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“Many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focused on praying, not on God”

~ Paul Miller, A Praying Life

“In the Irish Revival of 1859, people became so weak that they could not get back to their homes. Men and women would fall by the wayside and would be found hours later pleading with God to save their souls. They felt that they were slipping into hell and that nothing else in life mattered but to get right with God… To them eternity meant everything. Nothing else was of any consequence. They felt that if God did not have mercy on them and save them, they were doomed for all time to come.”

~ Oswald Smith

by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813 – 1843)

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a nineteenth-century Church of Scotland minister revered for the depth of his piety. Upon hearing him preach, a listener once wrote, “I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before.”1 He served two churches, including St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, before dying at age 29.

Upon M’Cheyne’s death, ministerial colleague Andrew Bonar published a biography that included many of his manuscripts and letters. Taken from that work, this selection illustrates his determination to fight sin through spiritual disciplines. It shows the intensity with which this servant of God craved communion with his Heavenly Father.

I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, and then have family prayer, and breakfast, and forenoon callers, often it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ rose before day, and went into a solitary place. David says, ‘Early will I seek Thee; Thou shalt early hear my voice.’ Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre while it was yet dark. Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness; and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then, when secret prayer comes, the soul is often out of tune. I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see his face first—to get my soul near him before it is near another. ‘When I awake I am still with Thee.’

If I have slept too long, or am going [on] an early journey, or my time is any way shortened, it is best to dress hurriedly, and have a few minutes alone with God, than to give it up for lost.

For the rest of the post…

Prayer_2Here are ten reminders for pastors about the vital need to cultivate their personal prayer life, as articulated by notable ministers from church history.

1. True effectiveness in ministry comes not through methods, but through prayer.

A. C. Dixon: When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do, and so on. Nor am I disposed to undervalue any of these things in their proper place, but when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.

Source: A. C. Dixon. Cited from John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, 71.

D. L. Moody: Those who have left the deepest impression on this sin-cursed earth have been men and women of prayer.

Source: D. L. Moody, Great Preaching on Prayer, 8:119.

E. M. Bounds: What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men and women whom the Holy Ghost can use — people of prayer, people mighty in prayer.

Source: E. M. Bounds, The Classic Collection on Prayer, 584.

* * * * *

2. A pastor’s prayer-life is indicative of the state of his walk with the Lord.

John Owen: A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.

Source: John Owen. Cited from I. D. E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury, 192.

Charles Spurgeon: I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.

Source: Charles Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 41:518.

* * * * *

3. Prayer is a vital means of sanctification.

J. C. Ryle: Prayer and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.

Source: J. C. Ryle, Home Truths, 114.

John R. W. Stott: To pray is not only to be truly godly; it is also to be truly human. For here are human beings, made by God like God and for God, spending time in fellowship with God. So prayer is an authentic activity in itself, irrespective of any benefits it may bring us. Yet it is also one of the most effective of all means of grace. I doubt if anybody has ever become at all Christ-like who has not been diligent in prayer.

Source: John R. W. Stott, Christian Basics, 128.

* * * * *

4. Neglect in prayer leads to vulnerability in temptation.

J. C. Ryle: Bibles read without prayer; sermons heard without prayer; marriages contracted without prayer; journeys undertaken without prayer; residences chosen without prayer; friendships formed without prayer; the daily act of prayer itself hurried over, or gone through without heart: these are the kind of downward steps by which many a Christian descends to a condition of spiritual palsy, or reaches the point where God allows them to have a tremendous fall.

Source: J. C. Ryle, Practical Religion, 70–71.

John Owen: If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. Let this be one aspect of our daily intercession: “God, preserve my soul, and keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled.” When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not overcome us. We will remain free while others lie in bondage.

Source: John Owen, Triumph Over Temptation, 165.

Charles Spurgeon (in a letter to his young son): One of my sweetest joys is to hear that a spirit of prayer is in your school, and that you participate in it. To know that you love the Lord and are mighty in prayer would be my crowning joy; the hope that you do so already is a happy one to me. I should like you to preach; but it is best that you pray; many a preacher has proved a castaway, but never one who has truly learned to pray.

Source: Charles Spurgeon. Cited from Charles Ray, The Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 381.

