In 2014, a in-depth study was done on the praying life of Americans. 21% say they pray weekly or monthly and 23% say they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 20% say they pray daily. 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions.
I’m a pray-er. And I need prayer. I truly believe that God is both good and powerful – that His every interaction with us is cloaked with love. When we can’t grasp what He’s doing, and we don’t feel like following, when we are certain of His love, we can trust and “carry on.”
It is prayer that allows us to carry on.
Not the rote, repetitive kind. I’m talking about honest, vulnerable conversation with God. Prayer is the literal engine of our faith.
Henry Blackaby says in Experiencing God that “If you have an obedience problem, you have a love problem.” This truth has the potential to transform your relationship with God from one of grudging “have-to” to one of joyful “want-to.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14.12) When we understand how much God loves us, we will want to submit our lives to Him.
I think Blackaby could better emphasize prayer as a significant dimension of our relationship with God in his book, however. (It’s not that he de-emphasizes it.) Loving God should lead to our obeying God. It’s just that in the process between loving God and obeying God, there should be a lot of honest, vulnerable and perhaps even painful conversation. To put it another way, it’s our conversation with God (or lack of it) that reveals what we really believe about Him.
If we simply obey without conversation, without affirmation, without affection, we are missing the point. We must tell Him why we’re obeying. In some cases, we may obey from sheer duty and faith (we don’t want to, but we trust His Word is right and true). At other times, we joyfully obey Him because we sense His pleasure and see His purpose.
All along the way, we must pray.
In Victorious Living, E. Stanley Jones explains how prayer changes us more than it changes God:
Prayer is not bending God to our wills–it is the bringing of our wills to God’s. When we throw out a boat hook and catch hold of the shore, do we pull the shore to ourselves? Rather we pull ourselves to the shore. Prayer does not pull God to us, it pulls us to God. It aligns our wills with His will, so that He can do things through us that He would not otherwise have been able to do. An almighty Will works through our weak wills, and we can do things all out of proportion to our ability. Prayer is, therefore, not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness. Those who pray link up with that willingness.
Kent Hughes summarizes Jones like this in his book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome:
Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.
I love that we are invited and expected to pray by God. That should be a huge clue as to how much He loves us. It should also reveal that as we pray, we will grow and see Him work. Prayer is our intimate connection to a God that loves us and is transforming us daily. When we pray, we know His heart and mind. When we obey, we experience His will.
Last year, I began a different approach to my prayers. I use the back 4-5 pages in my journal for prayers. Here’s how it looks:
- One page is reserved for “prayer requests” – things that others have asked me to pray for.
- One page is reserved for “prayers” – things I’m aware of about my own life or others (that they’ve not asked me to pray for)
- One page is reserved for missionaries. I pray for a different missionary/team/org each day of the week.
- One page is reserved for “answers.” I always date a prayer request on the pages above, and if I see an answer, I’ll notate it again with the date I see an answer. On this page, I also list answers to prayer. Sometimes, I’ll be praying about something and have forgotten to write it down, and when I see an answer that delights me, I want to record it.
This part of my journal has become well-used. It’s a humble privilege to pray for others, and a refreshment to my own heart to see that God responds so faithfully.
According to the survey I cited earlier, there’s a whole lotta prayin‘ going on in America. It’s sobering that people of all religions pray in some way. How do you pray? May I encourage you to do so constantly, confidently and expectantly? He loves you.
More on Prayer here on the Blog:
- A pastoral prayer (10/17/2013)
- A personal prayer from 2009
- Inner prayer (3/29/2015)
- Pastoral Prayer (10/20/2013)
- Proof of prayer’s effectiveness (1/20/2011)
- Prayer for campus ministries (8/5/2009)
- Scriptural prayers (5/5/2009)
- John Baillie’s prayer and perspective (8/7/2007)
- Answered Prayers = More Struggle (4/7/2006)
- Yancey on prayer (7/23/2007)