“Do I meet you praying?”
This is how 18th Century minister John Fletcher would greet his friends. That is quite the greeting! How would you answer if your friends greeted you that way? I confess, I would often have to say, “No.”
As much as we have read about prayer, we still likely do not pray enough. Therefore, I do not fear being redundant if I add to the many books and articles that have been written on the topic. I write to myself as much as to you all, because I need it just as much!
Thus, in the next few articles I would like to offer encouragement and some practices that have helped my own prayer life. As the old saying goes, I am not yet where I should be, but thanks be to God that I am not where I was. I pray that these simple writings may bear fruit in our lives.
Lord, Teach Us To Pray
In a little book called Lord, Teach Us To Pray, modern-day Pastor Tom Harmon talks about the disciples’ request to Jesus in Luke 11. The disciples “didn’t ask Jesus to teach them ‘how to pray;’ they just wanted him to teach them ‘to pray.’ Learning how to pray always follows learning to pray.” This little statement holds a lot of truth. It would be wrong to separate learning to pray and learning how to pray too much, but they are distinct things. They go hand in hand, but (to extend the metaphor to its utmost limit), they are separate hands.
What about you? Do you struggle more with praying too little or with not praying for the right things? If we are honest, it is probably both. A convicting question to ask is this: If God granted all the prayers I prayed over the past day (or week or month), what would be different in my life? What would be different in the people around me? In the world?
This question can reveal both our poor habit of praying and the selfishness of our prayers. Pastor Alistair Begg says (and keep in mind that he is Scottish, so read it with an appropriate accent), “My prayers—whether I pray, how much I pray, about what I pray—reveal my priorities. And they reveal how much I really think I need God, or whether I am, deep down, in fact self-assured and self-righteous.” (Now, since concentrating on the accent likely distracted you from the words themselves, read through it one more time just to make sure you catch his point. It’s a good one!). Regardless of how much you may acknowledge your dependence on God, your prayer life reveals how much you actually believe it.
In coming articles, we will look at how we can grow in frequency and right content, but first, let us look at three attitudes we must have to foster a vibrant prayer life. Right actions spring from right attitudes, so we mustn’t miss this step!
An Attitude of Thanksgiving
Have you separated your life into the good and bad, such that you acknowledge God’s hand in the good but not the bad?
Take a moment now and think of all that you have. How much of this have you gained without God? We should be truly overwhelmed by what God has given. Just think of what it takes to read this sentence: eyes that give you sight, vision that discerns the various colors, the computer screen or phone on which the words appear, education that taught you their meaning, heartbeat and breathe that sustain you, clothes that keep you comfortable… O, how much we owe to God that we do not think of! Truly if we gave thanks for all we have, we would indeed pray without ceasing.
James 1:17 tells us that every good thing is given by God. All that is good has come from Him. To put it another way, there is nothing that is good in your life that did not come from God. But just a few verses before that (1:2-4), James also tells us that the trials in our lives are for our ultimate good. Think about that! Have you separated your life into the good and bad, such that you acknowledge God’s hand in the good but not the bad? He controls them all! But more than that, He gives purpose to them all so that there is nothing that happens in our life that isn’t for our good in one way or another. If you are in a season of suffering, this can be difficult. But you are still called to give thanks to God (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Do not give thanks despite the trial, but give thanks in the trial, for God is using it to bring you to completion in Christ.
Truly we have much to be thankful for! One reason we do not pray as we should is because we forget this. O Lord, bring these things to our minds, and let us give you the thanks you deserve!
An Attitude of Dependence
Just as we see what God has done in the past, we also depend on Him for the future. If He has sustained us and provided everything for us yesterday, how much do we need Him again today and tomorrow!
Spend some time pondering the next few days (or even the next few hours!) and think of how you will need to rely on God. Food, transportation, health, shelter, money, employment, further education, wisdom for decisions, patience with others, restraint from sin, protection from harmful things… and we could go on and on.
What is it that worries you? What are you looking forward to? What is happening in the world? God is sovereign over all of these things. But He is not just high and mighty, He is also gentle and lowly. He cares not just about the happenings of great nations, but He cares about you and your needs (Matthew 6:30-34). If you remember nothing else, remember this: God cares for you! When we think of that, how can we not stop and give thanks even now?
Sovereign Ruler, Loving Father, you take care of me! What sweet comfort this brings amid a world gone mad! Sustain us and help us see our need for you.
An Attitude of Desire
Poor prayer life can reflect a lack of thanksgiving and dependence, but it can also reflect a low view of God and His goodness. God’s goodness should motivate us to pray. Psalm 16:11 says that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy. While we will experience this fully with Him in eternity, we can experience a foretaste of that now. If we truly understood the reality of this promise, should we not want to spend more time in prayer?
Let us therefore draw near with the expectation of joy in the presence of God. O brothers and sisters, we sell ourselves short with our short praying! We leave untouched so much of the goodness of God because we do not draw near to Him. Are you consistent with your prayers? Are you seeking Him daily! Hallelujah, but press on for more! Do you think you have exhausted the storehouse of joy and peace of our great God? Do not be content, but seek for more!
Encouragement and Exhortation
Much of what is above focuses on physical things, but think also of spiritual things. Indeed, spiritual matters are far weightier than the physical. Spend some time thinking through your spiritual needs and the spiritual blessings He has given. Thank God for them, and acknowledge your dependence on Him.
The next article will address some ways to cultivate our prayer life, but don’t wait until then! Set your goal now to spend more time in prayer. Be realistic in your expectations, but seek to grow in this area.
Lastly, if you have not placed your trust in Christ alone as Savior, I must warn you: you cannot draw near to God based on your own merits. He is gracious and kind, but He is also holy and just. Sinners cannot stand before God, and you—like all of us—are sinful. There is only one way that we can draw near, and that is through Jesus Christ. In John 14:6, Jesus says,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Jesus Christ has made the way for us to come to God. He has purchased our pardon and cleansed us with His own blood. When we draw near to God, it is no longer as a guilty person before a Judge, but as a son or daughter before a loving Father. And what a gracious Father He is! Do not remain guilty before God, but turn from your sin and trust in Christ alone!
May our prayer now and forever be:
O Lord, teach us to pray!
References:  Grant, George. “Normal Prayer,” n.d. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/normal-prayer. Para 2.  Harmon, Tom. Lord, Teach Us To Pray. Three Rivers, MI: Ajoyin Publishing, 2011. Pg 2. Emphasis in original.  Begg, Alistair. Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle. UK: The Good Book Company, 2019. Pg 22.
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.