When I first became a Christian, I was taught well, ad nauseam, how to read the Bible well and process it. I am deeply indebted for having been taught this, and now can do it quite deftly. It has been an incredible gift of God’s Holy Spirit to be able to do it.
Having said all that, one of my biggest weaknesses has been prayer. When I became a Christian, it was never taught to me. I began copying other people’s prayer styles by default. Some of them were good, and others not so good. Many are the tepid variety that don’t ask for much and surrender hardly a thing. The denomination that I was in (the largest Protestant one outside the Catholic church) didn’t rely much on prayer, and when its folk did pray, it was done from formal liturgy and in regulated form. Little of it was spontaneous or really powerful. I eventually moved on from that denomination to other Protestant branches, but the prayers in those other places have almost exactly the same problems.
Here in Sydney Australia, we don’t really know how to pray. Many do so only because the pastor told them to and berated them with guilt-laden sermons to do so. It’s not done expecting God to answer, and many of them are self-congratulatory, where people thank God for their ‘faithful’ labours throughout but never asking God to do even bigger and better things. I’ve even heard Christians asking other believers for prayer, and prefacing their requests by saying, “If you’re a praying kind of person …” Such a comment bemuses me because isn’t every Christian meant to be a praying person? I’ve never been to a church where people pray gusty, biblical, get-to-the-heart of things prayers like Psalm 13:1: “How long, Yahweh? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?”
For me, and for many churches, prayer is like learning Gaelic – it’s a lovely thing in itself, but it seems too other-worldly. Besides, hardly anyone uses it and we feel weird doing it because we much prefer to bask in the self-sufficiency which the pride of our hearts and the prince of this world keep swindling us with. And prayer surrenders control to God – and we don’t want to do that, really, because then that means we’re not in control (not that we are when we’re not praying!)
Many people give up on prayer because it’s like trying to untie a mangled knot of twine. How do we know our prayers get answered? Will they ever be answered? What are the “right words” to pray? Sometimes we give up on prayer because it means we must wait (Psalm 40:1-3), but since we live in a world where we expect everything in an instant, (and since prayer isn’t often answered like that) we give up before we try.
But often our prayerlessness or inefficiency in prayer comes simply from the fact that no one taught us properly how to do it; worse, effective, biblical, and passionate prayer has never been modelled to us. As babies learn to talk by watching everyone else doing it, so it is with prayer. And, like talking, if we never learn to pray properly then no-one understand us and we can’t get anything done. And when that happens, we then resort to shouting and violence to try to get what we want (James 4:1-4). Yet when godly, powerful prayers are uttered they have the power to change the world; Mary Queen of Scots once said that she feared the prayers of church father John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.
In the last month, I have found much encouragement and godly counsel about how to pray in the book ‘The Battle Plan for Prayer’ by Stephen and Alex Kendrick (pictured above), who also produced the movie ‘The War Room’, which demonstrates the power of godly prayer. ‘The War Room’, while encouraging, does tend to present prayer in a rather simplistic and unsophisticated manner, but where the DVD is lacking, the ‘Battle Plan for Prayer’ book is much more illuminating and profitable.
The book is extremely practical, straightforward, and biblically grounded. It’s not densely theological, like the stuff written about prayer here in Australia. It has 35 chapters, each chapter taking no more than 10 minutes to read, and the idea is to go through a chapter per day. It also has a suggested prayer at the end of each chapter, which prays through the material written on. The Battle Plan examines issues like whether prayer ought to be spontaneous or not, how God’s various names inform our prayer life, how to pray for wisdom, and the various answers that God gives to prayer (Yes No, and Later). It looks too at how to persist in prayer, and how people even hide behind prayer so as to avoid carrying out God’s instructions. It also examines how ungodliness and disobedience impede God’s answers to prayer and how abiding in Jesus Christ leads to answered and effective prayer. God answers prayer not only in the Word of God, but when the Holy Spirit reveals His answers to our minds.
I haven’t even gotten to the end of the book yet, but it is a book which, has radically changed my prayer life and set it on a godly track. It’s fired me up for prayer ministry too! I’ve found myself wanting to pray more – and it has me praying more. And my prayers are being answered! When the advice in this book is acted upon, there is sure to bring powerful revival and newness of life to the church. It will also cleanse our land of evil (2 Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:3-19) and set on fire human hearts for the things of God. It will produce Spirit-filled churches that will soon be filled with saved souls, whose lives will really stand out in this dark and evil world. Its relevance to the church here in Sydney and abroad cannot be underestimated, although prayer in this country very sadly is. I recommend any Christian reading this blog post to get this book, read it, and act upon it.
“[The late preacher and pastor] George Mueller once said, ‘I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down, and when I rise up. And the answers are always coming! Thousands and tens of thousands of times have my prayers been answered. When once I am persuaded that a thing is right and for the glory of God, I go on praying for it until the answer comes. George Mueller never gave up!'” – p. 121.