Lord, Teach Us to Pray

This Easter we are planning a prayer strategy at church to intentionally pray for Easter: our services, guests, preacher, choir, Sunday School teachers, attendance, God’s presence, with an expectation that God can and wants to do great things in and through our church.

I found this e-mail devotion from Bible Gateway (March 2, 2017); may we seek to pray better, more effectively, more earnestly, more faithfully, with an expectancy not found in ordinary people.

My hunch is that of all spiritual disciplines, prayer is the one that people feel most guilty about. Somehow it seems that if we really love God prayer should flow out of us without effort or discipline. In fact, this was not the case even with Jesus’ first followers.

They had a front row seat to watch the greatest pray-er who ever prayed. And they noticed that things happened when he prayed. And they asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

This is a startling request because as Jews the disciples would have known all about prayers. They would have grown up with prayers offered through the day, before meals, at the beginning of Sabbath, and when they went to synagogue. They weren’t just asking what words to say. The disciples noticed Jesus looked forward to prayer and actually hungered for it. They saw that somehow prayer fed Jesus’ soul the way food fed their stomachs. They observed a richly interactive life between Jesus and his Father. They noticed that at crisis points—when Jesus was grieving over the death of John the Baptist, when he experienced need, when he was tired from ministry—his consistent response was to pray. They wanted to be nourished by prayer the way that Jesus was. So they asked him to teach them.

Here’s the lesson: Prayer is learned behavior. Nobody is born an expert at it. No one ever masters prayer.

Simple prayer is the most common type of prayer in Scripture. Jesus himself teaches it when he tells us to pray for our daily bread. Sometimes it looks amazingly non-spiritual, as when Gideon asks God to give a few more reasons why he should trust Him.

I have had to learn to be fully present when praying. I have had to learn to become aware of and speak with God about what is actually happening within me during prayer. Talking to God directly about what is happening has made prayer become a much more lively experience in my life.

Jesus often taught about intercessory prayer, and if his teachings could be summarized by a single word it would probably be “persistence.” He told parables about people who would not stop requesting—if persistence pays off even on the human level where we have to overcome resistance and apathy on the part of those we approach, how much more should we continue to persist when we approach a heavenly Father whose love and wisdom exceed our wildest imaginings?

Prayer, perhaps more than any other activity, is the concrete expression of the fact that we are invited into a relationship with God. In addition to all the other work that gets done through prayer, perhaps the greatest work of all is the knitting of the human heart together with the heart of God.

Sometimes people fail to learn more about prayer because they don’t reflect on what actually happens when they pray. Take time to reflect. Think of this as what we might do after a visit with a good friend. We spend a few moments alone and think about our time together.

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Personal Prayer Killers

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16)

We often pray and it appears nothing is happening, but there are a few things that will hinder our prayers. Remove barriers and see how things can change.

1. Unconfessed Sin: This is the biggest prayer killer (Psalm 66:18). It will actually push God away from us. The good news is that if we confess our sin, the whiteboard of our lives is wiped clean, we start over fresh. Check out Jeremiah 31:14 and 1 John 1:9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that sin demands a man to be by himself. “The more isolated he is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more disastrous is the isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.” (Life Together, published 1954).

2. Lack of Faith: There’s a great story in Mark 6:1-6, the hometown of Jesus prevented him from doing any miracles there due to their lack of faith. It amazed even Jesus. James 1:5-8 talks about a person being double-minded, where one is emotionally divided. This make the person unstable and incapable of hearing from God.

3. Disobedience: John challenges us toward obedience because of our love for Jesus (1 John 3:21-23). We don’t obey to be loved by God, but we obey because we love God. There is a difference.

4. Lack of Transparency with God and Others: We often give in to temptation when we are alone, and then we hide it from others, believing we might even hide it from God. James 5:16 commands us to confess to one another that we may be healed. We confess to God to be forgiven, we confess to others to be healed. The most difficult part of confession is our own ego. Pride becomes our stumbling block.

5. Unforgiveness: After receiving such great forgiveness from God, how dare we withhold forgiveness from others? (Matthew 18:21, 22) It is the Spirit of God who gives us the power to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15).

