Thoughts On Prayer (Part I)…
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NIV).
- “Often”: Jesus prayed a lot; it was a regular part of His life on earth. For Jesus, prayer happened consistently, the way that lakes occur frequently in Minnesota–prayer was a regular feature of the geography of Jesus’ earthly life.
- “Withdrew”: Jesus left the regular patterns and routines of His daily life in order to focus on prayer. I am certain that Jesus prayed as He was going about His daily life, but He definitely also intentionally and strategically withdrew (redeployed!) from His daily life in order to pray.
- “Lonely Places”: Jesus went One-on-One with God the Father in prayer. There were no cameras, no publicity, no one to encourage Him or pat Him on the back. He went to places that were lonely to pray–so that He could focus on prayer apart from distraction–because He knew that He was never truly alone.
- “Prayed”: Jesus didn’t “get away” from the pressures of life by mere recreation, by just taking His mind off His life and allowing Himself to be distracted from His mission. He didn’t just wring His hands in anxiety wondering what to do, He certainly didn’t reach out to sin to “get Himself through” the daily grind of life, and He didn’t live in denial, pretending that His life wasn’t marching toward the Cross. No, instead of all these options, Jesus chose to regularly pray. What an amazing example He set for us all!
Jesus revealed to us that He only said what He heard God the Father saying (John 14:24), that He only did what He saw God the Father doing (John 5:19). How could Jesus hear and see the Father so clearly so that Jesus’ own daily actions and words were perfectly lined up with those of His Father? Jesus must have done this seeing and hearing through regular prayer (just as we can using the Bible as our guide to the Father’s character and actions).
So Why Pray?
- Jesus did it—often (Luke 5:16)
- The 12 Apostles—who walked with Jesus for three years—focused on it! (Acts 6:3-4)
- Because God invites us to throughout the Bible—367x!!! (please click HERE)
- Do we need any other reasons? 🙂
Why prayer is often difficult
- It often doesn’t offer immediate gratification. Prayer is often spiritual farming—you only harvest after months of working and waiting, mostly in situations that are totally out of your control.
- Many are raised to be “people of action”—let’s DO something about x, y or z”! Prayer sometimes seems to us to be passive, easy, even lazy at times. We often think, “Those who can’t do, pray” (similar to the false belief, “Those who can’t do, teach”).
- If we haven’t “gotten good results/returns on our investments” (e.g. gotten what we wanted when we wanted it how we wanted it) in the past from prayer, we often just stop—“IT DOESN’T WORK” we think and we turn to some other talisman/rabbit’s foot/idol that will give us better results. Loved ones, if you’re not praying to God, YOU ARE PRAYING TO SOMEONE/SOMETHING ELSE. Whether we realize it or not, we all invest our time and money and energy into those beliefs/activities that we think will get us what we want/help us meet our goals. Ask God—“What altars am I kneeling at? Who/what am I praying to, and what do I want those things to do for me? Help me to come to YOU, Jesus—help me to pray to You alone.”
There are some things that God will only do when we pray.
- Mark 9:28-29. Humbling/sobering. What ISN’T happening in our lives because we AREN’T praying about it? What IS happening in our lives because we AREN’T praying about it? What are some of the giants that we face that can only be overcome through prayer and fasting?
Structure of prayer (an example to help if you aren’t sure how to pray or what to pray for)
- 9a—Jacob starts off his prayer addressing God for Who God specifically is. Jacob is not addressing a general deity (“god”) but the specific God of the Bible—the God Who revealed Himself as Yahweh—the God of Abraham and Isaac.
- 9b—Jacob continues by reminding God of the generous promise that God previously made to Jacob (especially because Jacob’s current situation, at least from a human perspective, made it difficult to believe that God would fulfill His promise). Thus prayer is not just asking for God to act in the future but remembering how God has acted in the past.
- 10a—Jacob continues by humbly admitting that he is unworthy of God to answer his prayer, that he is unworthy of God’s original promise. This is not a case of Jacob beating himself up or having low self-esteem, but rather of Jacob objectively seeing himself accurately as one who is enormously blessed to be talking with God but totally undeserving in himself to be doing so. As C.S Lewis has said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but rather thinking of yourself less.”
- 10b—Jacob continues his prayer by remembering “where he came from,” namely looking back to remind himself that he has not always been successful and more importantly to give credit completely to God for the success that he has lately enjoyed.
- 11a—Jacob then asks God for specific things—this isn’t a general prayer but a precise prayer. The most effective visits to the doctor—where we leave being healthier!—are not when we simply say, “I don’t feel good!” but when we specifically describe the symptoms we are experiencing.
- 11b—Jacob also humbly and vulnerably admits that he is scared and that he cannot fix his problem on his own. Jacob is not Rambo, John Wayne or any other action hero single-handedly making it through life—he admits his need for God.
- 12—Jacob concludes the prayer by again reminding God (and really reminding himself!) of God’s awesome promises to Jacob.
Of course you do not have to pray with this exact formula, but one of the best ways to learn about prayer is to look at the prayers of different people in the Bible and to read/study them, asking the Holy Spirit to teach you about prayer from those Biblical prayers.
Quotes on prayer:
- “Courage is fear that has said its prayers” (author unknown).
- “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” (Corrie Ten Boom)
- “Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him” (Hudson Taylor).