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Four Ways To Improve Your Prayer Life
I think that everyone who walks with the Lord wants to know how to better communicate with Him -- how to pray. In fact, I have found no Christian, maturing in the faith, who does not want a better prayer life and to improve that communication.
I still have an intense desire to know how to pray more effectively and to spend time with God. That desire has not lessened; to the contrary, it has increased.
I can remember when people would say, "Well, if you'll just spend ten minutes in prayer ..." and I used to think, ten minutes in prayer! That's forever! What would I say to God for ten minutes? I'd run out in two minutes.
That was my concept of spending time in prayer. But as the time has moved along, I find that ten minutes is hardly an introduction. Prayer is a wonderful privilege for every child of God.
I'm afraid sometimes our prayers are like that little boy, Alexander, in Raleigh, N.C., who wrote to his pastor and said, "Dear Pastor, pray for our Little League team. We either need help from God or a new pitcher!"
A lot of us are like that in our prayer lives, only reaching out to God in desperate times. One man said that unless you're walking in adventure, you don't really need to pursue the matter of prayer. But if you believe that your God is a God of adventure, and your pilgrimage is one of faith, then prayer is very important to all of us.
You don't want to be like the man whose lifestyle was so bad that when he got up every morning, he searched the newspaper for the obituary column to see if his name was there. If it wasn't, he went back to bed. His life was Dullsville -- no adventure, no challenge. This could describe a lot of Christians who have no challenge to their faith, therefore there is not much prayer in their lives.
I am convinced that if you want to see God doing something in your life, in your neighbor's life, in your business, church or family life, prayer is the Number One Item on the agenda.
There are four ways in which your prayer life could be improved. This is not all there is to it, of course. You can go to prayer seminars, schools, etc. But the basic and best way to learn about prayer is to begin doing it, and I'd like to give you four words that may be helpful to you.
I. Pray Regularly
Pray consistently. Let there be a stated time when you meet with God. If you only prayed when you felt like it, it would not be often. The devil would see to it that your feelings didn't prompt you; therefore, there should be a consistent, stated time.
Have you ever known a great athlete who practiced only when he felt like it? How would you like to be coaching a team that said, "Hey, Coach, we'll be at the game Saturday, but we're not going to practice unless we feel like it." There's not an athletic team in the world that would accept a player like that.
A great pianist doesn't achieve success by practicing only when he feels like it. A runner doesn't become great because he practices only when he feels like it. Neither does a Christian become a prayer warrior if he only prays when he feels like it. There should be a stated time to meet with God.
There are many reasons we don't do that. We do not pray regularly because we don't think it makes much difference. Unbelief keeps us from praying. Indifference keeps us from prayer. Like the little boy who asked God to send him either Divine help or a new pitcher, we just wait until an emergency comes, then reach out and try to grab God. "Hey, God, I've got an emergency here. Help me!"
I was reading about those terrible tornadoes recently in the northern United States and Canada. I was interested in reading the comments of one man who survived. He said, "I know one thing. I'll be in church every Sunday after this!"
Another said, "When the roof caved in on me, I reached out and stuck my hand up, hoping that someone would find it. During all that dark night, I said, 'God, help me and get me out of this! I'm going to be different from now on'."
Sometimes we wait until we get a bad report from the doctor, a family crisis, we're out of a job, whatever it may be, but we're indifferent to prayer.
Sometimes it's because we have other priorities. Prayer is not one of them. Prayer is work, and basically our human nature is lazy.
Sometimes we hope in the wrong things. We hope in things in this world, and do not have a Kingdom-of-God agenda that sees into the future long beyond our lifetime. With narrow-minded, tunnel-visioned prayer we see only our little world, our little neighborhood, our little church, our little city and miss God's agenda for the world, and fail to pray on a regular basis.
Let's look at some people who did pray regularly. Daniel, one of the great men of the Bible, had a lifestyle of prayer. In fact, Daniel's prayer life got him in trouble when it conflicted with the King's decree that no one could bow down and worship anyone except his god, the golden image. In Daniel 6:10 there is something that will just grab you:
"Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room, where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God, just as he had done before."
You ask, How should I pray? Pray on your knees when you can. When we build our chapel and prayer room, we're going to have prayer closets built in, with just room for you to kneel down, alone, privately before God. Daniel, one of the great men of God, who gave us prophecy of end times, prayed three times a day. I'd say that's pretty regular.
Now, turn to Psalms 55 and notice how David prayed:
"David said, 'I called to God and the Lord saved me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and He hears my voice'." (Psalms 55:16-17)
David prayed at least three times a day: morning, noon and evening. Robert Murray McShane, the great Scottish preacher said, "When a person wakes up in the morning he should seek only one face, and that's the face of God. His soul should only be stretched towards God and before he convenes or communes with another human being, he should seek to commune with God."