6. Wrong Motives: When our prayers are not right, there is no power (James 4:3). Here are two things that reveal our motives: 1) a project greater than ourselves, and 2) prayer (God will show us our motives).

7. Idols in Our Lives: No, it is not the little statue any more. Idols can be of the heart (Ezekiel 14:3). Don’t let anything take over your heart except God alone.

8. Disregard for Others: When we do this, God sees (Psalm 33:13), his view is expansive. Jesus tells us what to do, love one another (John 13:34). The way husbands treat their wives can actually hinder our prayers (1 Peter 3:7).

9. Disregard for God’s Sovereignty: God has a hold of everything, nothing catches him by surprise, note Jeremiah 1:5. Part of our daily prayer should be for God’s will to be done on earth (Matthew 6:9-10). Take self off the throne, and embrace God’s being in charge.

10. Unsurrendered Will: This is the next step after item nine, because if our will is not under his control, we stubbornly assert our own will in all aspects of life. The Bible gives plenty of promises (John 15:7, 1 Peter 3:12, Psalm 139:23-24).

[print_link] [email_link] [ From John Maxwell, Partners in Prayer ]

Game Plan for Daily Devotion

The best sports teams have a game plan for effectiveness on game day, prayer time can also benefit from a little planning, rather than shooting from the hip.

Preparation: emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. Bring resources that you will need, choose a place with minimal distractions, use a hymnal, Bible, pad and pen. Get comfortable whether sitting, walking, or listening. Utilize prayer, worship, Bible reading, singing.

Waiting Time: Isaiah 40:31 tells us about waiting on the Lord. Sometimes there is way too much talking and not enough listening. This sort of waiting is in expectation… let God love you, search you, show you. Waiting can be difficult because we want results, and want them now.

Confession Time: Unconfessed sin is a roadblock to prayer. When God searches you, he will point out what you need to confess. Confess that sin immediately, without rationalization, don’t wait until later, or until Sunday at church. Never allow your position to keep you from confessing sin. If you are a leader or even a staff member, set the example of obediently confessing known sin. Remember that God is never surprised by what we do, so be totally honest. Trust that God will always tell us when we have done wrong. Here is a warning, when sin is tolerated, it will increase.

Bible Time: the Bible is important every day (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 119:89). I have discovered that my own words will fall short in my prayers, but actually praying God’s Word back to him, it is a powerful encounter with God. Select a passage that speaks to your heart on the subject you want to pray. Pray the passage by personalizing it, reading it, and applying it to your situation. Respond to the passage mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Allow God to search you and change your attitude and life.

Meditation Time: James tells us to not only read the word but do what it says (James 1:22). The difference between reading and acting is meditation. Meditation helps us to receive the Word and will allow it to transform us. Psalm 1:1-2 is a great example. Meditation helps us examine our relationship with God, see ourselves in a right way, and discover where you are on this spiritual journey. The better you understand how to obey, the closer you will be to the Lord.

Intercession Time: Paul taught us how to pray for others (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Intercession not only benefits other people, it connects us to God.

Petition Time: this is simply bringing your list of needs before the throne of God. Pray with the attitude of “thy will be done” which has the potential to purify our motives. Praying for God’s will is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith, Jesus did it (Luke 22:42). We are in submission to God, we are never in a position to demand anything from him. We ask God not to bless what we are doing but to help us do that which he is blessing. Be honest with your feelings, problems, and needs. Talk to God about the little things that concern you.

Application Time: this is where listening and obedience come together as action (John 14:23-24). Sometimes God will ask us to do something that makes no sense, like a strange request, like when Jeremiah was told to purchase a field (Jeremiah 32). I may need to obey something, pray for someone else, or may be asked to share a message with someone. Obedience is a key, never stand still, walk forward in faith.

Faith Time: faith is pretty important to God because without it we can never please God (Hebrews 11:1, 6). Praying in faith is exciting, as long as we pray with the right motives, according to God’s will and agenda, and not for our own selfish reasons.

