Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start with prayer. It can be awkward… you know when you’ve left it a while… it leaves you tip toeing through a few deistic superlatives before bashfully cutting to the chase. You’re really great God, I can always count on you, your promises are never failing, now about that thing that I need!
Then there’s the topic of conversation issue, where do you begin given the vast subject matter on offer. Do I start with world peace or the promotion I’m after? It’s one thing having a chat with the woman in the office who’s got kids and watches Strictly a bit, where the map of conversation is pretty well drawn out. Quite another talking to the God who created everything, sustains everything, knows everything and can help with anything! Where do you start? I’ll not mention the war in Ukraine today, that’s probably getting well covered. I’ll focus on my raging temper and my auntie Jean’s scan.
Even when you get up and running it can go awry.
Prayers quickly turn into wish lists or sets of well worn phrases you can reel off, devoid of feeling or meaning. Worse still, when you just forget you’re praying and find your mind wandering off towards the next pressing concern or fantasy. Then there’s the sleepy prayer, nodding off mid-sentence. Can you imagine being on the receiving end of that? God is patient.
If my salvation depended on the quality of my prayers I’d be in big trouble. It doesn’t. But the Bible’s definite about its importance so it patiently and lovingly steers us towards conversation with our God.
Here’s a few things to focus on to help you on your way:
The spirit helps
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Romans 8:26–28
This is especially comforting knowing how often I’ve screamed up at the sky, offered inaudible cries or not known where to start or what to say. It is comforting knowing how often I’ve sat with my head in my hands asking why! Even those feelings, not yet formed into structured thought, let alone a sentence, are carried into God’s presence and translated along the way.
It’s a battle
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:10–20
The real struggles in our life are not with flesh and blood, they’re spiritual battles we’ll need to be dressed and ready for. Constant, alert and fearless is how Paul sees it. We probably don’t think of Christian life or prayer being anything like that, yet try sitting down for five minutes to do it. Think about how hard it is to break bad habits and develop good new ones. Think about the real needs of yourself and those around you and what it would take to really affect those needs. It’s a battle alright!
It changes us
Prayer does change things, all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us. As we engage in this communion with God more deeply and come to know the One with whom we are speaking more intimately, that growing knowledge of God reveals to us all the more brilliantly who we are and our need to change in conformity to Him. Prayer changes us profoundly. RC Sproul.
It’s not even that we come to God seeking personal change, but as we keep coming to him, in all the different events of life; leaning on him, trusting him, trying to find his way through, we too are changed.
It’s hard to know where to start sometimes with prayer, but it’s easy to know that we should. It’s a battle, we’ve got to get prepped for it. The Spirit helps, the Son pleads, the Father listens and the Word steers. Then against the odds, even though much of the time we ask for things we need and request things for others, God is at work to change us!
Ash Gibson, Pastor, Christchurch Xscape