One preacher wrote to another preacher and said, "I want to pray so much. I have the desire to pray but it seems that just when I begin, someone calls me for help, or I have an interruption. It's always people who need help who are coming to me, and I just can't get time to spend with God like I want to."
He said, "I went to God and said, 'Dear Lord, I want to pray and spend time with You, and every time I try, it seems someone is turning to me for help. They're crying out for help and I can't stop and pray. I can't neglect them, but I want to spend time with You. Help me, God'."
He said that God said to his heart, "Son, you are neglecting Me to help them."
It is so easy to allow interruptions to keep us from praying regularly. Then, if we're to pray regularly, there are three things to remember:
1. Make prayer your prime goal every day. "I will pray regularly."
Make it a goal, an object of your mind and will to do it.
2. Make your appointment with God more important than anything else -- even an appointment with the governor, the police, your parents, your friends, your husband, a job interview - make it more important than any other thing that day.
3. Reject every interruption that's in your human power to reject.
Have you noticed that when we're on the way to prayer, Satan will interrupt that prayer and cause someone or something -- often good things or good people -- to interrupt that time with God?
When you're ready to pray and someone calls, or someone asks you to do something and it's an interference, understand that it may be Satan trying to interrupt your date with God. I have found that to be true so often, and at the time I didn't realize what was happening. I do now, and when I go to pray, I'm going into supernatural territory and the enemy is going to try to interdict me and keep me from my appointment with God.
II. Pray Honestly.
Are you honest with God when you pray? Do you really talk to God when you pray? Hebrews 4:13 tells us why we should be honest when we pray:
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."
The Bible says that God already knows, and there's no use to try to cover up anything. That word "uncovered" is also translated "open." That Greek word in the text has two magnificent meanings.
First, it's used with two wrestlers, meaning a face-to-face confrontation. It was a man who grabbed his opponent by the throat. The other meaning is in connection with a man who went to court with a criminal charge against him, and they put a knife point right under his chin. When he stood before the judge, he could not bow his head and not look the judge in the eye, or his throat would be cut. He had to look at the judge.
What is that saying? That like a man under judgment, when we go to pray, God knows our hearts and we might as well come face to face with Him when we're praying.
Are you angry with God about something? Tell Him. He already knows it. Do you resent something that someone has done to you? Tell God. Is there a job you didn't get and you don't understand why? You're all torn up on the inside about it? Be honest with God. Tell Him you don't understand. He knows already what you're thinking.
It is crucial to be honest in your prayer life. When you read the Bible, you see that men of prayer were so very honest when they prayed. Have you ever realized how honest they actually were? It blows your mind! Look at Exodus 5 -- there are many more, but here's an example of how honest the people in the Bible were when they prayed to God. It's so refreshing to listen to Moses talking to God in Exodus 5:20.
"When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said,
"May the Lord look upon you and judge you.
You have made us a stench to Pharaoh, and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.
"Moses returned to the Lord and said, 'O Lord, why have You brought trouble upon this people? Is this why You sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has brought trouble on this people and You have not rescued Your people at all."
You talk about honest praying -- that's pretty blunt! He just told God the way it was. He said, "You got us into this trouble, You put us in these problems, and on top of it all, You haven't done a thing to get us out of it." That's pretty honest. But that's not all.
Look at Jeremiah, the great weeping prophet, and how he prayed to God. You'd think that this great compassionate man would not address God very strongly, but read Jeremiah 20:7:
"Oh, Lord, You deceived me, and I was deceived. You overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long. Everyone mocks me.
"Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction so the Word of the God has brought me insult and reproach all day long."
What did he say to God? He said, "God, you tricked me!" Now, God did not do that, but that's what Jeremiah thought, so he just said it when he talked to God.
Some people are like St. Theresa, who said, "Lord, no wonder You don't have too many friends, the way You treat the few that you have."
We all sometimes feel like God is doing us a wrong turn and giving us a rough time. We may want to pray that way, too. But that's what's so wonderful: God allows us the privilege of being honest when we pray.
I love to hear folks pray. Not long ago I was with a group of men for breakfast. The waitress brought one plate out ahead of the rest, and the man who got his food first bowed his head and said, "Lord, I'm glad I got my poached egg before these guys got theirs and I can go on and eat."
I laughed, and thought how honest he was with the Lord. He didn't say, "Lord, I'm grateful for this gathering, this beautiful day, etc." He was right to the point! How honest.
It's wonderful to be with men of God, and to hear them pray something like this: "Lord, it's so hot today, and I don't feel good. I wish You'd do something about it." At first I thought it was strange; then I thought, why not? When you're talking to your Father you should say exactly how you feel.
