Go into any Christian bookstore and you are going to find a whole batch of books on prayer. If you survey most ministers and pastors, nearly all of them wish they had a better prayer life.
Because most of us find it hard to pray. We are fascinated with prayer. We want to pray. We see the need to pray. However, many of us have discovered that consistent prayer is hard.
We find it hard to pray because we are disappointed and angry with God. Life can be brutal. Hell, like the sun, can have hell-flares; eruptions of its fury and heat into our lives that leave us withered, confused, and disoriented with God.
We find it hard to pray because we sometimes feel like prayer is a waste of time. We pray, then nothing obvious changes. We feel that we have more important work to do than just sitting around and praying. We live in a "git 'er done" culture. Sitting around and praying can feel like a huge waste of time that could be a better expended when we could be out doing something.
We find it hard because prayer feels like a one-way communication. We pour our hearts out to God, and we never seem to hear anything back from him. Who wants to make phone calls to someone who never responds to anything we've said? …especially if we have poured our hearts out to them while saying it?
As we come to Jesus and his healing a man with leprosy[ONE] (Mark 1:35-45), prayer is important. We want to be able to pray more effectively. Plus, prayer plays a crucial role in Jesus' knowing his mission, his leaving where he was to embrace that mission, and his being in the right place to heal the man with leprosy:
Early in the morning, Jesus got up, left the house while it was still dark outside, and went to a deserted place to pray. Simon and the others traveling with Jesus looked for Him. They finally tracked Him down.
People:Everybody wants to know where You are!
Jesus:It’s time we went somewhere else … so I can tell more people the good news about the kingdom of God. After all, that’s the reason I’m here.
So He traveled to the next village and the one after that, throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and casting out unclean spirits.
A leper walked right up to Jesus, dropped to his knees, and begged Him for help.
Leper:If You want to, You can make me clean.
Jesus was powerfully moved. He reached out and actually touched the leper.
Jesus:I do want to. Be clean.
And at that very moment, the disease left him; the leper was cleansed and made whole once again (Mark 1:35-42).[TWO]
So what is it about this prayer time that Jesus regularly had with the Father (Luke 5:16) that I want to incorporate into my life?
What can I do in prayer that allows me to be truly open to the Father's leading about my life and my life's mission?
I notice two principles immediately. Jesus planned and protected his prayer time. Jesus' prayer time was not an accident. It wasn't something he did while he had a free minute or two during the flow of the day. It didn't just happen. Mark carefully chooses his words to emphasize Jesus' intentional approach to his prayer life:
- Very early
- It was still dark
- Jesus got up
- [Jesus] went off
- To a solitary place
As I read through Mark's account, I also notice another element in this mission-clarifying prayer time of Jesus. This principle helps me understand why planned and protected prayer is so important. Jesus expected the Father to respond. He was attentive to the Father's desire to enter into a relationship with him and guide him. He moved away from unwanted interruptions and distractions.
After an incredibly busy day of ministry the day before (Mark 1:21-34), Jesus got up early and went away to pray. When he emerges from his prayer time, the Lord had clarified his mission. Jesus then left that area to embrace that mission. He left, despite the fact that people are clamoring for him to stay and minister to them. Jesus' companions urgently told him, "Everyone is looking for you!" But Jesus says:
Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.Bottom line: during Jesus' prayer time, he was convicted, convinced, guided, reminded, or re-routed (choose your own verb based on your conviction here) to do his God-ordained mission of sharing his good news message with other villages and towns.
But can I come to expect God to speak into my heart when I pray? Can I expect a response from God when I pray?
I believe that we can and should expect God to respond. In Romans chapter 8, Paul talks about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Two areas of Paul's emphasis speak to prayer:
- The Spirit's work in our prayer life (Romans 8:16-17 and Romans 8:26-27).
- We live and are led by the Spirit (Romans 8:5-14).
While God's response may not come with audible words, we certainly should expect a response. That response could be a strong conviction in our hearts or the motivation to step out and do something for the Lord. This response might be a Bible passage coming to mind or the words of a Christian friend or spiritual song. The response might not be immediate but may come to us as we dedicate time each day to prayer. We may have to wait a few days, paying attention to who God brings into our lives, what is said that sticks in our hearts, what we hear from spiritual friends, what we remember from Bible passages we read, what opportunities are placed before us, and what thoughts the Spirit stimulates within us.
Empowering these three principles of planned and protected prayer while I expect God to respond is the fourth principle. This prayer time should focus on God's purpose for us. We want to accomplish God's mission for our lives. As we center our hearts on the Father's will for us, we trust that he will lead us to his purpose for us.
For Jesus and other dedicated Jews, prayer involved memorized psalms. Jesus used the Psalms to define different roles and moments of his ministry. Bible reading, especially pairing readings from the Psalms and the New Testament, can be very helpful to our prayer life. Rather than rushing through these readings, we let our heart rest on each key thought. We give the Spirit time to move us, convict us, and lead us. This fellowship with the Father over the Scriptures, while inviting the Spirit to lead our hearts, opens our hearts to the will of the Father.
Which leads to a final principle: Jesus' style of committed prayer is work: sometimes hard work. This kind of prayer requires effort and focus. It doesn't "just happen"! This kind of prayer is more than coming with a laundry list of things I want God to do for me. Instead, I come to have my heart tuned to join God in his work of redeeming a lost world. This prayer-work changes me. I choose to enter into this focused time of prayer ready to make an effort, ready to listen, and ready to wait on God. I pray ready to be convicted of sin, ready to recalibrate my life to the Father's, ready to respond to the Spirit's leading, and ready to follow Jesus into ministry with a focused and renewed sense of mission.
A hero of faith once said: "I only really get done what I've prayed for." He taught me that prayer isn't about changing things, but about God changing me — tuning me to his will and directing me to his purposes. Prayer re-aligns my heart and my life to God so that I can enter into the work he is already doing. Then, and only then, do I find my life resonating with his mission for me.
If I am going to touch the broken as Jesus did, then I must decide to PRAY as Jesus prayed!
[ONE] This post is the second part of a series focused on learning to touch the broken and impact their lives in ways similar to Jesus' ministry to the man with leprosy (Mark 1:35-45). Here are the six parts in the series and
links back to those posts: