Christians know that prayer is an important part of their relationship with Jesus, but too often we allow our prayer lives to become tired lists of what you want God to do for you. In this message, you will learn a variety of different ways you can connect with Jesus through prayer to bring new life to your relationship with God.
Prayer is the Basis for Relationship with God
Today’s message is about the bedrock of every relationship: strong communication. Whatever type of relationship you think of – closest friends, closest family members, favorite boss or co-workers – the common denominator is that you communicated clearly and often. This is what made those relationships healthy and strong.
However, when you stop connecting with a friend after moving to a new town, or stop checking in with a former co-worker after taking a new job, eventually your relationship will start to shift. It will shrivel and look very different than it did when you were talking frequently. That’s simply the nature of relationships.
This is why it is so important to intentionally make time for the people who are important to you. Even when life gets busy, make time to check in with your mom. Call your kids regularly and ask about what is going on in their lives. We all have changes in our lives, like a move or a job change or a marriage, and these life events sometimes put greater distance between us and the people we are close to; but we don’t have to let the relationships suffer. The health of our relationships isn’t based on physical distance, but on the strength of our connection. You will need to be more intentional in nurturing those relationships that are most significant in your life.
This goes beyond earthly relationships and translates to our spiritual lives. Every Christian’s life-goal SHOULD BE to develop our relationship with Jesus and to know and enjoy our loving Father. Even so, we can’t develop these relationships by just wishing we were closer to Jesus and had the same experiences we hear mature, godly saints talking about. We must actually DO something. We have to spend time with God, connecting with Him and talking with Him. That’s why prayer, the act of communication with God, is called a Spiritual Discipline. We have to be disciplined in order to keep building our relationship with a God who doesn’t physically appear in our lives.
In many ways, I see prayer as the primary Spiritual Discipline of the Lost Arts because without prayer, without conversation – talking and listening to God – none of the other practices will move us toward Him. Think about it. I can do nice things for my wife. I can buy her gifts, do the laundry, massage her feet at the end of a hard day; but if I never talk to her and do those acts of kindness in silence, she might wonder why I’m being so nice and yet not talking to her! She might think I’m up to something and trying to cover for a big mistake.
The same is true of our spiritual practices. If we try to do any of them devoid of prayer – communication with God – then it’s meaningless.
- If we set aside time for silence and solitude but use it to focus on ourselves or our surroundings without connection with God, what have we gained?
- If we read and study the Bible to know God’s word but never pray or meditate on what it means FOR US, we easily become puffed up with knowledge and aren’t good for anything.
- If we try to live a holy life that pleases God but do it apart from prayer, we are no different from the Pharisees who tried to earn their salvation and were condemned by Jesus.
- Even if we try to set apart the Sabbath for rest (as God commands) but we never spend time during the day talking with our Heavenly Father, then we become consumed by our hobbies, our comfort, our “Me Time.” We can actually end up less like Jesus than when we began.
Because prayer is so vital to the development of our faith in all areas, it shouldn’t surprise us that followers of Jesus have been talking about its importance in their lives ever since Jesus’s resurrection.
- Looking back through history we see that monks have spent years living in silence, offering prayer continually to God.
- In 1893, Brother Lawrence wrote the famous book Practicing the Presence of God, in which he calls Christians to be in continual dialogue with God throughout each day.
- Martin Luther once famously said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it done.”
When I look at my prayer life, I know I don’t measure up to any of these guys; but as I said when we began this series, we can’t compare ourselves to others as we grow in these Spiritual Disciplines. We simply seek to grow year after year. I can honestly say I pray more each day now than I did five or ten years ago. In time, I have slowly developed this discipline. I’m sure many of you can relate.
I also know there are others of you who struggle to consistently spend time praying. I get it. I know how the busyness of this life crowds out any spare time we might have for praying as much as we’d like. Today I hope to encourage you to do more than carve out a few minutes each day, but to truly see prayer as an incredible opportunity the Almighty God has given us to connect with him and receive His help every single day.
Devote Yourselves to Prayer
Let’s look at a bit of instruction the Apostle Paul gave to the church at Colossae.
Colossians 4:2-3 – 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Those first four words pack a bit of a punch – Devote yourselves to prayer. I’m pretty sure being devoted to prayer looks a lot different than prayer looks in my life!
Being “devoted to prayer” means consistently, habitually and persistently praying. It’s not a prayer here and a few days later a prayer there. It’s regular day-in, day-out connection with God, asking Him to meet your daily needs and to bring His Kingdom to this earth and the people all around you.
As Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer, he isn’t saying anything new to this church. This devotion to prayer is actually seen to be the norm in the early church. Acts 2:42 paints a picture of the first church and how it functioned.
