Always Praying and Not Losing Heart
Devoted to Prayer Seminar
Objectives for this hour:
- Offer recommendations and resources for getting to prayer
- Provide biblical reasons to persevere in prayer
As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray. (Martin Luther, quoted by Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 64)
What Now? Find What Works
I realize that I haven’t actually provided many actual or practical How To? suggestions. That’s on purpose, because I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all prayer hat. There isn’t one exercise program to follow, but the best programs are usually tailored, at least somewhat, to the individual. I’ve tried to emphasize the basics, the core issues, but there are perhaps some helpful tips.
The Bible itself demands that we pray, but portrays a plethora of styles, times of day, lengths, and themes of prayer. Never are externals elevated over internals. But since, for most of us, the externals are what tend to get in our way, here are some recommended prayer helps, or if you prefer, a prayer stimulus package.
Please don’t take these ideas and make them laws. But do take them, tweak them, come up with your own, and most of all, find a plan that works. Be devoted to prayer. Be determined for prayer.
1. Pray for Help in Prayer
Praying is not only God’s will, our praying is God’s delight.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable (a delight – NAS) to him. (Proverbs 15:8)
The prayer of the righteous is exactly as He pleases, that’s why He accepts it.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8)
If we pray for God’s Spirit to help us in prayer, so that we will enjoy closer fellowship and be strengthened for work in a way that shows off His resources, isn’t that precisely the sort of prayer He promises to hear and answer?
2. Read/Study Scripture
Bible study and prayer are hand in glove, they are inhaling and exhaling. When we read Scripture, we see more of God. Seeing His holiness should produce our confession of sinfulness. Seeing His majesty should create expressions of praise. Seeing His work and sacrifice and faithfulness should make for long lists of thanksgiving. Seeing His commands should cause us to pray, for us and for others, that He would enable us to obey. Seeing the prayers of prophets and apostles should be an easy way for us to supplicate. 1
Read A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Carson teaches through each of Paul’s prayers. We barely touched Paul’s teaching on prayer, and this book is, at least so far, the best book on prayer I’ve ever read.
3. Learn Theology
Get to know God better. Become intimate with Him for the purpose of fellowship. Theology is not an exercise in academics, but an exercise in affections. Study the Bible not only to see what to ask for, but also Who you’re asking from. Listen to sermons not only to walk away with some way to apply it during the week, but also write down something you want to ask God about later. Read theology books for the purpose of whetting your appetite for God Himself.
What you think about God will determine how you pray. That goes for His person. We are made in the image of a relational God. The three Persons of the Trinity enjoyed “eternal” fellowship with each other, and we’re made for unity with Him, and to share His joy.
That goes for His power. We won’t expect much if we don’t think He’s capable. That goes for His interests, the things He cares about. If we don’t think it matters to Him, we won’t come to Him with it. Theology drives praying, period. Little theology will produce little prayers. Grunt theology will create grunt pray-ers.
4. Do Something Hard
For some, providence may already be gifting you with desperation. Others are probably not as pressed during this season. Think about some biblical, voluntary service or sacrifice that would cost you, something outside your comfort zone, and start asking God about it. Ask big!
Maybe it’s inviting a neighbor family to dinner and talking about the gospel. Maybe it’s fasting. Maybe it’s signing up to serve someone who’s sick. Maybe it’s pursuing reconciliation with an old friend. This will be a joy to you as you depend on Him and it will increase your tolerance/endurance level for when hard things come in God’s providence.
5. Read Books (and especially Biographies) about Prayers
I still remember the summer my mom gave me a biography on George Muller. I devoured it during breaks at work. His story of doing hard things, praying big, and then watching God do abundantly beyond what he could ask or think kindled a fire for prayer inside me. Read about Muller, Jim Elliot, D.L. Moody. You will want to be a more devoted prayer.
Again, read A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Read The Power of Prayer in the Believer’s Life by Charles Spurgeon. Read The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers on various subjects. Download free sermons on prayer. I’ll have links on the web to messages that I have benefited me.2 There is an embarrassment of helps available to us.
