I was approached by a church member with a request to devote some special time in teaching to prayer. After expositing the Lord’s Prayer I thought it would be appropriate to work through a book written specifically on the subject of prayer. I eventually settled on D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers.
I’ve found this book to be rich and very useful to prompting healthy and edifying conversations on the subject of prayer. These are my notes from the first lesson.
I. Introduction: Who here is satisfied with their prayer life and feel that how they pray as individuals, families, and churches needs no improvement?
Twofold question: How do we understand that prayer is vitally important yet greatly struggle to pray as we should?
a. Why prayer is important – we know that prayer is something that Christians do; it’s a fundamental aspect of being a believer. Going beyond that simple truth we can also say that prayer is important because:
i. Prayer is part of showing Christian love to others – we know that one of the most effective ways to involve ourselves in the lives of others. Some of these types of prayer are for salvation, repentance, and faith; others are for more earthly needs like financial relief and healing. All are motivated by a desire to do something good for someone else.
ii. Prayer is a major component of our role in the kingdom – One of the most distinctive elements about the Christian faith is that in our system God has done everything necessary to accomplish salvation and His purposes for history (indeed, he’s the only one who could have). However, Christians aren’t passive spectators who sit on the sidelines while He causes His kingdom to come. We are given the opportunity to join God in His work in a number of ways (such as proclaiming the Gospel, performing acts of service, etc) – one of the greatest of which is praying. We pray for souls, revival, edification, healing, provision; all of which are things that God alone can accomplish but has enlisted our involvement in by asking Him for them.
iii. Prayer is commanded by God – There’s really no end to the specific commands in Scripture regarding prayer. Perhaps the most inclusive is 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “pray without ceasing.”
There is one other reason that we haven’t covered. You’ve probably already picked up on it as it is likely the most important reason of all to pray.
iv. Prayer helps us know God better – There is no greater delight in the world than our God. Knowing Him is the highest joy that anyone can ever experience. It is common sense that communication is vital to any healthy relationship. When we pray we are engaged in that communication. God has spoken to us in His Word and we in turn speak to Him in prayer.
Note: it is common to say “God speaks to me in prayer.” I hope I don’t offend anyone with this but I’ve never heard a compelling reason to expect God to speak to me in prayer. We hear from God in His Word. I don’t deny that in prayer we might react emotionally to or become convicted about something we are praying about. We need to be careful to not equate this to God speaking to us as He does in His word.
When we pray we unburden ourselves to the One who cares most for us and learn to rely on His strength when our fails. We also see how God answers those prayers and we see practically how His love for us functions (more on this later).
I dare say that we will pray better when knowing God is our aim than we would for any of the other (admittedly good) motivations. We certainly don’t want to fall into a mentality that views God as a means to an end, attempting to use Him to get what we want (even if what we want is legitimately good). We need and desire to know God. Prayer is a major step in that direction.
II. Barriers to Prayer: Let’s just be honest about some things here, okay? We’re a church, we love each other, and this is a safe place, right? So can we just admit that when we pray we often times find our minds wandering? Can we also admit that sometimes prayer feels like more of a burden (or obligation) than a joy so we end up dreading prayer or rushing through it?
I know this makes you feel guilty because it does me. I really think I should have progressed in maturity beyond these kinds of problems. However, should we really be surprised that our lingering old nature hinders our prayer life? Every other aspect of our walk with the Lord involves battling the old man to do what we should as we should. Why should prayer be any different?
The truth is unless you are the recipient of a special gift of God’s grace you will probably always battle those issues. Contrary to what John Wesley thought we don’t ever reach perfect sanctification in this life and thus we’re going to struggle until the Lord takes us out of this life. As a result, rather than sitting around waiting for prevailing spirituality to hit us like a bolt our of a clear blue sky we should take some practical steps to deal with these prayer problems.
III. Improving your Prayer Life: These steps are taken from D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation.
1. Plan to pray.
One doesn’t become a prayer warrior by accident. Good habits have to be intentionally built into our lives and repeated until they become second nature. Schedules differ but if the desire to begin praying regularly is sufficiently strong time can be found. To get started look for opportunities that are consistent every day. If need be, set reminders (alarm clocks, cell phone alerts, etc) to help you remember as you start.
2. Fight Mental Drift.
a. Verbalize your prayer
b. Read scripture and pray about the themes in the text
d. Seek a partner
- Note: same sex partner unless it is your spouse.
3. Work at Improving your Prayers
a. Find a good model and listen to how they pray.
b. Keep an updated prayer list
c. “Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture.”
- Part of praying as you should is praying in line with what God has revealed in Scripture. Ask yourself what it is God would have you pray for this person.
“This is not a superficial question, and the answers are rarely easy to come by. Thoughtful, balanced answers depend on a growing grasp of just what the Bible says in its parts, and as a whole. For example, what, precisely, should we be praying for with respect to each member of our family – and why? Someone close to us contracts a terminal disease: what should we pray for, and why? For healing? For freedom from pain? For faith and perseveranc? For acceptance of what has befallen? And would it make a difference if the person in question were seventy five years of age, as opposed to twenty-nine? Why, or why not? Are there some things we may humbly request from God, and others we should boldly claim? If so, what kinds of things fall into each category.” – Carson, page 33.
d. “Pray until you pray.” Sometimes you have to keep at it physically until you respond emotionally and spiritually. You’ll always have to battle falling in to dry repetition and lack of personal fervency. Keep at it; if you focus on God’s truth eventually the Spirit causes the Christian heart to respond appropriately.