As I begin another week; as I reflect on the week that was, on the ministry of the week ahead, and of my inability to accomplish anything on my own, I'm driven to prayer. But am I really praying.
I think men have always struggled with prayer. With the advent of social media, prayer has become even more of a magic potion, a superstitious mantra to so many. I read “prayer requests” all the time on various folks, ranging from serious health issues to relationship issues to financial needs, to really minor stuff. And we ought to pray about all things. But usually, the prayers asked for are really more like “Please make God do what I want. If enough people pray, He has to do it.” Again, say the magic words and 'poof' all will be as you want it. (I've spouted off about this “Cheapening of Prayer", so you can go there and read that if you're really that bored.)
But for those truly seeking genuine prayer, genuine communion with God, genuine humble communication with the Sovereign King of the Universe; how do we do it? How can we be sure we are truly praying, and praying rightly?
John Bunyan, of Pilgrim's Progress fame among other things, once wrote a little booklet on prayer that I've found very helpful (once you get past some of the archaic language). He defines prayer like this:
WHAT PRAYER IS.
FIRST, What [true] prayer is. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.
In this description are these seven things. First, It is a sincere; Second, A sensible; Third, An affectionate, pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ; Fourth, By the strength or assistance of the Spirit; Fifth, For such things as God hath promised, or, according to his word; Sixth, For the good of the church; Seventh, With submission in faith to the will of God.
Bunyan goes on to give greater detail on each of those seven things, along with other explanations and applications. If you've never read Bunyan's discourse on prayer I highly recommend it. You can read it online here as well as other places.
Did you catch everything in that definition, though? Sincere, sensible, affectionate. Pouring out of the soul to God. Through Christ. Assisted by the Holy Spirit. According to God's promises in His Word. For the good of the church. Submitting in faith to God's will. That really narrows some things down, doesn't it?
First, it reminds us that this is spiritual work. Spiritual. And work. It's effort, but in spiritual strength. How much of my praying is like that, as opposed to throw away lines, habitual rituals and so on?
Also, it's centered on God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is centered on the Triune God of Scripture. That means all those well intentioned folks who toss their prayers and “good thoughts” or “positive energy” or whatever my way, are really useless. As are my prayers when not centered in the God of Scripture.
Furthermore, my prayers must be according to His Word, His promises, His will. That means that I don't get to just ask for whatever I want willy nilly and demand God give it to me. It also means I need to spend a bit of time in His Word so I know what it says, what those promises are, what His will is.
And then, the direction of my prayer is not to be for my own selfish gain, but for the good of His Church, according to His will and for His glory. Wow, that weeds out a few prayers, too, doesn't it?
Finally, all prayer is done in faith and submission. What an odd pairing. Faith, meaning I believe God hears and will answer. But submission, saying ultimately “Not my will but Yours be done.”
I'm not saying that God only hears prayers that are super organized and theologically outlined and footnoted and so on. Sometimes, the only prayer we have in us is “O, God help.” “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And those are good prayers. They are sincere, sensible and affectionate. They are addressed to the God of Scripture in Christ, aided by the Holy Spirit. And so on. So we don't have to over think this.
But I think we do have to think. Our prayers can become very ritualistic, selfish, and unbiblical, which means they are also meaningless and powerless. Just as we need humble self examination in general (as per my last post), our prayers could stand a little examination as well. Am I really praying? Or am I just offering up a magic mantra in hopes of getting what I want?
Now, if you'll excuse me....I need to go pray awhile.