6. Make a Prayer List
I cannot sustain times of prayer without one. The primary reason is because I feel like there are so many things to pray for, that I won’t remember them all, and I don’t have time to pray for them all anyway, so I might as well not pray at all.
A list helps:
- Weakness. I can remember and sustain.
- Comprehensiveness. I can pray larger than the moment.
- Thankfulness. I can go back and see what He’s answered.
If I could come back for a moment to the idea of comprehensiveness, I’ve always been struck by Paul’s prayer for the Colossians–none of whom he’d ever met! He claimed “from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you” (Colossians 1:9). There is something about expanding our outer circles of prayer, including those we don’t know. Our souls shrink to the size of their concerns.
If we do not pray for our own circle, who will? But if that is the farthest reach of our prayers, we become parochial, introverted. Our prayers may be an index of how small and self-centered our world is. (Carson, 98)
And if we pray for His kingdom to come, there is no reason not to pray for the spread of the gospel in every place.3 For that matter, immediately after Paul urged the Colossians to be devoted to prayer, he said, “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word” (Colossians 4:3)
It doesn’t matter where you keep your list. It might be in the back pages of your journal. It might be on your iPhone; I’m sure there’s an app for that. It might be on a little pad or in a folder. My list is divided for the days of the week.
- something for my own soul (heavy, hurting, hungry, happy, hopeful)
- something for my wife, kids, and family
- a few staff
- a class of students
- one (or more) church elders
- one (or more) of our sick
- one (or more) of our missionaries
- one (or more) areas of government (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2)
- an upcoming event, ministry opportunity
I’m at the happy point where days compete with each other for my “favorite” day to pray. I don’t require a lot of variety, so that’s enough for me, for now.
7. Keep a Prayer Journal
This is more than a list. Write out prayers, or at least write requests and answers. Writing often helps us clarify, it helps us focus, it slows us down. It also enables us to return at a later time and see progress. You’ve got one in your hands.
8. Go for a Prayer Walk
I’m so easily distracted. I’m in an unrelenting battle to discipline myself for the best. I often need to get away from my computer and books and phone. For some, a walk helps them stay awake and keep alert mentally. A walk isn’t magic, but talk out loud, sing, observe the sky above proclaiming His handiwork, rehearse memory verses. Choose a route that will let you focus on God, not how to get home.
9. Pray with Others
Prayer is not only a personal discipline. While praying with more than one person could be an opportunity for a prayer show-off, they will have their reward. Usually, a set prayer meeting provides discipline and encouragement. It helps keep us from getting too far away from the work of prayer. Maybe take one of your normal meetings and make it a prayer meeting once a month.
Don’t Lose Heart
Those suggestions are all well and fine. Praying is a lifetime activity, whether you’re here as a prayer grunt or a prayer warrior. Grunts can certainly learn new “tricks” from warriors, and warriors ought to keep their tools sharp. Try things, tweak your program, but most of all, PRAY!
I want to finish by considering a few passages that should increase our determination for prayer.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1-3)
This is a paragraph about passions. The assumption is that everyone has passions/desires. Everyone aims to have their passions satisfied. That’s normal; that’s good. The key is, on whom do we depend to obtain our delights? (the last word in verse three, probably better translated “pleasures, delights, enjoyments”.) Where, or from whom, we seek satisfaction reveals the character of our desires.
If we seek delight from others, we will quarrel and fight, because others are going to be looking out for numero uno too, and that’s not us. If we seek joy in the world (verse 4), we are adulterers, because we’re asking our Husband for an allowance to cheat on Him. If we depend on ourselves, God opposes us in our pride because He refuses to share His glory.
But if we come humbly (verses 8, 10), confessing sin (verses 8, 9), believing that He is able (verse 8), then we’ll ask Him! We do not have because we do not ask. The implication is not that having our desires fulfilled is wrong, but that the only right way is to have them fulfilled if God gets the glory for it. He gets the glory when we ask as it shows our desire for fellowship (verses 5, 8), and as He’s exalted as the resource.
James echoes the teaching of Jesus.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
Each command (ask, seek, knock) is followed by a promise (it will be given, you will find, it will be opened), intended to get us going. The staccato like rhythm moves us. The juxtaposition of father’s also moves us. Pray! Ask! What are you waiting for?
