….We do not know how to pray as we should…. (Romans 8:26)
I find it liberating to know that the great Apostle Paul was dissatisfied with his prayer life. At least, that’s how I read Romans 8:26. And if he could admit that “we do not know how to pray as we should,” it’s a dead-on cinch that you and I don’t either.
One thing almost everyone in your congregation has in common on a typical Sunday morning is a dissatisfaction with their prayer life. That is not to say that all are doing poorly, only that none of us feels we have got it down right, that we are praying with the effectiveness we’d like.
In this life, we are always going to be doing things partially. “We know in part,” Scripture says. “We prophecy in part” (I Corinthians 13:9,12).
Good music, they say, is music that is written better than it can be played. The Christian life is like that: written better than any of us can hope to attain in this life. The standard of God is still the same: “Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We will not attain it in this life, but that’s how it’s written.
So with your prayer life. You and I mumble in our prayers, like a child still learning to talk. It frustrates us and disappoints us, but–do not miss this–is oddly pleasing to the Father in Heaven.
Here are seven statements about your (and my) poor praying….
1. Your poor praying is a fact.
You knew it and you feel it often. In fact, unless you are one in a thousand, the fact that your praying is so poor has sometimes discouraged you from even trying to speak to the Father. Oh, friend. I want you to know you are not the odd man out. We are all in the same boat.
You have lots of company, poor pray-er. The preacher with a half-century of proclamation under his belt still approaches the Throne of Grace like a beginner, still coming humbly almost as a newcomer. “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”
Do not let this upset you or discourage you. Go forward.
2. Your poor praying is the norm.
The Olympics are going on in London at this moment. Only the best in the world, the most accomplished, are there, going head to head. No athlete in London has been satisfied just to achieve the norm in their athletic endeavors. So, you want to forge ahead, to discipline yourself to learn and grow in your praying. But, be warned, my friend. There will never come a time in this life when you will feel you have arrived in your praying.
I cringe when someone calls me a great prayer warrior, as one did just this week. I know better than that. I’m a babbler, a mumbler, a sinner with no right to approach the Lord, one who comes deserving only judgment. I pray poorly. Furthermore, in this life, I seriously doubt there will come a time when that assessment changes.
3. Your poor praying is all of faith.
Nothing you do in this life is more about faith than your praying. When you pause to offer a prayer to God, you are talking to One whom you cannot see and cannot prove that He even exists. You cannot guarantee that He hears you or that if He does, He will answer you and grant your request. And yet you keep on praying.
I hope you do.
Most of your prayer requests in this life, you will never know whether they are answered or not. You will pray for the President of this country, for missionaries around the world, and for family members near and far. But you will have no way of knowing what God did in answer to your prayer.
You will pray by faith or you will gradually lose heart and quit. (II Corinthians 4:1 works here.)
4. Your poor praying is powerful and effective.
God does not turn away in disgust from our poor praying because we did not use the right words, take the correct posture, address Him in just the right way, or line up our doctrine in accordance with some official creed. As a loving parent thrills to hear the poor speech of the toddler, our Father in Heaven loves it when we pray.
The prayers He answers are almost always poor prayers. Had He been on a fault-finding mission, He could have failed almost every one of those prayers for a hundred reasons. But He doesn’t.
Saturday, I spent the afternoon drawing people at the block party for Hammond, Louisiana’s Old Zion Hill Baptist Church. All day heavy showers had been drenching the southeastern part of the state. As I drove up, I was afraid the event would be drowned out. However, it was high and dry. The pastor’s wife told me why.
She showed me the weather radar on her phone. “I made pictures of it,” she laughed. Earlier that morning, when she had seen that the weather picture showed rain heading their way, she commented to her daughter that they might get rained out. “Mom,” she said, “God parted the waters of the Red Sea. He certainly can handle this.”
“Look at this,” she said to me. On her iPhone, there were the various photos of the radar from earlier in the day. As the rain approached the area around Hammond-Tickfaw, the green split and left it high and dry.
We had a sobering moment. Had God done that? The pastor’s daughter thinks so. Who am I to tell her He didn’t? (Psalm 115:3 says He does whatever He pleases.)
“More things are wrought by prayer,” said Alfred Lord Tennyson, “than this world knows of.”
5. Your poor praying is no excuse.
It’s a fact that we pray poorly, but that is no excuse to quit praying, to stop learning how to pray better, to stop growing, for not believing, and for not obeying.
In fact, knowing that the Living God will hear the flawed intercessions and faulty praise of imperfect children like us is liberating and encouraging.
So, don’t stop praying, Christian, just because you don’t feel like your prayers are getting anywhere. You’re not the judge. Pray on.
6. Your poor praying is God’s opportunity.
“The Lord helps us in our weakness,” Scripture says. “He intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
You’ve read II Corinthians 12 where Paul discovered this truth, that our weakness is God’s opportunity to do something special, to show Himself almighty, to get all the praise and glory for Himself. Therefore, the apostle said, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (I Cor. 12:10).
For reasons He alone knows, God delights in using the poor and small, the overlooked and ordinary, the despised and the discarded. Like you and me.
7. Your poor praying is temporary.
“Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, just as I also have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).
The day will come when we stand in His presence and we shall be changed into His likeness. At that moment, we shall know. We shall be made perfect. “This corruption must put on incorruption; this mortal must put on immortality” (I Cor. 15:53).
At that moment, we will be able to pray well.We will know how to address the Father in the best way, using the right words, knowing His will perfectly and how to present ourselves into His presence.
Until then, we shall walk by faith. We will obey Him and offer our prayers in our faltering manner, using our poor choice of words, knowing anyone can find fault with them, doing the best we can, knowing that He is a God of mercy and kindness and loves us more than we could ever deserve.
Jesus said, “Your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him. Pray then like this: ‘Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name….” (Matthew 6:8ff.)