Acts 2:42 – 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Another example of devotion to prayer appears in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in which he includes greetings from some of traveling companions. Listen to what he says about Epaphras.
Colossians 4:12 – Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
“Wrestling in prayer for you” – I love that imagery. I imagine Epaphras was a man who spent a lot of time on his knees. I imagine his heart was full of love for God’s people, so full of love, in fact, that he couldn’t NOT pray for them.
Reasons We Don’t Pray Like We Should
For several reasons, while we know how to pray, while we know we are supposed to pray, many of us just don’t – not the way we’re supposed to anyway; not with the persistence we should; not wrestling in prayer for others. Let’s tackle some of the hidden reasons we don’t pray as often, consistently and habitually as we should.
Immaturity – You don’t think you can.
Maybe you hear stories of saints and prayer warriors throughout history and think, “That’s amazing for them, but it’s not me.” Or maybe you think of prayer as one of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us, and you don’t have it. Maybe for you, the idea of praying for ten minutes straight seems completely impossible; so you don’t even try.
Today I want to tell you, we are ALL called to be devoted to prayer. It’s all right if you’re not able to pray for even five minutes at a time right now. Prayer is a discipline that is built. We have to develop the skill with training and practice. Jesus taught His disciples to pray when He taught them the Lord’s Prayer because it’s not something that just comes to us when we become Christians. Even His disciples who were with him for three years couldn’t stay awake and pray for Him at the Garden of Gethsemane the night He was betrayed and later crucified. It’s a sign that you have room for growth, but you need to pursue the growth. You must believe that you CAN be a person who is DEVOTED to prayer.
Undisciplined – You don’t think you have the time.
Perhaps you fall into this second category – a person who is so busy, so over-scheduled with work, family activities, cleaning the always messy house, and driving kids around town that you simply feel you don’t have time in your day.
Here’s what this excuse exposes: you lack discipline to put your priorities in the right order. Perhaps you truly do have too much to do; if so, you need the wisdom to simplify some of life. Or perhaps you just like some other time-wasters too much. (Facebook, Netflix, reading the news, watching sports, playing online games. You know your particular time waster.)
In the book Too Busy NOT to Pray, the author points out something very obvious, but something most of us probably forget. He says, “When we work, WE work. But when we pray, GOD works.” Maybe the answer to our busyness is to let God do some of the work in our lives for us. The dishes may still be your responsibility, but perhaps God will open doors for you at work, resolve conflict that’s keeping you up at night, or deliver your kids out of the trouble that’s consuming your energy.
Unbelief – You don’t believe it works
Now we’re about to get real! The truth is, if every one of us KNEW that every prayer we offer to God would be visibly answered within 24 hours, we would all be on our knees right now rather than listening to me talking about prayer.
While we say we believe God answers prayer, I think many of us have a lot of doubt. Maybe you hear stories about missionaries who have had ridiculous prayers answered supernaturally. Or you may have read books on prayer, meant to motivate you, full of stories of answered prayers; but you wonder why God isn’t answering your prayers. Out of frustration, you stop praying. But here are two things you need to consider about prayers that SEEM to go unanswered.
- What if the prayer HAS been answered but in a way you don’t recognize? Maybe you pray for patience and then your whole world blows up. (God’s way of teaching you patience.) This is one reason it’s helpful to keep a prayer journal as a written record of what you’re praying for. It causes you to think about how God might be answering your prayers. Then you gain confidence in your prayers as you see God’s creative responses to what you ask of Him.
- We need to understand God doesn’t experience time as we do. He told Abraham he would have a child; and at that moment, God did it. Abraham, however, didn’t receive the child for over 25 years. Yes, we like instant results, but God doesn’t work that way. A delayed answer doesn’t mean God isn’t hearing us or that He refuses to comply or that He doesn’t care. It doesn’t mean we should stop asking. It means God works on a different timeline than we do. We have to accept that.
Apathy – We don’t care to see things change.
The final reason some of us don’t pray as we should is that we’re fine with things just as they are. We like our lives – kids are doing well – job is great – we’re comfortable with the world as it is. There’s no need to pray for anything because we have it all covered on our own.
This shows how small our focus is. When we don’t feel the need to pray for our country that is so divided, when we don’t pray for our unbelieving family members, when we don’t pray for our church to spread the Gospel to our neighbors, we show that we are apathetic to things that are a pretty big deal to God.
In Colossians chapter 4, Paul asked the Christians there not to pray for his circumstances (which weren’t ideal, since he was sitting in prison) but to pray that “God might open a door for his message.” Paul’s request for prayer wasn’t for himself but for the salvation of those all around him. That should be part of what we are devoted to pray for as well.