Praise and Thanksgiving Time: these two are not synonymous; praise recognizes God for who he is while thanksgiving recognizes God for what he has done. When we praise God he inhabits us; when we thank God he blesses us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which brings you most quickly in the presence of God (worship, prayer, Scripture)?
  2. For what do you need to thank God for today?
  3. Listening is very hard for busy Americans. How effective are your listening skills? What makes it difficult? How can you improve?
  4. Those who love God will obey God (John 14:23), so is there something that God has asked you to do? Are you willing to obey?

[print_link] [email_link] [ From John Maxwell, Partners in Prayer ]

Why Believers Don’t Pray

It is remarkable that many Christians spend as little time with God in prayer as do non-believers. Why is that? William Ward said, “God is never more than a prayer away from you … we address and stamp a letter and send it on its way, confident that it will reach its destination, but we doubtfully wonder if our prayer will be heard by an ever-present God.”

Many people have the wrong attitude toward prayer. It is not like something your grandmother taught you, or grace before a meal.

Many believe you have to get off alone by yourself in order to pray, with eyes closed, head bowed, and hands folded. Then after five minutes, we run out of things to say. Prayer is not to be a stiff, formal activity. These mechanics can get in the way of loving God; they’re a hindrance, not a help.

Prayer should be like a normal conversation, like talking with a friend. Through prayer we get to know God, his will, and his purposes. Married people spend time together, talking and sharing life. One does not spend time trying to manipulate the other. Marriages deteriorate when communication becomes stiff, formal, or non-existent.

Five Guidelines That Will Help us Develop a Proper Attitude Toward Prayer:

  1. Be Spontaneous: this does not need to be tedious or repetitive. Include God in your daily walk and activities. Tell God about everything. Be flexible, look for opportunities to connect with God.
  2. Be Specific: Don’t babble (Matthew 6:7) and don’t feel you have to be eloquent in your speech. Modify your prayer from general to specific… don’t just pray to save our country, pray for my neighborhood, or neighbor David, that Christ make himself real to him. Rather than bless my pastor, pray that God anoint him with power to communicate spiritual truth this Sunday.
  3. ASK the Right Way: too many people want what we don’t need and need what we don’t want. ASK = ask (James 4:3), seek (2 Thessalonians 3:10, Matthew 25:29), knock (Matthew 7:7-8, 2 Corinthians 12:9). Also, we should examine our motives.
  4. Pray with All Your Heart: Focus, don’t allow distraction (James 1:8). Pray aloud. Write down distraction to deal with them later. Keep a journal to track progress. Too many people pray like young boys knocking on a door only to run away.
  5. Pray Continually: prayer is from the overflow of your heart, and should be continual (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When people ask for prayer, stop right then and actually do it!

Discussion Questions:

  1. With which relatives did you have the best relationship? What made that relationship so special?
  2. What are positive qualities in any relationship?
  3. Name ways that people can improve the quality of their relationships?
  4. When you pray, which of the five points above make it most difficult for you?
  5. Name one thing you can do now to improve your prayer life?

[print_link] [email_link] [ From John Maxwell, Partners in Prayer ]

Prayer Changes Me

Jesus was an advocate of prayer (John 16:23-24). If prayer did nothing other than what Jesus promised, it would be one of the greatest gifts God has given us.

Prayer changes us by drawing us closer to God, changing and molding us into his likeness in the process. David’s prayer in Psalm 25:4-5 is an example… show me, teach me, guide me. God shows us his standards and his will for our lives, it isn’t always easy on us. It requires growth and change. Once we accept what God would show us, he is able to teach us. When we are teachable and growing, he finally is able to guide us, to lead us into his purpose and plan.

  • When God shows me, he has my heart.
  • When God teaches me, he has my mind.
  • When God guides me, he has my hand.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the greatest answered prayer you’ve ever heard?
  2. Have there been events in your life where someone might have been praying behind the scenes for you?
  3. How will you describe your current prayer life?
  4. What can happen when a core group of people in our church begins to pray daily for the church and the pastor?
  5. What “great work” is God calling us to pray for?

[print_link] [email_link] [ From John Maxwell, Partners in Prayer ]