June 25, 2017

Thoughts on Prayer

Do you pray?

I don’t mean, do you say your prayers; I mean, do you pray? The two are very different. And I don’t mean, do you pray before you go to sleep at night, or when you wake up in the morning; I mean, do you pray at all times?

I get the feeling that God is trying to teach me something about prayer. My pastor spoke a lot about prayer this Sunday. Much of my Bible reading has been on prayer lately. My C.H. Spurgeon reading has had a lot to do with prayer. I’ve listened to a dozen sermons on prayer in the last couple of weeks. Clearly, God is teaching me about prayer. While I don’t pretend to know nearly everything about it, or claim to be a prayer warrior, I would nevertheless like to share with you a handful of the life-lessons that I am learning. I hope they will bless you as they have blessed me.

First, I would like to notice The Time Set-Apart and Devoted to Prayer in a given day. I am a firm believer in having prayer times in the early morning. I hate missing that time of communion with God. It sets my day off on the wrong tracks. When I begin my day in the shadow of His throne, I find that I have a greater tendency to linger there throughout the remainder of the day. I would like to share with you some quotes on this matter by several of my favorite puritans and other Reformed men;

“If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” ~Martin Luther

“Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A man is powerful on his knees.” ~Corrie Ten Boom

“The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, He will be in the last place the remainder of the day.” ~E.M. Bounds

“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” ~John Bunyan

“If I have ever accomplished anything in my ministry, it is due to the fact that I have faithfully kept the Morning Watch.” ~Oswald Smith

“I never think of leaving my room in the morning without first being on good terms with God.” ~C.H. Spurgeon

“The Morning Watch” is what some people call it, and I am rather fond of the term. Why is this so important? Why does this time of communion with God matter so much? I do not wish to press anything on your heart that is not commanded of by God, but in my own personal (and limited) experience, rising early for a special time of prayer is the surest way to begin my day on the right course. When I am awake sometimes even before the sun is, it helps me to focus on what I need to focus on. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, the flesh hates the idea, and rebels against it in every vice from drowsiness to failed alarm clocks. Good habits are hard to form, and painful to engrave in out patterns of life. But once they are formed, they are sure to remain with us even into old age.

Before you accused me of being legalistic, I would like to point out that it seems to have been the habits of both our Lord, Jesus, and other men of faith, such as David, to rise early for prayer. We need not look beyond the Bible to find that this is a very godly practice. While it is never commanded in Scripture (and therefore we are not necessarily in sin to pray at other times rather than in the morning), it seems that our Lord’s practice must be the very best. He was perfect, and everything he did was perfect. He had a greater knowledge and love for the Father than anyone has ever had. Surely if Christ needed to pray, we ought to do so as well.

One particular C.H. Spurgeon quote has stuck with me, however, and I would like to share it with you; “I think it is not so important that man be in the habit of prayer as in the spirit of prayer”. What Spurgeon is saying is that, while it is important to be in the habit of prayer, it is more important to be in the spirit of prayer when we do pray. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day no doubt were in the habit of prayer. The had set hours for prayer, and prayed for long periods of time without food or water. But were they praying? No, they were saying prayers. The two are very different. The first is a pouring out of our hearts in honesty before God. The second is saying a certain set of words or using a particular form of prayer. The first involves the heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second involves only the mind. It’s dead. It’s lifeless. We pray out of habit because it is the thing to do. It’s like the polite little “table blessings” that we have all grown up with, and that isn’t praying.

Am I necessarily condemning all forms of reading the prayers of others as our own? I am not sure that I am fully against it, but I believe that David’s prayers were best for David. Surgeon’s prayers were best for Spurgeon. Christ’s prayers were best for Christ. Their prayers expressed their feelings, longings, and desires. We don’t have to search the Scriptures to find prayers that suit our situations–God can hear our own words just the same. “For the Father knows what you need before you ask Him”. Clearly, even if our tongues our slow to express our feelings and desires, God sees past that, and into our hearts. Sometimes it is appropriate to simply be silent before God, with “groanings too deep for words”, as the apostle Paul wrote.

I don’t think it’s important to tell you how I pray, or even point you to particular books on prayer. Prayer is learned by praying. The spirit of prayer is learned by forming the habit of prayer (often times). The habit of prayer (when it isn’t legalistic) is formed from a heart desiring to know God and to grow in him. “A man doesn’t go often to visit the doctor when he has no desire for healing. He might go once or twice because it is a common-place thing, or because he feels that it is what he ought to do, but he won’t continue to come back, seeking the cures for his ailments.”

The biggest complaint among Christians concerning prayer is that prayer is “boring”. Really? The privilege that was bought by the death of Christ, for us to be able to come before the throne of the thrice-holy God, who moves the wheels of Heaven and Earth, and ask Him for anything we desire? To be able to worship the triune God, who alone has the power to give you your next breath? To be given the amazing gift of communion with the same God who parted the Red Sea, spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, slaughtered the Philistines, and will pour out His bowls of wrath on the day of judgment? That’s boring? Please, then, explain to me what something exciting is. And really, when you think of it that way, is it not a scandal that we only pray as often as we do? We may come before the throne of God at any time, and yet we don’t? Sometimes we go days with only a quick word of prayer.

I encourage you today to make a point of spending time in prayer. The blog that I keep is known as my “challenge”blog, where I present spiritual challenges for myself and my readers. My challenge for you today is to form a steady habit of coming to God in prayer, every hour of the day. He is always listening, and ready to act on behalf of the saints who call on His name in faith.

Elizabeth

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