Someone might say, "But that's a negative confession." No, I don't think so. It's not a negative confession to simply be honest with God. It's when you contradict the Word of God that you're making a negative confession. Jesus talked about pain and hurt, and He wasn't making a negative confession. He was simply being honest.
The Apostle Paul, Moses and Jeremiah were men of God, but they were honest in prayer. In talking to God they talked out of their hearts. They were real. I love to hear men and women do that, using everyday language. We shouldn't use the King James Version language to God when we don't use it anywhere else. I'm not saying that it's wrong. It just makes more sense to talk to God the way we talk to each other -- in everyday language.
Your children wouldn't come in and say, "O father, my father, thou potentate of this household, great imperial wizard, I come before thee knowing that eschatologically thou art the information of the revelation of the incarnation. Do I have permission to go down to Wendy's tonight to consume some protein and carbohydrates, in order to fuel my existence for the next twenty-four hours? May I have thy permission, please father?"
If your son said that you'd wonder what's wrong with that boy. You'd think he was crazy. But sometimes when we pray that's how we come to God. I'm not saying that in the public assembly or when we're pointing men to the greatness of God we shouldn't be more carefully worded. But when we're talking in privacy to God, use honest, everyday language. You don't have to use special words or big words or certain words.
Sometimes people say, "I've never prayed in public. I don't know how to pray."
When you pray, talk to God as your Father, your Lord and your Savior. I don't mean buddy-buddy, and I cringe when I hear people being careless with our Great and Holy God. That's wrong, too. But it's so refreshing to hear someone come to the Father and use their own everyday language.
If you want to improve your prayer life, be honest with your feelings. If you're having a fear, tell God you're afraid. If there's a doubt, tell God about it. If you're anxious, tell God that. If you have a controversy with God, tell Him so. Use everyday language. It will make a difference.
III. Pray Fervently
If you want to improve your prayer life, pray fervently. Look at James 5:16:
"Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
In the NIV, the word for "prayer" is the word "supplication." It is used 17 times in the New Testament, and it means to pray with fervency or agony. In Exodus 22:3 it talks about the children of Israel crying out unto the Lord. In Psalms 18:6 the writer says, "In my distress I cried unto the Lord."
In Hebrews 5:17, notice how Jesus prayed. During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions "with loud cries and tears" to the One who could save Him from death. And He was heard because of His reverent submission. When you pray, do you pray with a sense of fervency?
Charles Spurgeon said that when they come to pray, some people act like they're ringing the bell at an old church. They grab the rope of prayer and they don't move it and God seemingly doesn't hear. Others come and grab the rope of prayer and shake it just a little, barely waking heaven. Then there are those men and women who come to pray and they grab hold of the rope of prayer and they pull it and ring it, and God hears because they pray with fervency.
Not so long ago I got a phone call, and the lady on the other end said, "Sir, we're calling from 7-Eleven Stores in Miami, and we're going to give you a 7-Eleven credit card that you can use in any of our stores."
I said, "Ma'am, I appreciate that offer," and the Holy Spirit brought to mind that 7-Eleven stores were still selling a lot of pornographic materials, so I said, "Will you tell your boss that when you all quit selling pornography, I'll be glad to take one of your 7-Eleven credit cards? Thank you so much. Goodbye."
Had I not prayed, I don't know if I would have thought about it, but I'm trying to learn to pray without ceasing, and to walk in an attitude of prayer. What a difference it makes. Everything becomes a constant source of prayer.
To improve your prayer life, pray regularly, honestly, fervently and constantly. If you do, your prayer life will be improved, you'll see God working, and life will become the adventure of faith that God intends it to be.
Some years ago one of our men came to me and said, "Pastor, I've got a tremendous job opportunity." He had been in the Air National Guard for several years. He said, "If I take this job, I'm going to make so much more money, and I'll get to do this, and that, and at my age I need to make that kind of decision. Would you pray with me about it?"
We were standing out in his backyard, and I just put my arm around him, we lifted up some brief prayer to the Lord, and asked Him to give him guidance and counsel.
He turned in his resignation to the Air National Guard and then he called me and said, "Pastor, it just doesn't seem right. I may have made a mistake. God has been all over me about that. Pray for me. I don't know what to do." We prayed some more.
He went back to work and to his commanding officer and said, "Sir, have you submitted my resignation?" The officer said, "No, I haven't, Joe." Joe said, "I've been praying about this, and if you will take me back, I'd like to tear that form up and stay with the Air Guard." The officer said, "That's fine. I'll take you back."
Six months or a year later, the trucking company, for which he was going to work, folded. It seemed to be just fine before, very successful, but it shut down suddenly, and if he'd been with them, he'd have lost his job.
He called me two weeks ago and said, "Pastor, pray, because they're meeting next week, and on Thursday the Pentagon will be making a decision whether to make me a general or not. I just want you to pray. You remember when we prayed before? I've thought about that a million times and just had to call and tell you that I'm up for general." He called again last week and said, "Preacher," and I said, "General!" and he said, "You're right. I got my stars and I'm a general."
