It’s Sunday morning, the pastor is preaching a sermon on prayer when the ever-condemning words fall from his lips, “You wouldn’t go a day without talking to your spouse, why would you think it’s ok to go a day without talking to God?” You feel that twinge of guilt inside your gut at the realization of your prayerlessness. After the service, you hear blue-haired Betty boasting about her daily two-hour sessions with the Lord in her “prayer closet.” You go home and try to numb the guilt by scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, but John Piper has conveniently posted another article on persistence in prayer. So finally, you commit to pray for an hour every morning before sunrise. Your commitment lasts for all of a day, because boy is it hard to spend quality time with the Lord when you’ve got sandbags hanging from your eyes at 5 in the morning! In time, the guilt subsides, and you are able to go about your life as usual.
It is so easy for us to heap feelings of guilt upon ourselves about our prayerlessness, especially when we begin comparing ourselves to others. It probably doesn’t take much to convince a Christian about the importance of prayer, yet nine out of ten people (ten out of ten if we are honest), don’t consider themselves to have “arrived” with the whole prayer thing! I am convinced that our actions in prayer are the result of our attitude towards prayer. Until we change our attitudes about prayer, and witness its power in our own lives, we will be living out our days in the cycle above, and we miss incredible opportunities to commune with the Eternal God of the Universe, who is the Good Father that deeply loves his children!
When Jesus taught us to pray, he did not prescribe a time of day, or length of time to spend in prayer. Rather, he prescribed to us the kind of heart with which we ought to approach the Father. He taught us to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:9-13
In prayer, we are turning away from ourselves, and turning towards a holy and righteous God, to whom belongs all the glory (v. 9). Our attitude in prayer ought to be a humble submission to His will, and a humble admission of our dependence on Him (v. 10). This is no small thing, especially since we all tend towards self-sufficiency! We must become convinced that we are not in control, and we cannot get the results we want on our own. In prayer, we recognize our sinful tendencies, and our daily need to fight against that sin that so easily entangles us (v. 12-13)!
Persistence in Prayer
Although we must not condemn ourselves for our prayerlessness (Rom. 8:1), we must adopt within ourselves the right attitude about prayer, and we must not give up fighting sins of unbelief, faithlessness, and prideful self-sufficiency that keep us from approaching the throne of grace. We must know whom we are praying to, and what prayer does.
Firstly, we must remember that our God is a good Father, and he longs to give good gifts to his children. There are things that he has promised, like wisdom (James 1:5), the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and His presence (Deut. 31:6). God is a good Father even when his answer is no, or worse, when his answer is wait! He promised, “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). When God does not give us the things we ask for, guess what? It is because he loves us infinitely more than we understand! God is not taunting us as though we were a cat and he is dangling a string in front of us only to take it away as we reach for it! God is not going to give us a stone when we ask for bread (Mt. 7:9); the fact is, sometimes that thing we want looks just like a warm, juicy loaf of bread, but if we were to get it, we would come to see that it’s just a painted rock. God, will not withhold good things from his children! It is our job to trust his wisdom, not ours, about what is “good.”
Secondly, we can be confident that prayer changes things. There are countless examples in Scripture that someone prayed, and big things happened: enemies defeated, rain stopped, people healed and even risen from the dead, etcetera. As James says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” In order for prayers to be powerful and effective, they must be given in faith. Jesus told us, “… For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt. 17:20). Even when our faith is weak, we can pray like the man with the demon-possessed child, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mt. 9:24). Let us ask for God to move in big ways!
Finally, we can even pray in FAITH for things that God has not promised to us: like the salvation of loved ones, marriage, children, or healed relationships. This is because He said, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart,” and, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). This is not an appeal to “name it, and claim it,” but rather an appeal to continue to pray in faith for good things. For, when our delight is in the Lord, our desire becomes his desire – not my will, but your will be done – We can ask our good and kind Father for good gifts, knowing that his desire is for our good.
We do not need to make an extravagant commitment about our prayer lives that we know we cannot keep. However, we must pray! There are practical ways of making a prayer routine: phone apps, calendar notifications, journals, post-its, utilize them! Make prayer a priority in your own life; make it a priority in your family—pray together regularly; and make it a priority to join in common prayer with your local church community. Ask God to do big things, watch him work, proclaim the good things he has done, and repeat!