The Prayer Room
by Ron Hughes
Prayer: What are we talking about?
Prayer is sometimes seen to be nothing more than saying words without paying attention at all. Rote prayers like “the Lord’s prayer” or “Hail Mary” are not the only form of this kind of prayer. A friend of mine told me how, on one occasion, he knelt beside the bed with his wife at the end of a long day. He was weary beyond belief and, unthinkingly, said, “Dear heavenly Father, we thank you for the food we are about to receive…” and was interrupted by his wife’s giggle.
Mere repetition of words, however biblical they may be, is not our area of interest here. We’re looking at real communication, specifically between us and God. Prayer embraces a number of distinct activities – confession of sin, asking for needs to be met, intercession for others, adoration, and thanksgiving. These are all significant and each adds its own contribution to the whole. For our purposes we will cast the net as widely as possible and simply define prayer as spiritual communion with God.
We know prayer is important because of the biblical emphasis on it. We see Jesus as a man of prayer. For example, in Luke 6:12 we read of him going out to a mountain to pray all night long. Jesus also taught about prayer. He said things like: “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:5-7 ESV).
The apostle Paul also set an example by recording several prayers in his letters and he, too, taught about the importance of prayer, the need for prayer, and the effects of prayer. I won’t even attempt to convince you that Christians should approach prayer seriously. Most of us instinctively know it, even if we would condemn ourselves regarding our diligence in practising it.
“How’s your prayer life?” A friend loved to ask questions like this to make me squirm. When I had suffered enough, he said, “I’ve asked that question of all kinds of people and every one has expressed some kind of dissatisfaction about the quality or quantity of prayer in his or her life.” This is probably true for all spiritual activities, but because we see prayer as pivotal, it serves as a lightening rod.
We take a disciplined approach to prayer for several reasons. The easiest one is to follow Christ’s example and obey biblical commands. A little beneath the surface are some other reasons. Prayer allows us to engage personally with God, to practise His presence. Disciplined prayer also makes sure that time with God is not crowded out of our lives by sloth from within or urgencies from without. Most of us pray because we sense a need of some sort. When trouble comes, praying is as instinctive for the Christian, as crying is for the child. We hurt; we want God to do something about it. As we mature, though, we discover that our agenda may not fit perfectly with God’s. Only after we spend a great deal of time with Him, do we internalize His values, priorities and will.
Some of us love to measure progress. We like to see positive change in our lives. We seem to need that encouragement to keep on. For those who fall into this category, we’d like to be able to evaluate our prayer life. I’ve learned that success in one’s prayer life is not measured by the degree to which we can get God to react to people and circumstances as we see them, but the degree to which we come to react to people and circumstances the way God sees them. This is counterintuitive for most of us. Even the most godly tend to see answers to prayer only when their own will is done in their lives or the lives of others.
In fact, while it is not usually wrong to pray for things to go the way you would like them to, the goal in prayer is for us to get to the point where we are asking God how we can conform to His purposes in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, even if they include things we would naturally want to avoid. We limit the benefit of the exercise if we insist on God doing what we think is best for us and those we love. We will be much better off if we let Him set the agenda and we seek to fit into it.
On Wednesday, Ron will discuss practical tips to enhance our prayer lives.
Ron Hughes is president of FBH International , a multi-language media ministry and maintains an active itinerant speaking ministry in churches and conferences. Ron is a professional member of The Word Guild and has one published book, Refresh: 19 ways to boost your spiritual life, and is working on several other writing projects. Much of his writing is published on the ministry website and has been used in radio broadcasts.
Ron has been married to Debbie since 1976. They have four children, one of whom is married. They live on a 100 acre farm in the Niagara region which they share with a few horses, chickens, cats and a dog. He is also involved with an outreach site called Talk on the Way.