I would imagine that not many of us have gone through life without having at least heard of the song, Sweet Hour of Prayer. But I wonder how many of us have actually experienced prayer that we would describe as “sweet”; or being so wrapped up in prayer that we lose track of time. Maybe the idea of an hour of prayer doesn’t actually register because you don’t know of a consistent 15 minutes of prayer. If you would consider your prayer life lacking, you're certainly not alone. Many in our churches, I would dare to say most, do not have a prayer life they would be glad to speak about. Much like our Bible reading, I believe the problem lies with the fact that most of us have never been taught. We don’t know how to pray because we've never been exposed to good prayer and have never known what it is to personally and intimately meet with the Lord every single day. We try, we struggle, and then we give up. We feel hopeless before God, and that life simply will not do for the Christian. The good news is that we can be taught and we can learn how to have a more beneficial prayer time.
I would suggest that the first real battle we face when trying to have a meaningful prayer life is the battle of consistency. If you are not consistent, then everything will fall apart. We know that it’s true with other common goals, like diet and exercising, and it is certainly true with prayer. We must be willing and determined to spend time with the Lord every single day. That’s not always easy to start considering most of us already have a routine and structure set up that we don’t want to part with, so this may very well mean that we will have to sacrifice other things that take up our time. Jesus would wake up before everyone else to meet with his Father in private. Even though Jesus was completely God, He was also completely man and was willing to sacrifice sleep in order to have that time in prayer. If you are not willing to sacrifice your time for Christ, then your priorities would suggest that time with the Lord is unimportant. No lover would ever accept a beloved that did not care about being with them; so it should be for the Christian. If we are going to be devoted to Christ, then we must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. (1 Timothy 4:7)
Something also important for the Christian prayer time is that it is done in private. I referenced the prayer life of Christ above. He would wake up to be alone with the Father. Personally, I can't seem to focus with a million distractions going on around me. It is almost completely unprofitable for me to try to read my Bible with noise around me, and the same is true when I try to pray. I still try to pray throughout the day, but that set apart time with God should certainly be an alone time. We can't rely on a prayer life consisting of sporadic 15 second prayers throughout our day. While we are called to “pray continually”, a prayer life without solitary time with God is inadequate. We must be spending time with God alone every day. Also, Jesus told us to do it this way in Matthew 6. Private prayer is not only most profitable, but it is a direct command from Jesus. This allows us to be honest and lay bare before God; with nobody to impress or even to hide behind. We can cast our petitions before God with only Christ Jesus as our witness. We have many that are scared to death or even refuse to pray to God in public. Perhaps it is because they have done so little praying to Him in private.
Now we must look at how we should pray. Most would say they find themselves praying the same old ways about the same old things. I'm sure you’ve been in church services and have heard a church member praying the same things he prays every week. It is because we are creatures of habit that often struggle to move outside of our routines. This is the same for our private prayers. The answer is not simply to go to our thesaurus and come up with alternative words that say the same things. The answer is not that we need to be more creative. The answer is that we need to become more Biblical, and I mean that quite literally. We need to go to the Bible to learn how to pray and we also need to be praying the Bible. First, we have example after example of saints going to God in Scripture. The entire book of Psalms is prayers and petitions before God! We also have the prayers of many New Testament saints that pray by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are in no way lacking examples of how we should pray and what our prayers should be focused on. It is clear in the Bible that the saints prayed in ways that would seem strange to our 21st century congregations. The bulk of their prayers weren’t about the physical well-being of others. In fact, physical issues are mention few times in the prayers of New Testament saints. That seems odd considering it was the New Testament saint who experienced much persecution and hardship. Yet, their concerns centered on growing in Christ and bringing God all glory. Imagine how different our prayer lives would be if we found ourselves praying with Christ at the center rather than ourselves. We would be far more Biblical in that way and far more profitable.
I believe it is also extremely helpful to pray passages of Scripture. This has been the most profitable adjustment that I have ever made, and it may be the case for you as well. The Scriptures are inspired by God Himself, so what better way to ensure that our prayers are in line with what He would want us to pray? If we find ourselves often not knowing what to pray, praying through Scripture allows us to have guidance and direction rather than trying to be creative and innovative. Start, for instance, with the Psalms. Read through a Psalm and then pray to the Lord that very word! Scripture is often filled with an author’s own spiritual concern and pleas before God. While praying through Scripture, we are able to use their words as a springboard of thoughts and suggestions of prayer. Look to the very first Psalm as an example. The psalmist says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…” We could perhaps pray, “Lord, let me not take counsel from ungodly sources. Keep me from relying on the counsel of the world or the guidance of those around me, rather than guidance from you.” Later the psalmist states that the blessed man is one who delights “in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” So, we could plead with the Lord that we would delight in God’s law and that we would enjoy Scripture, and that we would conform our lives to Christ. We cry, “God, give me a joy like the psalmist; a joy that comes from you alone.” We pray for discipline to be one who meditates on God's Word and who relies on it for our strength. Are you starting to see how profitable this could be? Praying Scripture never gets old and never runs dry. It never leads us in the wrong direction and never fails to point us to our Creator. Praying Scripture only brings us closer to the God of the Bible and to the one to which our prayers are for.
Lastly, I would suggest writing down prayers. This helps us to focus our thoughts when our minds want to do anything but. It also helps us remember what to be praying for. You have probably been in a situation in which you told someone that you would pray for them, only to later forget. It is incredibly simple but it may be what helps you keep your thoughts in order.
Prayer is essential for every believer. It is not something that we can ignore or something we reserve to those fleeting moments right before we fall asleep at night. We should be committed to spending time with the Lord every day. If you only have a small amount of time, spend some of it reading Scripture and some of it praying through Scripture. Also, start small. If you have a meager prayer life, then you are probably going to feel lost trying to spend two hours with the Lord each morning. You can't spend years distancing yourself from the Lord and expect Him to flood your prayer closet with His presence. You must labor in prayer. Spending daily time with the Lord is vital for the Christian and must be something we long for. It is impossible for the believer to have a heart for Christ, while at the same time being apathetic toward prayer. We must be willing to fight for communion with God even when you feel cold and distance. Your seeking the Lord in prayer and Bible reading is what cultivates a heart that God is pleased to draw near to.