How did that happen. This godly deacon sought the face and mind of God. He prayed fervently, constantly, honestly and regularly, and God changed his mind. He's just now retiring as a General.
You may stay a buck private but may be a general with God, and your prayer life will be such that you'll begin to see God moving and tearing down obstacles, winning souls, changing your lifestyle, giving you guidance, tempering your disposition, saving your family, giving you protection. You're going to see the enemy retreat as you stand for God and as you become a prayer warrior. Pray.
"You have not because you ask not."
Thomas Manton said this is such a strong, emphatic word that there is no other word in the English language to really capture the word for supplication. It's a word that the Apostle Paul used when he prayed for all of Israel. He supplicated for Israel to be saved. It's the word that Hannah used when she wanted a male child. She supplicated, agonizing, with fervency of spirit. Have you ever prayed with fervency?
When we were in Korea in 1980, in one of the most wonderful preaching opportunities of my life, we were in Taegu during their college riots. Hundreds were killed, and all public meetings were called off. Martial law was in effect, banning gatherings of every kind with more than two or three people. People had worked and planned this crusade for three years in Korea, yet it seemingly was not to be.
It was a tremendous time of tension. I was in my hotel room, looking down at soldiers in the streets, and very disappointed that I wouldn't be able to minister to our Korean friends.
One of the pastors came up to my room and we talked for a while and he told us about the situation and then said, "Let's pray before we go. We have prayed and we believe God can change this general's mind and let us meet."
We knelt beside my bed in that hotel room, and I prayed in my language, and then he began to pray in Korean. It shocked me a little at first, to hear him praying in a foreign language. Then I realized that God made all languages and understands everyone!
The more he prayed the more fervent he became, until after a while he was pounding that bed, and making sounds I'd never heard. I don't know what he was saying to God, but I'd give anything if I'd had an interpreter because it was one of the most exciting experiences I've ever had. He must have prayed for ten or fifteen minutes, and when he finished we shook hands and he left.
The next morning, the word came to us that the general had kept martial law in effect, and we could not have our meeting. The pastor at the Central church there had gone to see the general before the worship service and said, "If you should change your mind, please call me at this number, so we can tell the people."
At about ten-thirty that morning, the general called the pastor who was in charge of the crusade and said, "We're going to let you meet tonight. You may meet at this certain place, and have your service." As far as I know, we were the only group allowed to meet in the City of Taegu at that time.
When we arrived that night, the place was packed. It's the only time I've been in church where they locked the doors to keep people out. They were standing and all the aisles were filled, with others outside, trying to get in. There were truckloads of military personnel, with fixed bayonets and weapons to protect the believers and the meeting going on inside.
As I looked at that great sight that night, and when I saw people respond to Jesus Christ, being saved, I went back to the prayer time with that little Korean pastor who had believed God and with fervency of heart had prayed to Him. I knew he wasn't the only one. There were hundreds of people who had prayed that day also, and God heard their prayers.
Beloved, if you want to improve your prayer life, get it on with God! Pray with fervency. Cry unto the Lord. I don't mean that you have to beg God, and be really desperate for Him to do something. I don't know all that means.
I just know that 17 times in the New Testament it says that they "prayed fervently." Jesus, Paul, James, Moses, the psalmist all prayed fervently, and there come times in our lives when we need to pray fervently. God does something when people pray fervently.
IV. Pray Constantly
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 there is a verse that a lot of us learned when we were children, and one we could always quote on short notice because it is so short. But it is very important; it says: "Pray without ceasing."
Who can pray without ceasing? How can you pray while you're in school, working, playing, driving or something else? What does that mean? I think it means at least two things:
1. We should be in such close fellowship with God that there is unbroken communication with God. We're walking with Him and talking with Him so intimately that it's just as if we never stop talking to God.
2. I think it can mean that there is no break in the pattern of our prayer life in our daily walk. As Bob Cook, president of King's College, said, "Every day and every moment of our life we have a frontal attack with prayer on what's happening in our lives."
When you wake up in the morning, you pray. When you're in the shower, you can pray. When you eat breakfast, you pray. When you're going to school, you can pray. Not prayers like, "Lord, don't let the professor call on me today ..." although you might even do that!
Pray for God to help you. Pray in your business meeting. Pray while you're driving. You are in such close fellowship with God that every moment becomes an opportunity to pray. When the phone rings, do you just grab that phone and start talking, or do you pray first? You don't know what that person's going to say on the other end. You don't know what they're going to do, what accusation may come to you, how you're going to respond, so if you just simply pick it up in an attitude of prayer, you'll give a good answer, in the Spirit of Jesus.
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