Putting Prayer into Practice

By Rev. Charles Cooper

I know I should pray! Scripture commands it.
I know I need to pray! Scripture proves it.
I know how to pray! Scripture demonstrates it.
I know when to pray! Scripture states it.
I know what prayer can do! Scripture illustrates it.

I just do not do it.

So the question left to answer is this: Why? Why do so few Christians practice the discipline of prayer? There are both theological and practical reasons why so few believers practice regular dependent communications with their Heavenly Father.

Theologically, prayer requires faith — faith in the God of heaven to whom Christians direct their prayers. Scripture commands that we are to "ask in faith" (James 1:6). One could argue that if every prayer received an immediate response regardless of whether it is positive or negative, believers would probably pray more. However, God does not always answer prayer the way we want. God has options. Yes, immediately; no, period; later, if you deal with this issue; and what about this possibility; are potential responses from God. Prayer is effective only if we trust the character of God to respond to our requests consistently. Past doubts about whether God answered our prayers may discourage us in praying and may ultimately lead to a cessation of praying altogether.

Theologically, prayer requires precision. Scripture commands, "Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God… Therefore let your words be few" (Ecc 5:2). One would do well to spend more time meditating than actually praying. Far too many careless and rushed words are spoken before the Lord, which by their very nature warrant God's inattention or lack of response. Effective prayer remembers and respects Him to whom prayer is addressed.

Theologically, prayer requires understanding. Scripture instructs, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Mat 6:8). Prayer is not informational with respect to God, but transformational with respect to man. Prayer moves us away from self-dependency. While God knows what we need, there is no guarantee that He will automatically meet our needs; otherwise, we would not need to pray in the first place. Prayer moves God from mere knowledge of our need to meeting our need in light of our dependency on him. Our willingness to pray must prove to God that He is the solution to our needs and not just a solution.

Not only are there theological reasons for the lack of dependent communications between believers and God, but also there are practical reasons. First, there is the American lifestyle. The American lifestyle really militates against prayer. We have committed our time to the pursuit of happiness. Between work, commuting, friends, domestic duties, sleep, and relaxing from the rush of life who has time to pray? The goal of the American lifestyle is independence. If we can just get set financially, we will not need anything or anybody. We, Americans, spend an overwhelming amount of time working toward independence. Prayer is the exact opposite. Prayer is a conscious effort to be dependent on God — nothing about our society encourages it! The American lifestyle is time limited, independent seeking, and anti-supernatural. Other than the occasional call of the President for God to bless America, God has been relegated to the private venues of American culture. Rarely are there opportunities where God alone is presented as the only possible solution to a problem. In medicine, technology is god. In politics, a majority is god. In marriage, love is god. In communications, the Internet is god. In behavior, genetics and environment are gods. Even in death, the God of the Bible is not God. In death, chance is god. In sex, choice is god. In economics, the market is god. The American lifestyle makes very little room for the God of the Bible.

A final reason the practice of prayer is absent in the lives of many believers is our lack of knowledge concerning spiritual warfare. Satan’s plan regarding followers of Christ is to frustrate, confuse, and misdirect us so that Christ becomes an after thought. Satan knows that we grow weary in well doing.

In the face of these obstacles, the discipline of prayer will be difficult to develop. How then does one develop a prayer life? Before we talk about the details of developing a prayer life, we should attempt to detail what a prayer life looks like. Since the apostle Paul is the premiere writer in the New Testament, we have enough of his writings to get a good picture of a man of prayer. Paul writes, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17). A man of prayer is a man who is continually practicing dependent communications with the Father. A man of prayer sees in every event of his day the option of responding either in the Spirit or in the flesh. Since walking in the Spirit demands the absence of sin, one will need God's uninterrupted sustaining power. Continuing prayer is the route to God's sustaining power.

How does one develop a mental attitude of prayer? To foster the mental attitude of prayer (i.e. to solicit God's help at every waking moment) one must be thoroughly convinced of his need for God. The apostle Paul clearly evidences his need for God's power, wisdom, endurance, and courage on a daily basis. Paul was committed to a purpose that he himself was very inadequate to fulfill. Paul writes in Romans 15:14-33:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God — so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand." This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

We see in Paul's words a mission, a passion — to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. This drove Paul to pray for God's power, wisdom and courage.

Therefore, it is axiomatic that believers will not develop consistent dependent communications with God apart from a compelling cause. While purists will argue that this should not be the case, nevertheless it is the case. If a life of prayer is a goal, pray that God will give you a burden, a passion, a mission, a vision or a hope that is beyond human capabilities to accomplish. Absent of an impossible mission, prayer will continue to be a little used opportunity that most Christians reserve for emergencies.

 

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