Communication is an essential factor in any relationship.
In our modern society we communicate with people via text message, phone, face time, Skype, Facebook posts, Twitter and even the old-fashioned form of face-to-face. It is impossible to have a solid relationship without some form of communication from time to time.
Imagine having a friend that you don’t see regularly. They don’t live next door, they don’t work with you ,and day-to-day encounters are infrequent. You make a regular effort to stay in touch with a call/text/email and invite them to your house or out to coffee or dinner so you can spend time with them. How long would that relationship last if they never returned a text or call, never came over and basically never said a word back?
Consider also the value of a friendship or relationship in which the only time you contacted your friend or loved one was when you had a need? Do you think that friend would feel valued? Respected? Or would they simply feel used?
God communicates with us through His Word. We communicate with God through prayer. It’s a two way street. If you cut off either line of communication, you won’t have much to work with in your relationship with God. How many movies show people about die or lose a loved one and the first words are, “I know I haven’t prayed in a while…” Followed by, “do this for me…” How do you think God looks on such requests?
The Bible records that Jesus would go off alone and pray for hours at a time (Mark 1:35). There were even times recorded when He would pray all night (Luke 6:12). I have prayed intermittently through a difficult night when sleep has been elusive or troubled, but I don’t think I have ever spent an entire night praying. Can you think of the last time you spent an hour praying? I never keep track of time, but I can’t think of too many times I’ve spent more than one dedicated hour in prayer at a time.
[Now, before I go further, I want to emphasize that the things I write here are for your consideration. These are things I am working to improve in my own relationship with God. In other words, I am not pointing fingers in criticism or condescension; these are things I observe in the Word that I need to consider in my walk and I hope that they will help you on your journey with the Lord.]
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tells the Christians to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). What does that mean? How can one pray ceaselessly? We should pray as often as we have opportunity and with regularity. We eat 3 times a day. I would say that’s eating regularly, wouldn’t you? I see prayer as having a similar regularity and then some. It should be daily and not just when a desperate need arises. Pray at any moment you are sorrowful, joyful, thankful, thoughtful, frightened. When I am facing conflict throughout the day, I fire off short prayers throughout the day for help with attitude, self-control and thankfulness when things go smoothly. Prayer does not always have to be a prostrate affair; indeed, there are many times when it is not possible. If you are flat on your back in a hospital bed connected to a bunch of tubes and needles, you’ll have an interesting time getting out of bed and kneeling without causing yourself and your nurses significant troubles. So pray–whenever you can and wherever you are.
Each week, I will be encouraging you to pray for specific things or to work on a specific aspect of praying. This will grow our relationship with God, and in some cases, hopefully, strengthen our interpersonal relationships.
Making a new habit often requires a target or goal. Prayer should be as habitual to us as eating or even breathing. James 5.17 says, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” so why don’t we start praying with focus and consistency to enhance the effectiveness of our prayers?
Here are our three goals:
1) to learn how to pray ceaselessly and do it
2) to have “effective, fervent prayers”
3) most importantly–to grow our relationship with God.
This week, let us draw attention to making time to pray. If you are only praying on rare occasion, I want to encourage you start with one simple goal: pray before each meal. Most people eat regularly (or else they would die of starvation), so it’s safe to say everybody eats! Use this regular activity to build regular communication with the Lord. Give thanks for your food and ask that it will nourish you and strengthen you for the day. Then, consider one acquaintance and ask the Lord to bless them; if they are not a follower of Christ, ask God to lead them to the truth. You may find your prayers growing longer as you have more to bring to God. At that point, it’s time to find another point in the day to have focused time in prayer in addition to praying before you eat.
If you are already praying at meal times, I would encourage you to pray before going about the activities of your day. Set the alarm 10 minutes earlier, climb out of bed so you don’t fall back asleep, and pray.
Are you unsure of what to pray for or how to pray? We’ll dive into more specifics in future posts, but for the present, consider a few points:
1) Reverence. Keep in mind that you are talking to Almighty, All-Powerful God. He isn’t your buddy from down the street. We are so informal with everybody these days. While informality isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it has caused us treat serious things more lightly than we ought to at times. God is a loving Father and He wants us to have a close relationship with Him, but we need to remember to treat Him with respect for who and what He is.
2) Thanksgiving. It’s very easy to fall into the habit of complaining about all the things going wrong. In your prayers, take time to thank Him for what is good. Do you have a home of some kind–an apartment, trailer, or house? Be thankful to have some protection from extreme heat or cold, hail, rain, snow, or blistering sunshine. Do you have a Bible? Offer thanks that God has revealed so much to us. Many of the righteous longed to have what we have now. Do you have a job that allows you to provide for yourself or others? It might be a lousy job, but if it helps provide for your needs, it’s a blessing. The Bible encourages thanksgiving:
“Give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
“Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
Besides the Biblical references to thanksgiving, it’s plain common horse sense. How would you feel if you gave somebody a gift and they looked at it, rolled their eyes and said, “Ugh! I never have anything nice! Can’t you do something for me?” You’d be thinking, “Are you blind?! I just gave you a gift and you didn’t even thank me for it!” Gratitude goes a long way. It’s a show of respect and appreciation. (More on this to come!!)
3) Remember ACTS. This acronym has been floating around for years. It’s not my own invention, but if you are struggling about what to pray for, try keeping this in mind:
A – Adoration (praise God)
C – Confession (confess your faults and sins)
T – Thanksgiving (see above)
S – Supplication (asking for your needs or the needs of others).
4) Chart Your Progress. A year and a half ago, I started walking for exercise. I had a pedometer and I checked my weight and inches once a week. Slowly, I stared seeing the changes. It was great to see how many hundreds of miles I had walked after just a few months. The positive side effects were great too. If it helps, put a little “P” on your calendar for everyday you pray. When teaching children new habits, it can be helpful to chart their progress so they “see” that they’ve accomplished something. We as adults aren’t all that different. The results of regular prayer can take years to become readily apparent to us, and, like a growing child, the changes are subtle and difficult to recognize. Another idea for tracking progress is to start a prayer journal. Write your requests in a prayer journal so they can go back and see at a later time how many of their prayers were answered.
In my next post, I will address a critical aspect of prayer—reverence for the Lord.
May the Lord bless you this week as you endeavor to grow closer to Him!