A Vital, Simple, and Practical Look at Private Prayer
In the book We were Soldiers Once ... and Young, the story is told of a desperate battle which occurred during the Vietnam war. This battle became famous because a battalion of about 500 US soldiers were flown far into North Vietnamese territory to attack a far superior force. Outnumbered at least 3 to 1, the American soldiers were in a fight for their lives. The American battalion only survived because they used their radios to keep in contact with their commanders and support. Had these soldiers relied solely on their own resources, they would have been annihilated. However, by relying on the powerful air support and artillery fire (and continuing to do what they could on the ground) they survived to fight another day. This battle is a wonderful reminder that no soldier fights alone. No soldier can conquer the enemy all by himself like some sort of Rambo – that is only the stuff of movies! Spiritual warfare is the same. The big difference is that in physical warfare the soldier depends on his fellow soldiers, but in spiritual warfare we rest upon the Lord and His mighty power. As we read in Ephesians 6:10-20, we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities and powers of this dark world. Paul demonstrates this by the armour he gives us. He doesn’t give some 10-step armour and then say, “Now go out there and fight and win.” Instead, the very description of the armour shows our dependence on a power outside ourselves – a dependence upon God. And that dependence is most explicitly shown when Paul commands prayer in verses 18-20. Now my intention is not to explain Ephesians 6 as much as it is to show the vital importance of prayer in every Christian’s life. Prayer is more vital to the Christian than radios, air support and artillery fire is to the soldier because in prayer, you call on and rest in the power of God instead of yourself.
Since prayer is so important, how do we go about developing a life of prayer? The most fundamental aspect to a life of prayer is a relationship with God. If you do not know Christ as Lord and Saviour, then you will never truly pray. If you are a child of God, then you are specially equipped to pray. You have the Holy Spirit living in your heart assisting you and praying for you (Romans 8:26-27). We pray in the power of the Spirit to God the Father through faith in Christ His Son.
A relationship with God
Now you might be thinking, “Of course I have to be a Christian to develop a good prayer life, and I know about the Holy Spirit ... but how do I practically develop a habit of prayer?” You must keep your relationship with God in mind when you pray. I know this sounds obvious, but you have to remember to Whom you pray. For example, when we read many manuals and helps for prayer, we are often reminded of the form/structure of prayer. We are reminded of the importance of the various aspects of prayer, and the necessity for praying regularly. Sadly, it is all too easy to get caught up focusing on these aspects of prayer and to neglect the most important thing – that we are praying to our Heavenly Father. We are not speaking to some impersonal force, rather we are speaking to the loving personal Father who paid an infinite price to adopt us. In prayer, we are developing our relationship with our heavenly Father. This is a crucial element that helps us maintain a life of prayer; for in prayer, we are not reaching out to some equal for help (some fellow soldier). In battle, soldiers call out specific statements or formulas to call in fire support. You never know who will be on the other side of the line, so the statements have to be uniform across the whole army. Prayer is not that mechanistic. We do not say a specific prayer to achieve a certain result.1You see, the knowledge that God the Father is loving and personal leads us to speak to Him as such and not in a mechanical uniform way. This means your prayers should be personal and vibrant like the warm conversation between a father and son who are close (or like the way you might speak to a respected friend).
God as your Father
I have found that this element of desiring to speak to my Heavenly Father was far more helpful in prayer than simply habit alone. For even if you develop the best habit and schedule for prayer and you include all the right aspects and parts of prayer – if you aren’t speaking to your Heavenly Father from your heart, then you aren’t praying correctly! For while habit and parts of prayer are important, the most important thing is for you to draw close to God in prayer – that only happens when you are speaking to God as your Father – and not in a mechanical way.
So how does this relationship idea help you pray more regularly? Think about any close relationship you have: a close friend, your earthly father or mother, perhaps your spouse. When do you want to speak to them? The closer the relationship the more often we talk. You speak with them in the morning, then on various quick occasions throughout the day, and then you probably make time to chat again at night. The same pattern can be practiced in prayer. Take time to begin your day with your Heavenly Father (Psalm 5:2-3 2). Then speak to Him in quick or spontaneous times of prayer as possible throughout the day (perhaps praising God quickly during a break at work – Psalm 119:164, or praying in a time of need – Nehemiah 2:4). Then close the day with a more extended time with your Father. Depending on your personality, you might want to have your larger prayer time in the morning or evening – which time you choose is really not important, so long as you are spending time with your Father!
Practically, it is helpful to develop a habit of praying at the same time and place. With sleeping and eating, our bodies and minds work best on a schedule. Prayer is much the same. If you try to pray where you sleep (lying in bed), the urge to sleep will most likely win out. If you try to pray at a time you normally eat, except in times of fasting, the urge to eat will prove to be a distraction. Keeping a particular time and place in the house (or at work) to pray will help you focus your attention more quickly on speaking to your Father.
Notebooks or journals
Prayer journals and lists can be very useful as well. My parents used little notebooks to keep track of various prayer requests and when the Lord answered those prayers they would record that in the notebook. This proved very encouraging to perseverance in prayer, because they could return to see how and when God had answered specific requests. A notebook or prayer journal can also be used to keep a proper balance between the different parts of prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication).
Personal prayer is vital. Without it, we are likely to forget on whom we depend for life and salvation. Without prayer, we begin to rest and rely on ourselves to our own hurt. Don’t neglect this vital part of the Christian life. Even more importantly, don’t neglect your relationship with your Heavenly Father! As you develop a more consistent habit of prayer, rest assured – God will provide the strength that you need. And if this all seems overwhelming, remember that God has already specially equipped you with His Spirit to assist you in prayer. Pray to your Father, through faith in His Son, in the power of the Spirit!