Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of spiritual life. Of all the spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father. Meditation introduces us to the inner life, fasting is an accompanying means, study transforms our minds, but it is the Discipline of prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit. Real prayer is life creating and life-changing. “Prayer—secret, fervent, believing prayer—lies at the root of all personal godliness,” writes William Carey.
To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. William Blake tells us that our task in life is to learn to bear God’s “beam of love.” How often we fashion clothes of evasion—beam-proof shelters—in order to elude our Eternal Lover. But when we pray, God slowly and graciously reveals to us our evasive actions and sets us free from them.
In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him (James 4:3): to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to will the things He wills. Progressively we are taught to see things from God’s perspective.
The Life of Jesus
Read Mark 1:35, it stands as a commentary on the lifestyle of Jesus. David’s desire for God broke the self-indulgent chains of sleep (Psalm 63:1). When the apostles were tempted to invest their energies in other important and necessary tasks, they determined to give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). John Wesley says, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer,” and backed up his conviction by devoting two hours daily to that sacred exercise.
In our efforts to pray it is easy for us to be defeated right at the outset because we have been taught that everything in the universe is already set (predetermined), and so things cannot be changed. And if things cannot be changed, why pray? You may gloomily feel this way, but the Bible does not teach that. Those whose prayers are recorded in the Bible prayed as if their prayers could and would make an objective difference. The apostle Paul gladly announces that we are “co-laborers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). Paul is saying that we are working with God to determine the outcome of events.
Moses prayed boldly because he believed his prayers could change things, even God’s mind (Exodus 32:14; John 3:10). This comes as a genuine liberation to many of us, but it also sets tremendous responsibility before us. We are working with God to determine the future! Certain things will happen in history if we pray rightly. We are to change the world through prayer.
Learning to Pray
Real prayer is something we learn (Luke 11:1). The disciples had prayed all their lives, and yet something about the quality and quantity of Jesus’ praying caused them to see how little they knew about prayer. If their praying were to make any difference on the human level, there were some things they needed to learn. It is liberating to know that prayer involves a learning process.
Perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of Jesus’ praying is that when He prayed for others He never concluded by saying “If it is thy will,” except only in Gethsemane when He was facing the cross. The apostles or prophets when they prayed they did not say “If it is Thy will.” They obviously believed that they knew what the will of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed in the environment of the Holy Spirit that when they encountered a specific situation, they knew what should be done.
There is, of course, proper time and a place to pray, “If it is Thy will.” First, in the prayer of guidance, it is the great yearning of our hearts to know the will of God. “What is your will?” “What will please You?” “What will advance Your Kingdom upon the earth?” This is a kind of searching prayer that should permeate our entire life experience. In the prayer of relinquishment, we are committed to letting go of our will whenever it conflicts with the will and way of God (Jesus in Gethsemane, Luke 22:42).
Study the pray-ers of the Old Testament such as Moses, Elijah, Hannah, and Daniel with new interest. Some Christians want to be perfect in prayer before they pray for others. We can determine if we are praying correctly if the requests come to pass. If not, we look for the “block”; perhaps there are new principles of prayer to be learned; perhaps patience and persistence are needed. Attune yourself to divine breathings, but without it, your praying is vain repetition (Matt. 6:7). Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession. Sǿren Kierkegaard once observed: “A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became quieter and quieter until, in the end, he realized that prayer is listening.” Listening to God is a necessary prelude to intercession. Therefore, the beginning point then in learning to pray for others is to listen for guidance.
Fear of Failure
Sometimes we are afraid that we do not have enough faith to pray for this child or that marriage. Our fear should be put to rest because the Scripture tells us that great miracles are possible through faith the size of a tiny mustard seed. Usually, the courage to go and pray for a person is a sign of sufficient faith. Frequently, our lack is not faith but compassion. We are told that Jesus was “moved with compassion” for people. Compassion was an evident feature of every healing in the New Testament. We do not pray for people as “things,” but as “persons” whom we love.
The Foothills of Prayer
We should never make prayer too complicated. We are prone to do so once we realize that prayer is something we must learn. The reason many Africans are seeking the so-called prophets and prophetesses is that some of the pastors and church leaders have made prayer too complicated (this is a repetition of what happened in the Dark Ages). You see, the more complicated we make prayers the more dependent people are upon us to learn how to do it. However, Jesus taught us to come like children to a father. Openness, honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father. The reason God answers prayer is that His children ask. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread. Have you ever noticed that children ask for lunch in utter confidence that it will be provided? Children have no need to stay away from today’s sandwiches with the fear that none will be available tomorrow. As far as children are concerned, there is an endless supply of sandwiches. Children do not find it difficult or complicated to talk to their parents, nor do they feel embarrassed to bring a simple need to their attention. Prayer is a conversation with your heavenly Father. In conversation you use simple and ordinary language, why is that when we are conversing with our heavenly Father, we use sanctimonious language and lofty terms that nobody understands. Study the prayer of Jesus and that of the apostles.