A Life of Prayer
I know the struggles that come with a devoted time of prayer before the Lord. I understand how difficult it is to commit oneself to a strong and fervent prayer life. I read somewhere that Martin Luther prayed for four hours per day. I don’t know if that was at one sitting or if that was a total accumulated time throughout the day (my guess is the former). Whether it was all at one sitting or not the fact remains: prayer was important to him and he saw it as a vital and necessary aspect of his day. Prayer has never been an easy road for me as a Christian. I have often labored to even understand why we pray when God, who has ordained all things, will accomplish whatever it is that He wants to accomplish. Yet, and here is the interesting paradox, He uses our prayers to accomplish these matters. God not only ordains the ends of something he ordains the means as well. That is, if God ordains that you get sick and then ordains that you get well he also ordains the means – the prayers of His people – to bring you to health. Prayer does accomplish much, as Scripture tells us, and we are only to trust that it does. We cannot always see it and we cannot always know it is working but God has told us that it is
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2 ESV). Here Paul is telling us to be devoted to prayer and to make it a high priority in our lives. Just as we are to feed on the Scriptures daily we are also to engage the Lord in prayer in a fervent manner never giving up in our prayers for others and for ourselves.
I think there are aspects of prayer that are different. There are prayers that spring up through the day that are short, quick prayers to God for various reasons. I am sure you have had occasion to experience these kinds of prayers. You might be doing something and the Lord brings to mind a person (for whatever reason) and you stop for a few seconds and pray for them. Perhaps you are driving and the weather is bad and you simply ask the Lord to watch over you as you travel to your destination. Whatever the occasion, these short, compact prayers are, in fact, prayers. They are good and righteous and God is pleased when His children run to Him in this way.
There is another aspect of prayer. It is the kind that is planned (in a sense). It is the kind that is fervent in nature; wrestling in substance; pleading in emotion. It resembles the wrestling that Jacob experienced in Genesis 32. In these times of prayer we should focus on the attributes of God in a lengthy time of praise and adoration for who He is and what He is doing in our lives. I typically use a Psalm to help me train my thoughts and focus my mind and heart on Him. It is difficult to resist the temptation to launch into a long laundry list of needs and requests. When we focus our mind on God we begin to get lost in His beauty and blessings. It really is a wonderful thing to feel as though you are in the very presence of God.
Sure, there are days (more than I care to admit) when this kind of prayer feels laborious and difficult. The reason is because of our fallen nature and our tendency to sin. In these times we need to wrestle with our flesh because we are in a spiritual war and prayer is a spiritual activity (Eph. 6:10-20). During these times of spiritual combat we need to persevere and press on and even admit to the Lord that the enemy is causing a great distraction and plead for God’s protection. I have, at times, stopped and pleaded with God to awaken my dead, cold heart and meet with me during this time of prayer. It is a battle – a spiritual battle and the enemy will do everything he can to prevent us from pleading with God in prayer and from meeting with Him in His holy throne room. It is the last thing Satan wants us to do. This is why we are easily distracted by all nature of things. We get distracted and Satan loves every minute of it. Like bread crumbs we are being led to destruction as one seemingly small item leads to another small item which eventually causes us to delay in prayer. The next thing we know, we are out of time and the day is taking more and more of it. We must resist this tendency.
After spending a season in prayers of praise and adoration I typically move into prayers for others. I have made it my habit to carry a small notebook with me to jot down requests that come to mind through the day or during conversations. I sometimes write them down right in front of the person I am speaking with, especially if I have just asked them if there are any items that I can pray for. I find this shows a great deal of love and compassion for them and demonstrates a real desire to remember the request when praying. Usually I end my prayer for others with a time of prayer for my own life and struggles. I conclude this time of prayer with the “Lord’s Prayer” often elaborating on various points of it (the Westminster Larger Catechism is helpful here using questions 187-196. Questions 178-186 are also quite helpful). When we are serious about praying for others we will find that we could spend a ton of time on this point. There are so many people with so many needs and so many hurts. We have lost family members who desperately need the Lord. We need to pray for them with the heart attitude that the apostle Paul displayed in Rom 10:1. We ought to be pleading with God because it is only God who can save them. We have no power; no ability in this area. It should be on our list daily and often.
During this time of prayer I do think that posture matters. It is not the sort of thing that people typically discuss or the sort of thing that causes God love us more. However, and here is the rub, when we pray on our knees (or on our face as the case may be) we are physically demonstrating that we are not in control. It is humbling to kneel. Sure, we can be kneeling for 4 hours and still be standing in our heart. Yet, if we truly desire to be humble before God (and God only hears the prayers of the humble) then we ought to demonstrate it as we are able. For me, I think, praying in a posture that is “foreign” to us forces us to think on the activity more.
This kind of prayer is hard. It is a struggle and a battle, as I have already indicated. It is not measured on the length of time spent but in the fervency of the one praying, ultimately depending on the Holy Spirit to bring those prayers that are acceptable to the Father before Him. As I have already said, this is not going to be easy (most good things are difficult, at first). I have found that the more I engage in prayer in this manner the longer my times in prayer become. I doubt that I will ever get to the point of Luther, praying for four hours, but I do desire to pray with fervency and with a sense of urgency as I focus my attention on the living God. When you seek God in this way you will be surprised how fast the time goes and how much time you actually spent.
We are in a spiritual battle. It is a battle for our minds and our hearts. God has given us prayer as a means of grace. It renews our minds as we apply Scripture in our prayer for others and ourselves.