FBCW – “Body Builder” 2/08
Well we’re back to our series on spiritual disciplines as outlined in Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life where so far we have looked at the need to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7), the discipline of “Bible intake” by way of hearing, reading and studying God’s Word followed by the memorization, meditation and application of it. Now we’ve come to a discipline that just about everybody agrees they don’t do enough of…prayer. There is much that can and should be said about prayer, much more than we could ever do justice to in this article, so I will focus on some particulars of prayer as a daily discipline in the life of a believer. First, what is prayer? Simply put, prayer is two-way communication with God; we talk to God and we listen to God. When we say listen, we mean that God communicates things to us through His Word, the Bible. He also uses the Holy Spirit indwelling inside us to direct and guide. This can occur by us sensing a “prompting” or a “stirring” of our heart. Remember though, the way to be sure if it’s the Holy Spirit “speaking” to you and not your indigestion from Burger King the night before is to weigh everything against Scripture. In other words, if you are having money troubles because you are out of work but are too lazy to be looking for a new job and are praying to God asking Him to give you some direction or help, the idea of robbing a bank might pop into your head. Now before you run out to get a ski mask thinking this is God’s answer to your prayer, go to His Word first where you would clearly see that stealing is a sin. You now realize that this was not the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart, but Satan, the world, or just your own wicked and depraved mind. If you read further in the Scriptures, you would see God’s exhortation for each man to be disciplined and labor (work!) even with hardship to provide for one’s self and one’s family (2 Thess. 3:7-8; 1 Tim. 5:8). If this was what was going through you’re mind, praise God for His answer! Let us now look at 3 aspects or truths of prayer that we all need to understand and put into practice so we can cultivate the discipline of prayer in our lives: 1) Prayer is expected, 2) Prayer is learned, 3) Prayer is answered. First, prayer is expected. Jesus constantly was praying to the heavenly Father and expects us to as well saying things like, “When you pray…(Matt. 6:5),” “Pray, then, in this way…(Matt. 6:9),” “So I say to you, ask…; seek…; knock…(Lk. 11:9)” or “now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray…(Lk. 18:1).” How much more faithful should we become knowing that Jesus Himself expects us to pray? God also commands it as seen throughout His Word. This fact means that there is a “no excuse” clause automatically in place. As Whitney writes, “This means too little time, too many responsibilities, too many kids, too much work, too little desire, too little experience, etc. do not exempt us from the expectation to pray.” Consider Colossians 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;” and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing.” Are you devoted to prayer...or your TV sets? Are you continually praying, or just on occasion or when you need something? Part of what happens when we “pray without ceasing” is that we develop a relationship with our Creator and Sustainer. You see, God created us for relationships, and specifically to have a relationship with Him. Just read Genesis chapters 1-3 and you’ll see God’s desire to have fellowship with Adam and Eve, even creating the human race in His very own image. Really, that’s what the whole of Christianity and the Bible are all about, God’s desire to have back that fellowship with sinful man by redeeming Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Just like we would never expect to grow close to someone we never talked to or visited, so it is with God. God is there waiting for us to come to Him, first for salvation, and then with our praises, thanksgivings, confessions and supplications. The more we pray, the more we know God and His will for us. Remember also that praying shouldn’t be merely viewed as a “have to” but a “get to!” Think about it, when we pray, we are given immediate access into God’s throne room of grace (Heb. 4:16)! When we pray we get to look forward to the opportunity of receiving God’s grace and mercy. Through prayer, God allows us to play a part in His plan for the world; to help advance His kingdom, activities that are eternally important. What a privilege when we pray!Secondly, prayer is learned. The disciples acknowledged this when they said in Luke 11:1 “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” There is a sense that prayer comes naturally to a child of God, especially where basic needs are concerned. This is often the case for a babe in Christ, but as we mature and grow in our relationship with the Lord, so will our prayers as they reflect the fullness of what God would have us prayer for, i.e.: the glory of God, His will, in faith, with persistence, etc. To this end we learn to pray by praying. It’s the old ‘learning-by-doing’ method; when one wants to learn a foreign language, the best way is by immersing oneself in the language. We can listen to a piano teacher play beautiful music but that doesn’t teach us how to play the instrument.Another way we can learn to pray is by meditating on Scripture. Many times when we start to pray, our prayers have no direction or we feel uncertain what to pray for or our mind wanders and is unfocused while trying to pray. This can be easily overcome by starting your prayer time with the reading of Scripture. Use whatever you read to get your mind focused on the Lord, think deeply about it, digest it, and then let it launch you into a time of prayer, starting with praying specifically about what you read and how it might apply to your life or a given situation. This is a really great way to teach your children to pray so as to avoid meaningless repetition or staleness. Meditating on Scripture really can be the missing link between your Bible intake and a productive prayer time. Psalm 19:14 speaks of this when David writes “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” Here, the catalyst for prayer is David’s meditations on God’s Word because that is exactly what would be acceptable to God. In addition, David has also just acknowledged that “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” He uses God’s Word and meditating on it to propel and instruct His prayer time. George Muller, a great man of God who depended 100% on prayer and faith to run an orphanage in Bristol, England during the 1800’s says this about meditation and prayer, “Now what is food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the Word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water passes through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it and applying it to our hearts.”Two other ways we can learn to pray is by praying with others and reading about it. The disciples heard Jesus pray and likewise, we can learn to pray through others who can model true prayer for us. This does not mean learn special little phrases that other people use, but rather to learn principles of prayer such as perseverance in prayer and how to use Scripture while praying. Reading good books about prayer (just ask me for some titles!) in addition to praying can be very worthwhile as “Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another (Prov. 27:17)” and “He who walks with wise men will be wise (Prov. 13:20)."Our third and last aspect of prayer is that prayer is answered. Again, the Psalmist David writes, “O You who hear prayer... (Ps. 65:2).” Let us also not forget the words of our Lord “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Matt. 7:7-8).” God delights to answer the prayers of His people. You say, “Well doesn’t God already know every thing we need or would ask of Him?” Of course He does for He is the omniscient, omnipresent God, but He chooses to do things this way because when we pray (either for ourselves or others) we are showing our trust, dependence and reliance on God for all of our physical and spiritual needs. When God answers, either in the positive or negative, this should only serve to increase our faith and trust in Him more, giving Him more glory. It’s interesting that after David petitioned God for the life of his baby son (even after God told him that he would take the boys life as a consequence for David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12) and this came to pass, David immediately stopped mourning and started worshipping God because he knew that it was God’s will that had come to pass and in that he could rejoice! So now, what will you do with these three aspects or truths of prayer you have been confronted with today: that prayer is expected by our Lord, it is something to be learned and is always answered? Will you make a commitment to pray daily, even “without ceasing” because it is God’s desire and your privilege to do so? Will you commit to learning how to pray by searching the Scriptures, modeling prayer principals of mature believers and reading good books all the while practicing what you learn? Will you commit to praying or going deeper in your prayer life knowing that God does indeed answer prayer? Will you start today? Pray on and be blessed!