Lately I have thought a lot about prayer. As a woman who was raised in the church, prayer is a fairly familiar and common theme. Prayer was used before every meal, before bed, and, of course, who could not quote The Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6. I began to think about how we use prayer as a verb in our daily lives and interactions with each other. If someone we know is struggling, battling an illness, or just in a bad frame of mind, we quickly will roll off our tongues the promise of “I’ll be praying for you.” Yet are we faithful to follow through with the promise of prayers offered off the cuff to those who truly need them? Or, this, when someone says “I’m praying for you,” have you ever thought to yourself, “Are they praying for me because they think I need prayer in some way because I am lacking or because they perceive me to have sinned in some area?” And, my favorite is this one: “All we can do is pray.”
As I have pondered these concepts, I have felt both saddened and convicted. What must Jesus think when we so callously and carelessly throw around the word “prayer”? As this year has begun, I have vowed to take prayer as seriously as God intended it to be and to understand how God longs for us to pray to Him. Interwoven in this concept is the deeper discipline God is instilling in me–wait on the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us, “Pray constantly.” Granted, life requires us to interact and engage with others and we have responsibilities and commitments. What Paul is telling us here is to have our hearts in a posture of perpetual prayer. How often do we make prayer a last resort or the go-to when it seems that all else has failed? Paul offers, orders, us a better way. Pray! And do it constantly. It is a bowing of our hearts, our wills, to Jesus. Sometimes, it benefits us to take up the battle of prayer on our knees, literally. How would our lives be changed and to what degree would we feel the presence of Jesus in our daily lives if we made prayer the priority, rather than the afterthought?!
Why do we pray? Jesus Himself tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that “your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.” Prayer invites Jesus into our circumstances. Praise God that He knows our every thought, our every need, our every heartache, our every battle, our every cause for rejoicing. Yet His heart longs for us to bring these to Him ourselves. The Creator of the Universe desires to walk in an intimate relationship with Him. Prayer is a blessing and a gift He has given to His children that invites Him into what He already knows is happening. Jesus does not force Himself on anyone. He wants us to seek Him with all of our hearts, and when we do, we will find Him. Not only does prayer have the power to change things, prayer has the power to change you and me. Prayer is the opportunity to dialogue with God–dialogue which requires two-way communication. When we pray, God listens. When we pray, God speaks. When we pray, God acts. Paul told the church in Thessalonica to pray constantly. He told the church in Colossae to “devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). Frequently we find Jesus, when He was in human form, going off alone to pray. If Jesus, the perfect and sinless lamb and Son of God, felt compelled to pray and needed to commune with His Father in prayer, then how much more do we as sinful humans need this constant lifeline? Ultimately, the purpose of prayer is to draw us ever closer to the heart of God. Countless times I have brought myself to God, asking that He enable and empower me to have a different attitude or to have the ability to forgive and release. Without fail, God has worked in an impossible way to mold me more into His image. When I don’t feel like forgiving, I take it to Him, and I tell Him I don’t want to forgive, but I know that is not His way. So I ask Him to assist me, to strengthen me, to enable me to forgive. Miraculously, faithful as He is, He takes this flawed and faulted human heart and empowers me to forgive. I have literally prayed and asked God to change my mood because I don’t even like myself in that moment. Guess what? He does. He helps me choose His way over my own selfish desires. Prayer is the means by which I acknowledge to Jesus just how much I love Him, need Him, and desire His Presence in my life. I am desperate for more of Him in my life and in me.
Psalm 73:28 says, “But as for me, God’s presence is my good.” Then why don’t we pray? What prevents us from pouring out our hearts before the Almighty? In my experience, there are a few things that prevent us from being devoted to prayer. Fear prevents us from a deeply intimate prayer life. Perhaps, we are hesitant to openly express ourselves to God because we are afraid He will not hear us or grant us what we request. Or, we are afraid that if we believe Him and take Him at His Word, then He may not come through and will let us down and disappoint us. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11) “Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” (Psalm 37:4) We do not have to be afraid that God does not care, that He does not hear, that He will disappoint. Prayer aligns our passions with God’s. Another thing that prevents us from praying is a lack of faith. We simply fail to believe God is at work in our lives or situations so we cease praying. We may not believe He cares about the minute details of our daily comings and goings. We may not believe He is going to do anything about it. Or–we may believe He is to blame for our circumstances initially so why ask for His hand to intervene. There are so many ways doubt has the devastating potential to wreck our prayer lives. But God says in James 5:16 that “the urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” We may not see with our limited vision and human eyes what God is actively doing, but we must believe that He is present and active. Finally, distractions prevent us from praying. Haven’t we all experienced this situation–we set aside time to pray, yet once we begin, every random, stray thought enters our brains at that exact moment. We think about what we have to do, what is for dinner, who is picking up the kids, and the list goes on and on. The choice is ours–do we give in to the distractions or do we persevere and lay them aside and focus on our time with God?
Sometimes, it can be challenging to know where to begin praying. All you have to do is a quick search of the web and you have innumerable solutions at your fingertips. But I propose a simple approach as you begin. Find a favorite Scripture verse or even one of the ones quoted above, and pray that aloud, right back to God. Personalize Scriptures into prayers. Come to Him, just as you are. Offer yourself to Him, and tell Him you don’t even know what to say. The Bible tells us that “the Spirit also joins to help us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings” (Romans 8:26). Life is a battlefield. We cannot even began to understand the battle occurring in the heavenlies, but we know our God is victorious. Today, make prayer a priority. My personal prayer right now is: “God, You are my God. Eagerly I seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.” Found in Psalm 63:1
I leave you with this: “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). Open your heart to prayer, and wait and listen to hear what the Lion of Judah has to say to His beloved child.