How to Keep Praying: Four Lessons from the Master

Most mornings I seem to forget how to pray. Or at least I seem to forget which sentence really it is —what is really happening in these quiet moments before an open Bible and a listening God. I may stumble over my thanksgivings and petitions, but aside from a few daily recollections, my prayers, like hapless pilgrims in a Bunyan allegory, tend to sink into the quagmire of distraction, or get locked up in the castle of discouragement, or they sleep on the floor. enchanted land.

In his book on prayer, Tim Keller writes about the need to “hold hands and wake up to the magnitude of what is to come” as we pray (Prayer, 127). Before you mindlessly mutter “Heavenly Father” or “Lord,” pause, take your soul in hand, and remember the wonder of prayer

And one of the best ways we can remember is by listening to what Jesus himself says about prayer. Much of our Lord’s teaching on prayer is designed to help us “pray always and not give up” (Luke 18:1). In the Gospels, Jesus comes to speakers like us—discouraged, distracted, willing in spirit but weak in the flesh—and gives us a heart to pray. Of the many reminders we could mention, consider four representative lessons.

1. We come to a Father.

Pray then like this: “Our Father who art in heaven . . .” (Matthew 6:9)

Michael Reeves points out how prone we can be to treat prayer “as an abstract activity, a ‘thing to do,'” instead of remembering “the one whom we [we’re] Praying” (Enjoy your prayer life, 30). Prayer easily becomes impersonal: “praying” is going through a list of names, sitting or kneeling in such and such a place for so long, driving on the old familiar potholes of phrases said ten thousand times. But most fundamentally, prayer is not an abstract activity or a habit or even a spiritual discipline; prayer is a personal response to a personal God, a God whom Jesus told us to call Dad.

The wonder of this word often escapes us; he would not have escaped the disciples. They had never called on God Dad before, except in the broader sense (Exodus 4:22–23; Hosea 11:1). To address God as “Our Father which art in heaven,” to imitate the affectionate “Abba” of Jesus: this was amazingly and marvelously new. When those who trust in Jesus come to pray, we come to a Father.

“Our Father knows our innermost thoughts and needs, but still he loves to hear us pour out our souls before him.”

And what father is he. He knows our innermost thoughts and needs, but still loves to hear us pour out our souls before him (Matthew 6:8, 32). His ever-open ear of him, his eye ever upon us, turns our ordinary rooms and closets into communion sanctuaries (Matthew 6:6). He is the archetype and source of all fatherly generosity, doling out good gifts with both hands (Matthew 7:9–11).

But perhaps the most moving words Jesus uttered about the Father are those in John 16:27: “The Father himself loves you.” “Here is something to say to ourselves every day,” Sinclair Ferguson writes about these five words. “These are simple words, but they are life-changing, peace-giving, balance-building” and, we might add, prayer-inspiring (Lessons from the Upper Room174).

2. Jesus perfects our prayers.

Verily, verily I say to you, that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. (John 16:23)

Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed supreme patience with requests that others would have silenced. When the crowd silenced the blind, rowdy Bartimaeus, Jesus called out to him (Mark 10:47–49). When the disciples tried to send the Canaanite mother away, Jesus cut out her heart and healed his daughter (Matthew 15:21–28). When the desperate father shouted: “If you can do something. . .” Jesus rebuked his unbelief but still restored his son (Mark 9:22–27). He took rude requests, he took imperfect, even half-believing prayers, and passed them through the refining fires of his own loving heart.

And so it continues to do. Three times in the upper room, he told his disciples to pray “in my name” (John 14:13–14; 15:16; 16:23–24, 26). In my name: here is Jacob’s ladder, raising our words to heaven; the key that opens wide the house of our Father; the mantle that adorns our naked petitions; the name of the King’s own Son, sealed with his blood and signed with his own resurrected hand.

So, as Charles Spurgeon writes,

The Lord Jesus Christ is always ready to take the most imperfect prayer and perfect it for us. If our prayers were to go up to heaven as they are, they would never succeed; but they find a friend along the way, and so they prosper.

“In Christ, our imperfect prayers get a heavenly audience.”

Because the Father loves his Son, and because he loves to honor the value of his Son’s work (John 14:13), he also loves to hear and answer prayers shaped by his Son’s words (John 15:7) and sent forth. in the name of his Son. In Christ, our imperfect prayers get a heavenly audience.

3. Struggle and resistance are normal.

Ask and it will be given to you; Seek and you shall find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

Just because our prayers begin with “Our Father” and end with “in the name of Jesus” does not mean that all the words in between flow easily. Sometimes even those who are awake to the wonder of prayer face daunting difficulties: internal struggle, external resistance, perhaps even a sense of divine silence. And while such difficulties they can Whether they reflect something bad within, a heart full of worldly concerns (Luke 8:14) or hiding unconfessed sins (Psalm 66:18), Jesus’ teaching on prayer is striking in its realism.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you” may seem simple enough on the surface: a simple cause followed by a sure effect. But in fact, these words follow Jesus’ story of a man who receives bread from his friend only “because of his nerve”, because the stubborn one would not leave (Luke 11: 8). Sometimes, Jesus wants us to know, prayer feels like asking and getting no answer, like searching and finding nothing, like knocking on a friend’s door that won’t open, until holy “insolence” prevails (Luke 11: 9).

George Müller, the orphan caretaker who spoke of many more answered prayers than most, learned from the teachings of Jesus,

While I firmly believe that He will give me, in due time, every shilling I need. [for the orphan houses]; however, I also know that He delights in being pleaded with fervor, and that He is pleased in perseverance in prayer and in His insistence. (answers to prayer29)

God delights in being prayed for fervently (see also Matthew 9:37–38), even for the gifts he loves to give. Often, then, the struggle, the resistance, and the unanswered prayers are not signs that something is wrong, but invitations to move on, and each morning to have a renewed heart to ask and seek again.

4. Persistence will bring an answer.

Everyone who asks receives, and whoever seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:10)

If you examine Jesus’ teachings on prayer, you will not find him anywhere advising us to wait little bit in pray; you will often find him challenging us to wait much. No one who persists in asking the Father remains without an answer; no one who keeps looking stops finding; no one who knocks and knocks on mercy’s door will be locked out forever (Luke 11:10). In God’s time, persistence Will bring an answer.

Sometimes, of course, we don’t get the answer we expect: our Father knows when the “fish” we want really bites like a snake (Luke 11:11). Other times, “in God’s time” seems much longer than “in my time,” as the persistent widow discovered in “his continual coming from her” (Luke 18:5). And sometimes, the answer comes even after you stop asking, since old Zacharias had apparently given up hope of having a son (Luke 1:13, 18). In any case, if the answer to some cherished request has not yet arrived, and if we have not yet discerned that God’s answer is no (as, for example, Paul did with his goad, 2 Corinthians 12:8–9), then Jesus invites us to keep asking.

Müller, recounting the story of how he once prayed for years over a particular piece of land, writes: “Hundreds of times with a praying eye I looked at this land, yes, as it were, sprinkled it with my prayers” (33). ). His prayers covered that field like so many dewdrops, falling hundreds of times over the years. I wonder if we can also say that moisten the things we long for the most: not to give up, not to be disappointed, but to ask God again with humility and fidelity.

Jesus wants us to. Because we come to a Father. Our Savior perfects our prayers. Fighting and resistance are normal. And persistence will bring an answer.

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