I had led a family to Christ. They soon joined our church and were baptized the following Sunday. My notes remind me of something the grandfather said. He was chairman of deacons in a church 3 hours away, and of course, they were excited about what had happened. He said to me, “We’ve been praying for this family, but one by one. We had no idea they’d all get saved at the same time!”
Dale Caston, deacon in my last pastorate, told me something that took place in a high school class when he was a teen. The teacher asked the students, “What do you expect to get out of this class?” She looked at one student: “Eddie, what do you expect?” Eddie said, “Well, I’ve had you before–and I don’t expect nothing!” Dale tells it with a laugh because he knows the part expectations play in a thousand aspects of life.
What do you expect when you pray? The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect little from the Lord, too much from the pastor, and nothing from ourselves.
Thou art coming to a King; Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much. –John Newton
Here are some quick thoughts on what the Lord has taught and is teaching me on prayer….
One. You don’t have to be perfect to pray.
That’s so obvious it’s almost comical. But you might be amazed to know how many of us shirk from praying because “I’ve sinned.” Well, hello. He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). God is under no illusions about us, friend. He knows we are made of humble stuff. The One who created us knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us. So, go on and pray. He’s expecting to hear from you.
Don’t disappoint the Father.
Two. You don’t have to feel like you deserve to pray, or have lived so righteously that you have a right to have your prayers answered. It’s all of grace, friend. How we feel has nothing to do with anything.
Feelings are fickle. They will lead you astray all the time. Learn to ignore them. And to those who say, “Well, if I don’t feel it, it would be fake,” we answer, “No, it would be faith.” Try it.
Three. Learn to pray anyway. That’s the best advice I was ever given–and the best I have ever doled out on this subject. Pray Anyway is the title of our little book on prayer. In spite of how you feel, what others say, what you know about a situation, how little or much you know on what the Almighty wishes to do in a situation, or a thousand other things, it is all right to pray.
It is acceptable to pray.
It is urgent that we pray.
Four. Honesty in prayer is always best. If you don’t feel like praying, tell the Father that. He who created you understands tiredness. If you have a fear or doubt or question, He can take your admitting that in your prayer. We worship in Spirit and in truth.
Five. Do not try to judge your own prayer. Don’t measure your prayer by its length, its intensity, or whether you used certain words. We are not the judges of anything, least of all our own service, worship, and prayers. (I received an email from a pastor’s wife who was complaining about her man: “He’s not spending an hour in prayer each morning.” So, she’s got the clock on her man. Talk about a recipe for misery in a marriage!)
Six. Pray your own way. Don’t let anyone–me or your pastor or favorite teacher or anyone–dictate to you on the best way or the only way to talk to the Father. Some of us love the little ACTS method: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. It’s a good form, but there’s nothing that says it’s best. Sometimes, we want to start with confession (which would make this CATS!).
However you pray, just do it. For instance, I love to pray while walking. One day I ran across an article where a seminary professor/pastor was ridiculing that practice as worthless. No, I did not write him a letter to argue. I simply smiled and dismissed what he said and went right on doing what I had found to work for me.
Seven. You will change how you pray as you grow in the Lord. Warren Wiersbe says that when we are new believers, we wrestle with the world in prayer. As we grow, we wrestle with our flesh in prayer. In time, we will find ourselves wrestling with God in prayer.
My observation is that sometimes I wrestle in prayer but most of the time I just talk to the Father with no struggling, no resisting, and no hurting, but only loving and thanking and blessing.
Eight. Varying how we pray is often a good thing. Beginning with different words, ending with a different formula (for want of a better term), that sort of thing. We all know some people who have used the same format and same expressions in prayer for so long, one wonders if they even think about what they are saying, it comes so effortlessly.
Nine. Nothing says you have to end your prayer with an ‘amen.’ In fact, “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) might imply we should never bring our prayers to an end.
When I was a kid walking to school up that West Virginia mountain, I would often talk to God. I’ve long since forgotten anything specific about my prayers, other than one thing. I didn’t want to say ‘amen,’ because that felt like hanging up the phone and ending this call. I wanted the phone to be off the hook all day long, the Lord to always be there, and for me to always be able to talk with Him. My understanding was that of a child, but the point is as valid and solid as it can be. There is no time in my day when I do not want to be in touch with the Father.
Ten. Pray about everything, no matter how large or small. After all, the God of the infinite is also Lord of the infinitesimal. The God of the universe also originated and planned the operation of the atom and molecule. So, clearly, nothing is off limits to His all-seeing eye and far-reaching care.
Eleven. Don’t go around talking about your prayer life, about how much or how often you pray, or what the Lord told you in prayer. Go back to Matthew 6 and see how the Pharisees prayed and why they did it, then guard against the same tendencies in yourself.
Prayer is like sweet-talking and loving your spouse. it’s best done in private and not referred to in public unless the situation calls for it. Beware of becoming a person who spends more time talking about prayer than actually praying. Scripture has a word for it: hypocrite. Let’s try not to be one of those.
Twelve. Allow time to stop talking and sit quietly. I strongly recommend you alternate between a) talking to the Lord, b) reading a few verses of Scripture, and c) sitting quietly listening to Him. Keep a notepad handy to jot down things that come to mind.
Thirteen. Guard against legalism. Beware of requiring yourself to do so many minutes (hours?) a day, of praying over your entire list every day, of praying a certain way or in a particular place. This can be burdensome in a hurry. Pray while waiting on the phone, while driving, while sleep deserts you at night. All the time, as often as you can.
Fourteen. Enjoy. If it is true that “in Thy presence is fullness of joy,” according to Psalm 16:11, then we should enjoy our prayer times. See if you can do that.