We are all familiar with the notorious light on the dashboard of our vehicles that indicates “maintenance required.” It could indicate something simple such as the air pressure being low on a tire, or it could be something complex and costly. Recently the light on my spiritual dashboard came on. It indicated that maintenance was required regarding prayer. So I got out the “Owner’s Manual” (Bible) to see how to make appropriate adjustments.
The issue wasn’t “are you praying or how much are you praying?” I asked myself if the issue is how I am praying?
Just as we function within our corporate culture (the way we do things) as a church, in particular we each have a prayer culture as well. There is a default that tends to take place when we say, “Let’s pray.” I will state them in the second person plural, but please know that they largely come from my own experience. So, you might be able to say, “not guilty” in fact I hope you can and do.
We each have our opening term for addressing the Lord. (Father, Lord, Jesus, etc.) and we are pretty well locked in on it. In some cases, we use our designated title for God quite frequently throughout our prayer. We also have some terminology that we end with that basically communicates to others, “I have finished praying.” The most frequent is “in Jesus name” and I wonder what we think that means. Why don’t we ever start by indicating that we are praying in Jesus name? Likewise, we tend to have our routine topics that we can articulate out of habit so that when we are called on to pray, we don’t have to wonder what to say. This is most observable in the notorious prayer before a meal. It is so easy for this pattern (prayer culture) to become redundant. I don’t know that this is a bad thing, but I ask myself. “is this the way that I talk with anyone else?” Compare the way we communicate with one another.
When I catch myself in this syndrome, I realize that I am metaphorically hitting the “start” button for praying and then I hit the “automatic pilot” button and after a period of time I hit the “stop” button. Even as I write this, I’m thinking, “And I am talking to the eternal God of the universe?” Fortunately, He is very rarely formal with us when we are in dialogue with Him. In fact, most predominantly He is fatherly. So I don’t have to get up tight about my terminology. However, the problem is that I can easily drift into my prayer culture and lose the sense of intimacy and immediacy of my communion with Him.
“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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:7)
I also ask myself, in my personal time of prayer, to what extent do I prepare?
Yes, I know prayer can and should happen anytime, anywhere, or any way. My onsideration is my scheduled times. As a high school kid in Colorado, I noticed a small country church building just outside of town. On Sunday about 10:00 AM vehicles including an occasional tractor would show up. One could drive by up to four hours later and sometimes they would still be there. (Keep in mind that this was in the 50s) There seemed to be no definite finish time. Sometimes they departed early, most often they
stayed longer. One day I met a person who was familiar with the church. I shared with him my observation regarding their departure. He explained to me that they intentionally had no pastor. Their practice was to come together, sing a few songs, read some Scripture and then silently meditate to hear what God wanted them to know and to share with the others. They would not leave until they sensed they had heard what the Lord had for them. (no wonder it was a small church)
Obviously I am not sharing this as a practice to adopt. But I do admire the preparation they gave to meditation. Seems to me that they could have meditated at various times of the week and then assembled. My limited experience at driving a tractor up and down a field certainly provided time for meditation. Back to the point at hand, I’m wondering if there is an equation between the preparation for prayer and the fruit of prayer? It took Jesus all night before His Father before choosing the twelve. It took agonizing preparation before going to the cross. In contrast, it seems so easy for me to quickly
launch into prayer, hit the “prayer default” button and then assume that I had a meaningful time with my heavenly Father.
"Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few." (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
I also asked myself if the issue was what I was praying?
I recall years ago a humble, godly business owner said to me something that I still remember. “Jay, I have had to learn to not pray wholesale, but to pray retail.” He explained that wholesale prayer is general with broad sweeping categories such as’ “lead, guide and direct us.” Or “You know our needs, so we ask you to provide.” Retail prayer is specific and articulates more precisely just exactly what I am expecting because of my request. That needs no further explanation.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?" (Matthew 7:7-12)
The main thing that the Lord prompted me to pray about more attentively was spiritual warfare.
The upheaval that quickly occurred in our country this past year has left an indelible mark on everything, especially how we function as God’s people. Praise the Lord that years ago He laid on the hearts of our leaders a readiness to begin retooling in order to, as Skip and I said to each other, “get ahead of the curve.” I think it is essential for us to begin now to learn, develop and execute a warfare approach to our prayer. The battle is not about our health, although we factor in the pandemic. The battle is not political, although it will undoubtedly play a huge role. The battle is not economical, although it is going to make a monumental impact according to wise economists. You can finish the sentence from
Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but . . . “
"Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people." (Ephesians 6:13-18)