jesus loves me this I know” is all I need to learn about Christ. I believe we should be always be examining our walk, our time with God, and our intentional intimacy—whether in prayer or reading. Our time with God is more important than anything else we can schedule or dream up. I know as a pastor, that seeking out real time and dedicated dialogue with God is essential to my leadership, teaching, and vision, not to mention my personal life.
I can respect and understand why Martin Luther stated, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” As this seems like an oxy-moronic statement, it’s not. What Luther is declaring is that the centrifugal pull of his life is Christ—his center and core of all that exists belongs to Christ. Even the busyness of worship and ministry can take us away from finding intentional alone time with God. God is the most important person in our life. Intentionality matters. Matthew records, “And after [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matt 14:23). Not only did Jesus find alone time, He also found time for prayer—alone. Your prayer life ought to have intentionality—as well as impulse, which brings us to point number two.
Allowing Room For God
In a book I’m working on now, one of the chapters begins with this sub-title heading; Allowing Room for God. Our lives get so busy with children, wives, events, schedules, ministry, and occupations, that we even plan our time off for sports, friends, and family time. I know that I’m so busy that I plan dates with my wife. But honestly, when are we allowing room for God? You may be thinking, isn’t this like being intentional about being alone? Yes, it is indeed coupled with intentionality, but allowing room for God has more to do with allowing room for spontaneity—being receptive to hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice for intimacy and connection.
I know that there are times when I can feel God pulling on my heart and I think, “God wants to talk, now!” It reminds me of the description in Matthew: “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray” (Matt 26:36). Ever have a time when you had to excuse yourself from company to go and pray? I recall one time when I was an Executive Chef, prior to my pastorate, and as I was slammed (cooking term for extremely busy) at the restaurant with tickets coming off of the printer, pouring out onto the floor as the expeditor yelled out which meals to have prepared. As I was in the midst of my sauté station’s overload, I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit say, “I want some alone time now.” I was shocked. For those who don’t know, I’ll fill you in. In the restaurant industry, rule #1, you don’t ever leave “the line” (kitchen cooking area) when busy—ever! But I know my Master’s voice, and so I made an excuse that I had to go get something quickly in the walk-in. There in the refrigerator, I had a nice conversation with my Lord, which was what I needed to get through the busy night and the stress. Allow room for God. Allow room for spontaneity. God is not so rigid and structured that He speaks at the same times and in the same methods.
Being Able to Hear
As a father, there are times when I ask my daughter to do something. Her selective hearing reminds me of my own. Sometimes there’s difference in hearing and listening. Being able to hear means that I understand and recognize what was being said, listening has to do with obedience—at least in this sense. While both words are sort of interchangeable, it’s not the semantics that I’m seeking, but the understanding of knowing the Spirit’s voice. As believers, Jesus explained that it was imperative that He go to the Father, so that He could send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is our connection to the Father while in prayer (and everywhere). If we begin to tune His voice out, we will not be able to receive guidance, direction, or conviction—all are keys to our spiritual growth.
As well, there are times in prayer that I seek out God’s presence and I may not be to hear anything, but just to sit silently and wait. Sometimes my mind may wander, but I will bring myself back to silence and peace of mind—not in a contemplative or meditative way, but in a relaxing patient way. I desire that “the peace of Christ rule” my heart (Col. 3:15). I want God to know that I’ll wait for Him. I shouldn’t be coming to God with my list of prayers all the time—and assuredly I have a big one. I want to be able to hear Him speak.
I find that most believers do not have a dialogue with God—as they claim that God never speaks—but it’s that they’re too busy cutting Him off with suggestions, petitions, and supplications, which reduces God down to the status of a divine bellhop. Dialogue has the understanding of hearing and speaking; hearing being the most important aspect.
Take the time to be intentional, spontaneous, and attentive, and let God take your prayer life to another level.