Some of us are inclined to pray almost by our nature. Quietand aloneare things we welcome. We don’t ever think we are wasting time when we sit in silence and pour out our thoughts to God. We are somewhat introverted, and our bent is toward what is often called spirituality. We might even know a bit of Latin— sophisticated words like lectio, meditatio, andoratio—to describe our devotional life. Time flies by when we pray. We are energized by prayer, and we look forward to praying.
I am not one of those persons. Don’t get me wrong! I love to pray, but I need help. I need help from friends, some who are living and active in my life and others who are long dead but are friends nevertheless. And I need help because, for me, prayer is both refreshing and hard work. Prayer is like a good, long jog, both exhilarating and painful, invigorating and tiring.
Have you ever watched a group of people run? Skinny people appear to run effortlessly, but the rest of us labor under the burden of our own girth. When I pray, I am anything but spiritually skinny. I pray under the girth of my own sloth, my distracted mindset, and my unbelief that wonders if prayer actually accomplishes anything at all. But I pray nevertheless. I pray because I like to pray—and I pray because I must. I pray alone, and I pray in groups. And every time I pray, I need a little help from my friends.
For those of you who are like me, I’d like to share a few insights from some friends who have motivated me in recent years. The voices of these friends have spurred me on to a greater devotion to prayer. I am a better disciple because of these men and women and their ability to articulate the nature and value of prayer.
On the nature of prayer itself:
New Testament scholar William Barclay writes, Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest we wait in silence for God’s voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him.
Thomas Watson, one of my favorite Puritan writers, says, Prayer as it comes from the saint is weak and languid; but when the arrow of a saint’s prayer is put into the bow of Christ’s intercession, it pierces the throne of grace.
On the necessity of prayer:
Author Catherine Marshall writes, One can believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and feel no personal loyalty to Him at all—indeed, pay no attention whatever to His commandments and His will for one’s life. One can believe intellectually in the efficacy of prayer and never do any praying.
The Victorian-era preacher Charles H. Spurgeon said we can measure the vitality of a church by how it prays: The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.
J. C. Ryle, bishop of Liverpool in the nineteenth century, said,To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven.
An the power of prayer:
Methodist pastor Samuel Chadwick once said, The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from our prayerless work, or prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.
A. C. Dixon, Baptist pastor and staunch critic of theological liberalism, wrote early in the twentieth century, When we depend upon organizations, we get what organizations can do; when we depend upon education, we get what education can do; when we depend upon man, we get what man can do; when we depend upon prayer, we get what God can do. Pastor Dixon was right, and we want what only God can do. So let us press on in prayer.
An invitation and a plan
Do you want to grow in your prayer life in 2012? I hope so. I know I do. To pray is to keep company with God(Clement of Alexandria). To pray is to get to God (E. Stanley Jones). Prayer is the fuel for church renewal. Prayer is what keeps the church from becoming a mere institution. Prayer keeps us coming to God like a persistent widow before an unjust judge (Luke 18). Prayer will shape our church, and prayerlessness will be the ruin of our church.
To that end, as we move toward a new year, let us pray. And let us keep praying. Make some friends who will teach you and help you pray. In 2012, read a book on prayer that will encourage your prayer life. Try God’s Prayer Book by Ben Patterson orDeepening Your Conversation with Godby the same author. Read Charles Spurgeon’s The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Lifeor—possibly my favorite—The Soul of Prayerby P. T. Forsyth. Andrew Murray’s classic With Christ in the School of Prayer is very valuable. Buy or one of these books, read it slowly, and don’t worry about finishing it. But let these friends lead you to prayer.
And then… pray! Pray alone in the morning even if for five minutes…. And pray with your church. Come on Tuesday mornings if possible and pray with your church. Let Ben Patterson show you a model of prayer you may never have seen…. See your homegroup as a place of prayer…. Consider forming a prayer group that meets regularly…. And learn how to pray. Find a mentor and begin praying.
I will let J. C. Ryle have the last word: Faith is to the soul what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to the body. How a person can live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a person can believe and not pray is past my comprehension, too.
Lord, teach us to pray!