What if the sole indicator of your spiritual health was your prayer gauge?
What if the only fuel for your spiritual engine was the steam from your prayer room?
What if the only offering you had to lay before a loving king was the incense of your prayer?
I was never good at algebra. But one thing I learned is the importance of isolating a problem. Instead of being daunted by a long string of numbers, narrow the equation down to the offending variable. And so often, when all is not well with my spiritually, I dig down only to find that I lack a healthy prayer life. Prayer is so elementary that I forget it is like the alphabet that makes up every meaningful word we will encounter for the rest of our lives. We will never graduate from the need for prayer.
In Sunday School recently, we were taught that prayerlessness is a form of pride. It is me thinking I can handle life on my own. Occasional prayer is using God as my life saver instead of as my boat. It may keep me alive, but it won’t keep me heading in the right direction.
Lord, teach us to pray
When the disciples went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray, it was not the urgency of a critical need that drove them. It was not because of some puzzling dilemma. When the disciples needed something or had a question, they asked Jesus. Any why not? He was God. And He was right there. He was eating, sleeping, breathing, and walking next to them. He had shown himself infinitely powerful and ridiculously patient. Was walking with Jesus not enough?
The disciples didn’t yet understand that Jesus would die and ascend back to heaven. They didn’t yet grasp the importance of the relationship with a God who was unseen. But they did understand something: Jesus spent time—serious time—talking with the Father. Somehow they knew the importance of that time to Jesus. It was not Jesus’ daytime TV fix. It was a powerful communion between Father and Son.
And so they asked him to show them to pray.
Many books have been written and many sermons preached over the simple prayer Jesus taught to the disciples. He wasted no time and no words providing for the disciples a pattern for approaching the gates of heaven.
But clearly Jesus didn’t intend for them to memorize those simple phrases and repeat them with rote discipline day after day. Paul’s writings are replete with prayers—none of which are repetition or patterns. David, years before Jesus came to earth, had earned a place close to God’s heart by pouring out his soul to his God—sometimes in song; sometimes in grief; sometimes in despair. Moses had forged a close relationship with God through some unconventional prayers which include songs of praise recorded for us to read thousands of years later.
Jesus modeled a prayer life that went far beyond the six or eight verses we call the Lord’s prayer. He spent days and hours. He retreated to the garden. He sent His disciples away. And when it was crunch time, he was incredulous that his disciples could not focus for even one hour. An hour of prayer to Jesus was like a penny to Donald Trump. Jesus had spent 40 days in prayer and fasting. And unlike me, when Jesus spent time in prayer and fasting, he was probably praying and fasting.
Forty uninterrupted days of prayer.
Lord, teach us to pray.
We don’t make time to pray because we undervalue it. If we understood it as unfettered access to the riches of God’s grace, as an appointment with the King of the universe, as a luxurious retreat into the safest of refuges, we would do it.
We would just do it.
We would ask God to teach us.
We would ask the Holy Spirit to help us when we had no words to say.
Prayer may or may not change the world. But it will change us. It will feed our faith. It will anchor our hope. It is the source of our joy.
The more I pray the more I am able to hold loosely the cares of this world until I find myself casting them on the Lord in faith that He cares for me.
Lord, teach me to pray.