The Spiritual Disciplines - The Inward Discipline of Prayer
Psalm 46:10a.“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Prayer changes our lives as it catapults us into the frontier of the spiritual life and God’s presence. Prayer is the primary means at God’s disposal for our transformation. If we are not willing to change then we must abandon prayer! No-one can ever possibly come into the presence of God and not be transformed – it is impossible! Every Old Testament prophet is only as they are because of being changed and charged by the personal presence of God. From personal experience, I dare suggest every New Testament and contemporary prophet as well.
James 4:3 reminds us that we do not receive because we do not ask correctly. I contend that this is the malady of much modern day prayer. That we do not know how to pray properly and that is why history repeats itself, even within the church. I can only imagine what would happen if a handful of Christians truly prayed correctly. Even the disciples who had grown up in faith and praying, asked Jesus to teach them how to pray! They saw something different in how Jesus prayed and the results of His prayer in how He lived, and they desired the same in their lives.
What was different?
- Jesus spent much time in prayer. Early morning, late evening and sometimes all night. The saints in faith did the same, having regular hours of prayer above all else -Luther, Wesley, Fox, Murray to name but a few.
- Jesus’ prayer was about becoming one with God. John 17 – various verses state – ‘the Father and I are one!’
- Jesus committed life direction in prayer – Gethsemane and the selecting of the disciples are examples.
- Jesus knew and exercised the power of prayer. This displayed how important it was to him and His ministry. He also stated that some demons can only be driven out by prayer.
- Jesus was convicted that God always heard His prayer. He never concluded a prayer with; “if it be your will?” His prayers coming directly from the presence of God and in accordance with God’s will, were direct commands and instructions; walk, be still, stand up! There was nothing wishy-washy about Jesus’ prayers – they were simple and direct.
Meditation lays the groundwork for the discipline of prayer. Prayer is the means through which the world is changed one life at a time, starting with that of the person praying.
Before we come to God with a list of all the things we and others need, we first need to come before God with our hearts and lives in our hands, submitting to His authority and reign over us. We are very quick to demand that the other person change when more often than not we need to change just as much, and it is we who need to be prayed for.
Is God going to change the course of history for us? Maybe, but unlikely. There are very few people over the course of time who have been able to persuade God to change His mind. More likely, it is through prayer that heaven gets into us and we are changed and see the world differently and then respond more appropriately to the challenges we face daily.
If you want your life to be different then pray, but don’t expect all around you to change dramatically and you remain the same. The opposite is more likely to be true, that we will change and be better equipped to deal with a callous world that goes, without thought for us, on its merry way. This is the experience most often after a funeral – the family mourns while the earth turns, and life continues without a moment’s hesitation.
So prayer is about us coming before God, being real, listening to God, understanding that we will change and being convicted of the desire and authority of God’s grace.
How then do we pray? – this is not a perfect, complete guide –
- Put a regular time that suits you aside in a place that is conducive to prayer.
- Slowly build up the length of time that you are able to pray – push yourself.
- Have any prayer resources necessary handy – bible, journal, cross etc.
- First come into God’s presence!
- Keep prayers real and simple.
- Be obedient – Noah initially never knew why he had to build an ark.
- Read up about prayer, talk to others about their experiences.
Today we have just skimmed the surface of prayer – but hopefully it is enough to emphasise the importance of prayer and to encourage further personal study and practice. We don’t need to be spiritual giants to pray, we just need to be faithful at practicing it correctly.