The Bible clearly teaches the need for a Christian to be faithful in prayer. Christ taught parables on the need for prayer. Christ demonstrated prayer in His life. The exhortation to pray is repeated throughout Scripture. Most, if not all Christians, acknowledge the need for prayer. They would readily say that we should pray, and they would extoll the virtues of a faithful prayer life. I’ve never met a Christian who said that prayer was unimportant. But I have also never met a Christian who said that he had prayed too much in his life. As J. Oswald Sanders said, “But, strange paradox, most of us find it hard to pray. We do not naturally delight in drawing near to God. We sometimes pay lip service to the delight and power of prayer. We call it indispensable, we know the Scriptures call for it. Yet we often fail to pray.” For many Christians, the greatest disconnect between what they know of Scripture and what they practice in life is in their prayer life. It’s the place where most Christians struggle with simply being a hearer of the Word instead of a doer of the Word. But prayer is absolutely foundational to the Christian life.
Sometimes Christians get frustrated when they try to do something good, but it seems to fail. They try to witness and outreach, and seem to get no response. They plan and strategize for how best to reach people, but their plans don’t reach people. They try to teach God’s truth, but people don’t seem to respond to it or listen to it. But they failed because they failed to build a foundation of prayer. Their strategy meeting included a lot of plans and ideas, but they only tacked on prayer at the end if the meeting hadn’t gone too late already. They met together to go out and witness to people, but they didn’t pray for the effectiveness of their witness very much. A lot of the times that we get frustrated with seeming failure stems from a lack of prayer and faith in God. We get frustrated that our plans and attempts failed, and we go back and try to make better plans, when the failure was in a lack of prayer instead of insufficient plans. Now there may be times that a Christian or a group of Christians genuinely do commit to prayer, and they spend a lot of time in prayer, but their plans still don’t go the way that they would like. Sometimes God does move in a different way or a different time than we would expect or want. But if our service seems to be failing, the foundational place to begin looking for its weakness is in prayer. The first thing that we may need to fix is how much we actually prayed.
Part of the difficulty of prayer is that we live in a fast-paced world with constant distraction. Prayer requires a discipline of the mind that takes hard work to develop. In a world that constantly bombards us with information, it’s easy to read headlines or hear people’s opinions and take them as our own without thinking them through. It’s easy to have so much information pass through our minds that we feel we have learned a lot and know a lot, but we fail to develop the discipline of our own minds to learn to focus, think, and evaluate. With so much information coming, we fail to develop our own mental discipline. Without this discipline and focus of the mind, it is virtually impossible to develop a faithful prayer life. Prayer requires the mental discipline to set aside the thoughts of the day and focus our thoughts on God. Prayer requires the mental discipline to stay faithful to the task at hand without allowing the distractions surrounding us to pull our attention away from God. So we must learn to push those distractions aside and put them down in order to focus our thoughts and our hearts on God.
We think highly of prayer, and we speak highly of prayer. But our actions must mirror our attitudes. “Lord, teach us to pray . . .”