In January, our church leaders set a vision to become a more prayerful church, and I have greatly appreciated this focus. I often find my prayer life lacking because I tend to prioritize most everything else over prayer. And, since this tendency seems to be pretty common, it affects how the church approaches prayer. Many churches cut out prayer during the worship service if they’re short on time. Or, prayer is used as a mere transition time to get the band on or off stage. In short, prayer tends to take a backseat.
That’s why my church’s emphasis on prayer has been so encouraging and convicting. We’ve distributed notebooks to write down prayer requests; we’ve committed to follow-up on those requests from both believers and non-believers; we create a prayer calendar each month that directs us and helps us as a church to be unified through prayer.
Now that we’re halfway through the year, I’m reflecting on how the Lord has used this focus to teach me about prayer.
1. Prayer is a discipline.
I started this year encouraged and diligent to spend time in daily prayer. However, as time passed, I got distracted with increased responsibilities at work and home. I allowed myself to be consumed by daily worries. I’ve been lazy. Consequently, my prayer life is not as focused.
There is a reason prayer is included in any book you’ll find on spiritual disciplines. When we neglect prayer, we become easy prey for the devil’s schemes. Life happens. We don’t know what or how to pray. But instead of skipping prayer altogether, we must dig our heels in and pray anyway. When we don’t know what to pray, we pray the Scriptures. When we’re at a loss for words, we have the Spirit’s intercession on our behalf. Prayer isn’t always easy, but it’s vital to the Christian life.
2. Prayer helps us see the world how God sees it.
We face tragedy every day—up close, from a distance, or both. News and social media inundate us with messages of a world in chaos. It’s bad, for sure. But it’s not the complete story.
Prayer helps us see the world how God sees it. It reminds us that the brokenness is temporary, and it helps us focus on the God who is making all things new. We pray for God’s kingdom to come, hoping for the day there will be no more tears, sickness, or tragedy. When we flail about in this sea of chaos, prayer is our anchor (Hebrews 6:19).
3. All that we are and have comes from the Lord.
Prayer reminds me that I don’t have to earn my standing before God—in fact, I cannot earn it. My identity rests in Christ, who purchased my salvation in his death and resurrection. God generously gives his grace in our salvation, and everything else flows out of his abundance.
When I pray, I recognize that I am utterly dependent on the Lord. I praise God as sovereign over all things; the source of my salvation; the rock on which I stand. I repent. I thank him for blessings he has poured out in my life. I submit requests to him on behalf of others and myself. I listen—at least I try to. Prayer continually re-orients my focus to the One who knows and controls all things.
4. If the Lord says no, it’s ok.
I struggle with anxiety, so I often doubt the Lord’s goodness even in the best of circumstances. I dread trials. I fear the answer to my prayers—however big or small they may be—will be no.
Fear and anxiety come from lies I tell myself. So, I keep coming back to passages like Daniel 3:18 and Acts 5:41. In the face of certain death, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never backed down. In the face of intense persecution, the disciples were joyful. All of them continued to worship the true King.
When I worry about the day God tells me “no,” prayer reminds me that my life is not out of control. That even if God says no—to something small or something major—he is good and worthy of praise.
5. Prayer opens doors for gospel proclamation.
This is multi-faceted. First, we pray for non-believers because we know that it is God who saves. We pray for boldness to speak truth to those around us and that God will use our efforts to bear fruit and bring more people into his kingdom.
Second, we can use prayer itself as the opportunity to share the gospel with someone. Asking someone how we can pray for them is an easy way to show Jesus’ love for them and to proclaim to them why we pray in the first place.
We could talk for days about prayer—why it is important, what it does, how to pray, what to pray for, etc. Though I’m still learning about it, these are just some of the ways the Lord has taught me about prayer in the first half of this year.