Prayer is, without question, one of the central graces of the Christian life. It is a God-given avenue for us to communicate and commune with God in a manner that transcends any other relationship we could ever experience. It is truly an awesome gift from our Father. Yet it is a gift that so many of us fail to rightly enjoy. It is a gift that goes largely underutilized in our day-to-day lives.
There are many reasons for our failures in prayer which I set forth in my sermon Sunday. We think we don’t know how to pray or that we’re not good at it. We let worldly concerns and pursuits choke out the vitality of our spiritual concerns and pursuits. We fail to grasp the extreme significance of prayer in our sanctification. We think we have nothing to offer – that God will accomplish His purpose, with or without us. But most honestly, we are simply not drawn to God as we should be – we prefer other more tangible, more entertaining pursuits.
If we want to break the cycle of prayerlessness in our lives, we have to get serious about praying. So I want to provide you this week with some very practical suggestions on how to develop a deeper habit of prayer.
FIRST, scheduling a consistent time to pray is critical. If you simply trust yourself to fit prayer in whenever you have spare time during the day, you will never fit it in. Habits are formed from repeated, consistent action. So to start, schedule 20 to 30 minutes each day, at the same time every day, to spend in prayer. Keep this time protected, just like you would protect a doctor’s appointment or an important meeting. You may have rare days where a schedule change is absolutely necessary, but after such occasions, get right back to keeping your normal schedule.
SECOND, once you have scheduled a time to pray, find a good place to pray. Go to a place where you have the most freedom from distractions – in other words, find your own prayer closet. Do not take your cell phone or anything besides your Bible with you. It may be at work or at your office, or you may need to get far away from your phone and computer. It could be out on your back patio, in your bedroom, or at your kitchen table. I’ve heard of some stay-at-home moms with small children who even have their prayer time in the bathroom because that is the only place where they can be alone. Wherever it may be, discipline your mind and heart to avoid distractions once you are there.
THIRD, take your Bible and pray the words of Scripture. The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any 2 edged sword. It is a God-breathed revelation. The Holy Spirit will use God’s truth to convict and shape and change your heart, and praying the Word of truth is one of the most effective ways to partner with the Spirit in this transformation. So pick a passage (I suggest you work through entire books), and read a verse. Consider what the verse means – it’s prevalent principle and thrust – and then speak those truths to God as matters of prayer. Then go to the next verse and pray it, and the next verse and pray it, and so on. Don’t worry about whether or not you are doing it right – the Holy Spirit within you will guide you and give utterance to your mouth.
FOURTH, be specific and varied in all the aspects of prayer. Have you ever noticed how many generalizations fill our prayers? “O Lord, forgive my sins.” “O Lord, bless my life.” “O Lord, you are such a great God.” Be specific! What specific sins have you committed? What specific blessings are you seeking from Him? In what specific ways is God great? Also, vary your language so you are not saying the same things over and over (this is where praying Scripture really helps). Being specific requires much more thought and self-examination – it is harder. But being specific with our thoughts and words is also what takes us deeper as we truly contemplate the weight of what we are praying.
FIFTH, develop the mental discipline to listen and be still just as much as you speak. A glorious aspect of deep prayer is simply being still and knowing He is God. Developing this kind of mental discipline is challenging, but very rewarding. Train your mind to put aside worldly concerns and “To-do Lists” and focus on Him. Concentrate specifically on God’s Person by meditating upon verses that reveal His nature and Being. Let your mind dwell on the specific realities of who He is. If it helps, picture in your mind specific stories and events and descriptions of Him given in Scripture, and then let those moments of contemplative thought translate into a holy “awe” and love for God in the recesses of your soul. From there, you will find the Spirit reengaging your mind and mouth with fervent prayers of praise and adoration. Once again, if Scripture is what is guiding you, there is no way to do it wrong. Just let the Spirit use the truth of God to draw you deeper into the presence of God.
Developing the habit of deep prayer does take work, but I guarantee that once you have tasted the presence of the Lord at this level, you will never be satisfied with “surface” prayer again. Taste and see that the Lord is good. I love you all dearly!