Go into any Christian bookstore, and you will find a whole batch of books on prayer. If you survey most ministers and pastors, nearly all 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 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 apparent changes. We think 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 massive waste of time that could be better expended when we could be out doing something.
We find it hard because prayer feels like 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 and seen little happen?
Jesus' healing of a man with leprosy shows us how essential prayer can be (Mark 1:35-45). 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 The Voice).
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 genuinely open to the Father's leading about my life and my life's mission?
I noticed two principles immediately in Mark's telling of this event.
First, 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
Jesus intentionally made his move to pray. It was a planned move at a specific time.
Second, Jesus intentionally chose to pray in a place where he could protect his time with the Father. He made sure he could be alone with God! He went away from other people and went off to a solitary place.
If I am going to touch people's lives like Jesus did, I need to have some planned and protected prayer time each day.
As I read through Mark's account, I also noticed another element in this mission-clarifying prayer time of Jesus. This principle helps me understand why planned and protected prayer is essential. This third principle is that 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 because he expected the Father to be present with him and show him in his next move into mission fulfillment.
After a hectic day of ministry the day before (Mark 1:21-34), Jesus got up early and went away to pray. When he emerged from his prayer time, the Lord had clarified his mission. Jesus then left that area to embrace that mission. Although people were clamoring for him to stay and minister to them, he left. Jesus' companions urgently told him, "Everyone is looking for you!" But Jesus said:
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 we can, and we 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 directly speak to prayer:
- The Spirit's work in our prayer life (Romans 8:16-17, 26-27).
- We live and are led by the Spirit (Romans 8:5-14; Galatians 5:26).
While God's response may not seem to come with audible words, we certainly should expect a response. On a few occasions when seeking God's guidance on his mission for me, I have had him speak so clearly to my heart that it seemed as if it were spoken aloud! Other times, God's response has been more subtle and required more waiting and listening. His response could be a firm conviction in our hearts or the growing motivation to step out and do something for the Lord. His response might be a Bible passage coming to mind, the well-timed words of a Christian friend, or a spiritual song we awaken and hear in our hearts.
On the other hand, God's 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 the people God brings into our lives. We may need to see what sticks in our hearts from an article we read or podcast we hear. We may need to awaken to what spiritual friends say to us. We might remember Bible passages we read that spoke directly to our hearts. We may have to open our eyes to the opportunities God places before us. God's message may even be in the thoughts the Spirit stimulates within us.
Empowering these three principles of planned and protected prayer while we expect God to respond is the fourth principle. Our prayer time should focus on God's purpose for us — a purpose we want to fulfill because we love him (Romans 8:28). We want to accomplish God's mission for our lives. So 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 hearts rest on each critical 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 direct our thoughts and opens our hearts to the will of the Father.
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, I must decide to PRAY as Jesus prayed! I will:
- I will PLAN my prayer time.
- I will PROTECT my prayer time.
- I will EXPECT God to respond to my prayer time.
- My prayer time will focus on God's PURPOSE for me in his mission.
- I am not surprised if prayer is hard WORK.
Finding Jesus' Heart for Ministry Series: