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.
“Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” Philippians 4:6
Prayer the sign of life. What is prayer — but the breathing forth of that grace which is breathed into the soul by the Holy Spirit? When God breathed into man the breath of life, he became a living soul. Just so, when God breathes into the creature the breath of spiritual life — he becomes a praying soul: “Behold, he prays,” says God of Paul to Ananias (Acts 9:11). Praying is the same to the new creature, as crying to the natural babe. The child is not learned by art to cry — but by nature — it comes into the world crying. Praying is not a lesson got by forms and rules — but flowing from principles of new life.
Prayer and reality. Prayer is an act in which we have immediately to do with the great God, to whom we approach in prayer. It is too sacred a duty to be performed between sleeping and waking, with a heavy eye or a drowsy heart — this God complained of: “There is none that calls upon Your name, that stirs up himself to take hold of You” (Isaiah 64:7). He counts it no prayer, where the heart is not stirred up and awake. Our behavior in prayer has an universal influence upon all the passages of our whole life. As a man is in prayer — so he is likely to be in all the rest; if he is careless in praying — then he is negligent in hearing, and loose in his walking. Prayer is the channel, in which the stream of divine grace, blessing, and comfort — runs from God into the heart; dam up the channel — and the stream is stopped.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:17-20 (NASB)
Ungodly focus is the focus that everyone has except for the Spirit-filled believer. This focus is oriented to self. Believers who are self-focused are either baby Christians or they have succumbed to Satan’s attacks against them. These attacks are designed specifically to render each believer powerless and without a Christlike testimony. He does this with temptations, fiery darts, that are designed to bring believers to be self-satisfied, self-sufficient, and spiritually arrogant. Of course, these are the marks of a Christian who is not humble, but whose pride is in control.
Satan, our adversary, is the devil. The word devil means slanderer. Here is one description of him by our Lord Jesus Christ.
41 You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” John 8:41-47 (NASB)
Swimmers fear and love the blocks, standing there before a race, waiting to climb that little platform, the brief prelude to the race. There is nervous, expectant anxiety there. And so we all develop little rituals, habitual movements to help calm our nerves — the stretches, arm swinging, and water splashing, performed in the same order, every time. It brings a measure of “known” to the “unknown” of the race about to begin. Engaging with the living God in prayer and personal worship is just as unnerving as a race, even at times more so. What hidden sins will prayerful reflection on God’s word uncover? How will seeing the risen Christ in the Scriptures leave us stunned? What new opportunities to walk in obedience will the Holy Spirit prompt? With these kinds of possibilities facing us every time we come to God in personal devotion (and corporate worship, for that matter) we have the opportunity to develop spiritual, pre-race rituals to prepare us for the blocks of the devotional life. Psalm 25:4-5 provides just such a routine in its five statements.
The first three statements are the same request said three different ways, nuance piling on in each iteration like a snowball that becomes an avalanche. The last two statements are grounding prayers, declarations of fact that provide justification for an answer. And so, Psalm 25:4-5 reads, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”
In our approach to God in worship, we can take David’s first request as our prayer to God, asking that God would reveal his ways to us. This is more than just a request for God to increase our knowledge of Bible facts. David is asking God to teach him practical wisdom, how the truths of Scripture fit together into the life of a follower of the Lord.
Prayer is hard. It’s always been the spiritual discipline I struggle with the most. I blame it on all sorts of things — my busy life, my easily distracted mind, my loud children, my personality, how I’m better at communicating through writing rather than verbally — the list goes on. “It’s not my gift,” I say. Some people are just gifted prayer warriors while I really love reading and studying God’s word, so God must have just wired us to serve different purposes and that’s okay, right?
A thousand times, no. I thought like that for a long time and believing that lie was a tragedy. It’s ignoring one of the greatest gifts ever given to us.
Prayer is the recognition of and participation with God in our life. Our deficiencies in prayer cannot simply be compensated by increased Bible reading, ministry, community, or listening to sermons. Nothing can take the unique place of prayer in the Christian life.
I can say from experience that a prayerless soul is a dead soul.
“I will that men pray everywhere” — 1 Timothy 2:1
1. Prayer is Needful to a Man’s Salvation
Do you pray?
I have a question to offer you. It is contained in three words, Do you pray?
The question is one that none but you can answer. Whether you attend public worship or not, your minister knows. Whether you have family prayers in your house or not, your relations know. But whether you pray in private or not, is a matter between yourself and God.
I beseech you in all affection to attend to the subject I bring before you. Do not say that my question is too close. If your heart is right in the sight of God, there is nothing in it to make you afraid. Do not turn off my question by replying that you say your prayers. It is one thing to say your prayers and another to pray. Do not tell me that my question is unnecessary. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you good reasons for asking it.
Needful for salvation
I ask whether you pray, because prayer is absolutely needful to a man’s salvation.
I say, absolutely needful, and I say so advisedly. I am not speaking now of infants or idiots. I am not settling the state of the heathen. I know that where little is given, there little will be required. I speak especially of those who call themselves Christians, in a land like our own. And of such I say, no man or woman can expect to be saved who does not pray.
“then, if my people, who bear my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
A new leader has assumed the office of the Presidency of the United States. While his assumption of power has not been without angst and outright anger (and unbridled destructive fury in some areas), we nevertheless have a new occupant of the White House.
Often when a period of newness or change such as this takes place, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is presented and rightly so. It is a passage ripe with a promise from the Ultimate Ruler regarding the response He will give to His people. With that said, while a popular passage to invoke, I often wonder if the flow of the passage and in particular, the vital to grasp if/then statement provided are grasped.
So let’s break down this passage, paying special attention to what is required of us and in turn, the promise provided if that requirement is met.
This declaration commences with “if my people”, presenting a point of action on the part of a group. The word “if” means that something must take place before a follow on action can begin. Without the action required in the “if” statement, nothing further will happen.
Before what is required in the “if” statement is explored, it is necessary to engage to whom this declaration is being presented. Adonai is talking to those who “bear my name” or in some translations, those who “are my people”. Quite often 2 Chronicles 7:14 is used, especially during times of national transition such as we are currently in, as a passage that speaks somewhat of the United States as a whole. The belief is centered on the idea that we are a nation blessed by God and thus we can invoke this passage in an overarching way for all people. While this passage does have a definite impact (provided the “if” statement is obeyed), Adonai is focused on a specific group – His people.
Who then are “His people” and what is required to be part of that group? The term “my” is one of possession and relationship. Furthermore, this people bear his name”. This is familial terminology. As His children, we bear the family name of our Father. In keeping with this idea of family and relationship, as the bride of Yeshua, we also bear the name of the Bridegroom. We know not everyone is part of the Family of Adonai and we know not everyone is part of the bride of Yeshua. This means the Father is speaking to a specific segment of the nation. The actions of this segment by extension can and will have an impact on the greater whole.
So what are we then called to do as the people who are His and who bear His name? We are called to do four things: 1) Humble themselves; 2) Pray; 3) Seek His face; 4) Turn from their evil ways.
Let’s take a look at each requirement.
1. Humble themselves. To be humble, according to the Hebrew word kana’ used in this passage, means to “be humbled, be subdued, be brought down, be low, be under, be brought into subjection”. Yahweh is the Ultimate Ruler, regardless if one is part of His family or not. He controls all. Those who claim to be His recognize that authority and Kingship. Thus to humble yourself is a declaration of subservience to the Almighty. It is the complete opposite of the attitude expressed by the enemy who sought to exalt himself above the Almighty. Those who are His and who bear the name of the Father understand who God is and our relationship to Him, namely the fact He is King of the Universe and we are His humble servants.
2. Pray. The term used for pray in this passage does not describe your average everyday pray over a meal. It describes a much deeper aspect of prayer and that description is noted in the definition of the Hebrew word palal which means “to intercede, to supplicate”. This is at its core intercessory prayer. It is focused, purposeful prayer on behalf of the nation, a call to the Almighty to be merciful.
3. Seek His face. To seek the face of the Almighty involves a desire (baqash) the face (paniym) of the Father. Paniym involves an active motion that is to be focused on God. When the creation is properly focused on God, the result is God’s favor being poured out on creation. Conversely, when the creation rejects God and turns their face and actions away from God, His favor is also turned away from the creation. The seeking of God’s face should be a hallmark of those who are called to be His bride. This perhaps begs the question of how we should seek God’s face. Two important elements are the daily washing of our hearts and minds in the word of God through consistent purposeful Bible study and through a consistent posture of bowing before God in prayer.