Luke’s account connects the disciples’ prayer and the ask+seek+knock motivation together, weaving them with an illustration.
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)
The story is about impudence (ESV), “persistence” (NAS), “boldness” (NIV), “shamelessness” (DRBY). The word means “lack of sensitivity to what is proper; carelessness about what others think.” It is only used here in the New Testament. The man is disturbing his friend at an inconvenient, socially inappropriate time. That may be an effective way to get food, and an equally effective way to lose friends.
The point, however, is not to teach us that God is inconvenienced by our praying, or that it is inappropriate to pray at night. The point is that if shameless persistence gets a response at an inconvenient time from a tired friend, how much more will God respond who is never tired and loves to be asked?
Luke also records a parable Jesus told the disciples to urge persistent prayer.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.;” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
The point of this parable refreshes like an oasis. The key word here is not impudence, but beat down (ESV), “wearing out” (NAS, NIV), “plague” (YNG). It means “bring someone into submission by constant annoyance; to wear someone down.” We might call it nagging someone, badgering them, pestering them, hounding them. It’s not letting go.
The widow keeps on coming. She received justice because she wasn’t going to stop until she got an answer.
Again, the point is not to tell us what God is like. He is precisely not like the callous, selfish ruler. The point is to tell us what our prayer life should look like. We should be determined for prayer.
The great fault of the children of God is, they do not continue in prayer; they do not go on praying; they do not persevere. If they desire anything for God’s glory, they should pray until they get it. (George Muller, in Roger Steer’s book, George Muller: Delighted in God, 310)
When Jesus comes, will He find faith? In other words, will He find us devoted to prayer? We need not lose heart.
It doesn’t matter how eloquent you are. It doesn’t matter what degree of Bible education you have; for hundreds of years God’s people could pray even though they didn’t have their own copy of God’s Word. It doesn’t matter what kind of prayer journal you have or pen you write with. If God is your Father, you have every reason in Christ to be devoted to prayer.
Reading a book about prayer, listening to lectures and talking about it is very good, but it won’t teach you to pray. You get nothing without exercise, without practice. I might listen for a year to a professor of music playing the most beautiful music, but that won’t teach me to play an instrument. (Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer)
It is sin not to pray. When we are prayerless because we doubt God can do anything about the problem, that’s unbelief. When we are prayerless because we trust ourselves to fix the problem, that’s pride. When we are prayerless because of depending on someone or something else, that’s idolatry. Prayerlessness is, by default, a denying of praise to God.
Conversely, when we do pray, we demonstrate faith, humility, and worship. We can and should praise God and honor God in prayer, but we praise and honor Him by prayer. The extent of our prayerfulness exhibits that God is faithful, that God is great, and that God is worthy to be prayed to. Our praying flaunts that He is worthy to be praised by everything that has breath, and God eagerly blesses those who make their boast in Him.
The question is not if you’re wearing boasting pants, the question is, who is your boasting pants flaunting?
Obviously we didn’t cover everything about prayer in today’s seminar. There are undoubtedly other questions.
How long should I pray? How long would you spend praying for someone else? If you had a disease, but were dependent on someone else to explain your symptoms to the doctor so that he could prescribe treatment/medication, how long would you like your friend to take? As long as it takes. You would hope for their earnestness, accuracy, patience, and persistence. But it probably wouldn’t matter whether it took five minutes or two hours.
If you have questions, ask me, ask someone, study, and most of all, pray.
Thank you to:
- Mo & family – support
- Jesse – design, bookmarks, name tags, etc.
- Grant – sound
- Kim & crew – set up, check-in, feasting!
- Curtis – oversight
- “Grant what you command, command what you will.” Augustine, Confessions. Also, see a list of What the New Testament Church Prayed For ↩
- Pray Without Ceasing by John Piper from 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18. Be Devoted to Prayer by Piper from Romans 12:12. Prayer, Fasting, and the Course of History by Piper from Acts 13:1-4. ↩
- Websites like The Joshua Project highlight an unreached people group every day. Books such as Operation World do the same thing. ↩