How Shall I Then Pray?

1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Pray without ceasing.”

Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…”

Ephesians 6:18, “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 the saints.”

Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

Wrestling to Pray

I struggle to pray.

In fact, to discipline myself to pray and pray consistently and sincerely has been one of my greatest wrestles in my current walk with Christ. I am by no means a prayer warrior. And I realize that this is no comforting fact for those to whom I have made promises to pray. The fact is that I have consistently felt the weight of conviction on my heart on every one of those mornings when I have finished reading God’s Word, felt the tug of the Spirit working with my conscience to remind me to pray, then simply stood up from my place to go about my day without heeding the prodding of the Spirit within me. I have wrestled in my heart and in my mind, striving to understand why I do not pray. I have questioned myself, asking over and over again, “Why have I failed to pray? I have absolutely no excuse not to pray and every motivation to pray!” In the past, I have even taken several weeks to study prayer itself and what Scripture says about it, and I have come to this knowledge, that believers literally have absolutely no excuse not to pray. Furthermore, we also have every blessed motivation to come before our Heavenly Father with praises and petitions…

Motivated to Pray

Of course, Scripture is clear that prayer is not an option. If nothing else, as a believer, I know that I ought to pray everyday, all the time, without fail, if only because I have been commanded to do so by Jesus Christ my Savior! This command appears frequently throughout God’s Word. God always answered the prayers of the righteous men and women of the Old Testament. The Psalmists continually poured out their hearts and cried out to the Lord through prayer. Jesus incarnate set the ultimate example for prayer constantly. He repeatedly told His disciples to ask and instructed them in how to pray. Finally, the apostles then commanded the believers of the early churches to “pray without ceasing”, “be devoted to prayer”, “pray at all times in the Spirit”, etc. Prayer is not an option; it is a command which I have received directly from the Father through His Word, and so I must pray and pray in the manner which He has detailed.

However, although this command was given in all solemnity, to obey it ought to be the farthest thing from a burden to the believer. On the contrary, the pursuit of prayer, when understood in light of Scripture, is rather full of hope and not weariness, eagerness and not discouragement. Although we seek to obey a command, it does not come without its promises!

  • My Father promises that He hears every one of my prayers. Psalm 6:9, “The Lord has heard my supplication, the Lord receives my prayer.”
  • My Father promises that He will answer every one of my prayers. Psalm 20:6, “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.”
  • My Father has declared that He loves to give good gifts to His children. Matthew 7:11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
  • My Father has promised that He will give generously. James 1:5, “But if anyone lacks wisdom, let Him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting…”. 
  • My Father has promised that I have only to ask in Jesus’ name. John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

Of course there are other parameters in Scripture for how one ought to pray, including praying without hypocrisy (Matthew 6:5-13), praying in faith (Mark 11:22-24), praying according to God’s will (1 John 4:14-15), praying continually (Colossians 3:2), and praying humbly and reverently (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2). Yet, I ought to find joy in every aspect of prayer as it is commanded, for I know and may be convinced that the Lord, in His abundant grace and mercy towards me, promises to hear me and answer me.

Furthermore, as I ever more increasingly understand that to live for the glory of Christ is to live in an intense spiritual battle, I encounter an even greater motivation to pray. John Piper in his phenomenal book on missions, “Let the Nations Be Glad”, states emphatically: “Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for.” As a follower of Christ, I am also a soldier for Christ, fighting desperately against sin to eradicate its hold over my heart and fighting boldly to win lost souls with the Gospel of Christ. The fact is that a battle can never be won without communicate and LOTS OF IT. How do I ever expect to overcome sinful habits, to resist temptation, to flee from fleshly lusts, to find victory over depravity if I have not entreated the throne of grace for help in my time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16)?? And how can I ever expect to see souls freed from bondage and converted to Christ if I am not pleading with the Lord to open their hearts to a saving understanding of the Gospel once they have heard its truth? Prayer is, in fact, “God’s instrument to release the power of the Gospel” (John Piper, “Let the Nations Be Glad”).

Reluctant to Pray

SO, with all of this knowledge and understanding of the commands and motivations to pray, of course I would be sure to obey the commands of Scripture, setting aside time in each day to pray, directing my thoughts toward prayer with every opportunity, asking the Lord for strength to glorify Him and for His will to be accomplished in every circumstance, right?

WRONG.

Once again, I have caught a glimpse of my own depravity and my lack of true understanding of the character of God. Even with all of these promises to guide me and practically shove me into the presence of God, I still do not pray as I ought. I still hesitate, I still make excuses. But the Lord is graciously revealing to me that the sin of not praying is actually much deeper rooted than I realized. There are other areas of sin that preventing and deterring me from confidently or even fearfully knocking at the mercy’s door…

Laziness prevents me from praying. Like any other spiritual practice, such as reading and studying God’s Word, memorizing God’s Word, or meditating on God’s Word, praying requires discipline and diligence. How long will I allow fleshly desires for petty things like extra sleep and social media, which are fleeting and utterly worthless in comparison with the glories of knowing Christ more, prevent me from communing with the majestic, loving, powerful Savior who died for me?

Pride prevents me from praying. Prayer itself is the manifestation of a heart that depends upon God and admits that I am nothing without Him, that I need Him. But as I poured over the words of that beloved hymn…

I need Thee every hour, Most Gracious Lord

No tender voice like Thine can peace afford

I need Thee, Oh I need Thee, every hour I need Thee

Oh bless me now, My Savior, I come to Thee

… I was convicted in my heart that I had been refusing to admit my dependence on God. I was not praying because, in my sin, I was deceived and did not truly believe that I needed Him and desperately so. In my arrogance, I did not value the great help that the Loving God offers, but every time turned my back from humbly entering the throne room where Jesus stands ready to intercede for me and the Father yearning to forgive me…

Finally, lack of faith prevents me from praying. Truly, the more I see how little my faith is, the more I cry out “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Truly, if I believed every one of these promises, with complete confidence, having not even a shadow of doubt, I would not even want to rise from falling on my knees before the Father! Yet, the frequency with which I pray is a reflection of how firmly I cling to these promises, whether that reflection is an unseemly or beautiful one.

Resolved to Pray

At the end of all these things, this still remains that I still long to pray in a manner that is pleasing to my Heavenly Father. I hate that I don’t pray. I hate that I would take this privilege so lightly. I hate that I forget and neglect the bountiful floods of mercy, grace, love, goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness that await me if I would but draw near to the Lord. The Lord has broken me and brought me to repentance over this. He has shown me my sin and through His Spirit revived the desire to know Him intimately, to draw near to Him so that He may draw near to me. Consequently, I find hope in a simple principle that Charles Spurgeon once shared with his congregation: “Those who pray little will pray less, yet those who pray much will pray more.” On the one hand, I am made fearful to pray little, knowing that prayers lifted with little conviction or frequency will dwindle quickly, as I have personally found to be true. On the other hand, I am made hopeful, knowing that as I press inward and upward through prayer, the Lord will enable me to pray more as it pleases Him!

Let us then keep one another accountable in the pursuit of prayer, taking hold of the promises we are given in Scripture, and seeking to echo the Psalmist in his declaration of hope and devotion…

Psalm 116:1-2, “I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my supplications. Because He inclined His ear to me, I will call upon Him as long as I live.”

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