4. Turn from their evil ways. I think this is the part of the “if” requirement that is most often ignored or overlooked. The word turn is the Hebrew word shuwb which depicts a specific method of movement. It is a return to something, namely the ways of the Father, specifically the commands provided by the Father to His children in His word. If we are not being obedient to the Father’s commands, we are involved in evil and wickedness. The term ways is the Hebrew word derek which describes a course of life or a pattern of behavior.
If we follow the train of commands contained in the “if” statement, we see a clear course of action that must take place in progression. First is humility. Until we humble ourselves under subjection of the rule of the Almighty, our prayers will be futile, we will have no desire to seek His face, and there will be no turning from evil because our hearts are still lifted up against the Almighty.
If we have humbled ourselves but are not focused on intercessory prayer for our nation, we are yet again not in the right frame of spiritual mind. If we humble ourselves and pray, but are not seeking His face, we do not have the proper focus to our prayers and actions. If we humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, but do not turn from wickedness, we are continuing to thumb our nose at Yahweh.
Thus, all elements of the “if” command must be obeyed. I know obedience is not a popular term in a time when “greasy grace” is so often taught, but unless we humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways through the work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot hope to see the blessings that are noted in the conclusion of 2 Chronicles 7:14. We so often want the quick route to God’s favor. To be quite frank, it does not work that way.
If we desire healing for this increasingly fractured nation and if we want to see forgiveness of our sins which are promised in this passage, those who are His and who bear the name of the Father must in humility pray, seek His face, and turn from evil. It is time to take stock of our spiritual condition as the people of Yahweh. Spend time in His word, be a people who desire to obey His commands and pray with a humble heart for this nation. Moreover, be a people whose light shines in a dark and hurting world. This can only happen if we root ourselves in the proper foundation which is Scripture and only if we are obedient to the “if” declaration provided to us in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
Few aspects of the Christian life can cause God’s people more guilt than a lack of personal, private prayer. Few disciplines in the Christian life are as difficult as private prayer. And this struggle doesn’t just exist for immature Christians or those very weak in faith. The testimonies of even some great Christians verify that prayer is difficult.
“Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer.” — Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“There is nothing that we are so bad at all our days as prayer.” — Alexander Whyte
“There are times in my life when I would rather die than pray.” — Thomas Shepard
Consider these words from John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, whose godliness, knowledge of the Scriptures, and powerful preaching were well-known to all who knew him.
May I but speak my own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you . . . entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so reluctant to go to God, and when it is with him, so reluctant to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers; first to beg God that he would take my heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. In fact, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only (blessed be grace) the Spirit helps our infirmities (Romans 8:26).
There just might be some news that would toweringly soar far above any other news you could receive today. That news is that you have, at this present instant, a Great High Priest who intercedes for you before God’s heavenly throne. At this moment, wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, and however you may feel, if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you have a Surety in heaven who pleads His own merits before God the Father on your behalf. Jesus, right now, prays for you. In fact, He does not stop praying for you. He loves you and brings you incessantly before the Father’s throne in prayer. Dear Christian, this is what your bridegroom does for you!
So husband, strive to emulate this by praying for your wife. Just as your Savior brings you before the Father, so you should bring your wife before the Father frequently. Just as your Savior intercedes for you out of fervent love, so you can intercede on behalf of your bride before the Father with a heart overflowing in love.
Husband, do you pray for your wife? Not just a few words here or there. But do you really pour out your soul to God in desperate pleadings, fervent cries, and intercessory petitions on behalf of your most treasured possession on earth, your bride? If God were to affirmatively answer all of your prayers right now, at this instant, how much would really change in your marriage, or in your wife’s life?
Pray with frequency for your wife. Seek the Lord early for your bride. Prayerfully lead her to the throne before she even brings herself to the throne of grace. Beg God for strength to equip her to stand strong in almighty grace and to ward off the devil’s wily schemes. Seek the Lord that she may grow in grace, in wisdom, in love, in patience, in holy zeal, and in evangelistic opportunities.