These points may seem a bit harsh, but we need to overcome our reluctance to accept the incredible opportunity God gives us to approach Him in prayer. (We must have some really deep-seated attitudes that keep us from running to God in prayer every day!) The book of Hebrews tells us we can approach the very throne of God with confidence as we ask for what we need. Jesus repeatedly teaches that we will receive whatever we ask for, and yet many of us spend far too little time asking.
We need to see our own shortcomings, our biases and our wrong thinking so we can change, reprioritize and devote ourselves to prayer.
Fresh Approaches to Prayer
Here’s what I want each of you to carry out of here with you when you leave this morning: The Lost Art of Prayer is not an Obligation, but an Opportunity. I’m not telling you your salvation is based on praying 30 minutes a day; but without prayer your relationship with God will decline, just as your marriage would falter if you spoke to your spouse only sporadically. The beautiful relationship God wants to share with you is made available only through conversation with Him – through prayer. Prayer not only builds your relationship with Him, but it allows Him to do things for you that you could never accomplish on your own.
Perhaps some of you find prayer to be stale. Or maybe your concept of prayer is basically a wish list of things you want God to do for you. Last week I gave you a variety of ways to do Bible study, and today I want to show you several different spiritual disciplines regarding prayer. I hope you might try one of these to reinvigorate your prayer life.
Meditation. This isn’t the Eastern religions’ “emptying of your mind” stuff. This is biblical meditation. This is what the Bible says Isaac did in Genesis 24, or what Joshua commanded the Israelites to do in Joshua 1, or what the authors of the Psalms describe all through that great book. When you meditate, you sit and focus your mind on a character trait of God or on the words of God. You fill your thoughts with the things of God and soak in those truths.
Listening Prayer. We have established that relationships are rooted in communication, and we must recognize that communication is a two-way street. It is meant to be a dialogue, not a monologue; so sometimes we have to stop doing all the talking and simply sit in the quiet and listen. What might the Spirit be speaking to you?
Praying Scripture. Often in the prayers of the book of Psalms, the authors write about who God is and what He has done. Rather than focusing on their own needs, they focus on God. We can follow that approach, use the very words of God, and pray them back to Him. This is a sure-fire way to make sure you are praying in alignment with the will of God. I love the book Face to Face, which we made available to all of you last January. It turns many Bible verses into personal prayer.
Breath Prayer. This is a great way to pray when you are filled with anxiety and struggle to focus. You simply choose a truth about God or a specific verse to repeat in your mind while breathing in and out. My wife loves this type of prayer and has used it for years when she begins to feel overwhelmed. There’s a new book out called Breath as Prayer, which lists Bible verses to be committed to memory and used as prayers in various circumstances. For example, when feeling overwhelmed, based on Psalm 46:10, you might inhale while praying “Be still, my soul” and exhale while praying “You are God.”
Different Postures. Often we pray while sitting in a chair. We close our eyes and bow our heads. Maybe we put our hands together. However, many other postures of prayer are mentioned in the Bible. Sometimes men stood to pray. Other times they knelt or bowed down. In our church it’s unusual to see someone kneel to pray, but in other churches it’s so common that they have kneelers. There’s no right or wrong way, but I have found that sometimes changing my posture helps me focus and “be still” better than if I remain seated. I encourage you, if you are able, try praying kneeling or lying prone on the ground in submission to God.
Practicing the Presence of God. As I mentioned earlier, this Brother Lawrence wrote about this concept of a non-stop dialogue with God throughout the day. Rather than compartmentalizing prayer to a certain time at a special place in a specific posture, prayer is non-stop through the course of the day. Some of you have described your prayer lives to me in very much this type of language, and you tell me how close Jesus feels to you.
There are other types of prayer, and I’m sure you see how much overlap there is even among the examples I have listed. I want to make sure you see a common aspect in all these prayers: they are God-centered and God-honoring. They are never centered on ourselves or based on emptying our thoughts; instead, they are meant to focus us on the One who is the source of our life and strength.
That makes sense. When I set up a date night with Michelle, I want our conversation to focus our attention on each other, not to push our minds to other thoughts. So it is with prayer; it should shape our thoughts around the truths God has revealed to us through His Word and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into His will for our lives each day.
God loves you and wants a relationship with you; and the most important part of that relationship is the back-and-forth conversation we call PRAYER. Don’t minimize this incredible opportunity; recognize the gracious gift God has given each of us – the right to come before the Lord almighty and speak openly and honestly, pouring out our hearts to Him.