* * * * *

5. Busyness is never a valid excuse for neglecting prayer.

Martin Luther: Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.

 

March 22, 2016


Walk Away from the World to Pray

We’re straining to make “Holy Tuesday” special, aren’t we? On Palm Sunday we hail our King, on Maundy Thursday we relish in the obedience of Jesus, on Friday we commemorate his death, and on Sunday we celebrate new life and victory and the death of death.

But Tuesday? If we sit in this Tuesday for a moment, long enough for our ears to stop ringing from the celebration of Palm Sunday, Tuesday may grab us by the collar and give us something unexpected — something only Holy Tuesday can give.

Jesus is teaching theology in Jerusalem each day this week, and Tuesday is “Eschatology Day.” The temple will be destroyed (Luke 21:5–9), there will be many terrible apocalyptic events (Luke 21:10–24), Jerusalem will fall, the people will suffer twisted violence, families will be ripped apart. “There will be . . . people fainting with fear” (Luke 21:25–26).

Jesus breaks the fourth wall, reaches out of the pages of Scripture, grabs our jaw, and forces us to look at him: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34).

Tuesday’s Odd Gift

And then. Tuesday gives us its peculiar gift,

Every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. (Luke 21:37–38)

Jesus and the disciples were walking straight toward the jagged cleft of tragedy. They were running into trauma, into chaos, into sadness, into the hungry jaws of their cruel weekend. Certainly Jesus would be consumed with the busyness of his final week of life. But oddly, he chooses to commute to a place that is later said by Luke to be “a Sabbath day’s journey away” (Acts 1:12). Jesus didn’t get an apartment in the city. He didn’t room at the conference center. Even though he taught “early in the morning,” he chose to commute to do his common work from an inconvenient and an uncommon place. Why?

Jesus spent his Tuesday night on Olivet. Actually, Jesus went to Olivet every night. But it is in telling us about his Tuesday that Luke tells us his sleeping arrangements “at night.” Jesus elected this commute — even though it’s long enough, and even though he teaches early, and even though he faces certain death in a matter of days.

That Tuesday gives us three reels of lost footage on the life of Jesus.

Tuesday’s Pictured Hope

Imagine travelling back in time to June 5, 1944 — the day before the Invasion of Normandy Beach — and standing on the beach. Feel the sand in your toes. Look out over the Atlantic Ocean, at the sunset. Turn and look at the German armaments and weaponry behind you. Tomorrow, this is where it will happen. This is where history will turn, at the cost of thousands of lives. Today, it is just a protected beach. But tomorrow, it will change the course of history.

Olivet is the eschatological Normandy: “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east. . . . Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him” (Zechariah 14:4–5). This is where Jesus chooses to overnight. You can envision Jesus, teary-eyed, looking into the stars. This is all worth it. One day, I’ll come from there, and I’ll have my beloved with me. Ah yes, my sheep, my holy ones, my bride.

It is remarkable what quietly happens here at Olivet. The “last thing” that Jesus did on his last day of earthly eschatology teaching (Tuesday) is fall asleep on the very mount to which one day he will return. And Luke, for reasons we can imagine, finds that important to include — Jesus camps on what will be God’s own epic conflict with Satan. He returns, night after night: “but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet” (Luke 21:37).

Tuesday’s Practiced Peace

Jesus must have drawn strength from Olivet. Luke later appeals to Jesus’s commute as the habit that spins him into prayer in Gethsemane,

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed. (Luke 22:39–41)

Olivet was the place to which Jesus retired to find hope in God. It was the place where it was all going to end.

For the rest of the post…

“Revivals begin with God’s own people; the Holy Spirit touches their heart anew, and gives them new fervor and compassion, and zeal, new light and life, and when He has thus come to you, He next goes forth to the valley of dry bones! Oh, what responsibility this lays on the Church of God! If you grieve Him away from yourselves, or hinder His visit, then the poor perishing world suffers sorely!”
~ Andrew Bonar

February 19, 2016


I remember singing this old hymn in church when I was growing up:

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

As a kid, I didn’t think very much about the words. Now I’m thinking a lot about them. They make a huge claim. And if true, they make a huge claim on us.

But are they true? Or are they just naive, simplistic Christian cliché? Do they hold up under the real world weight of complex pain we suffer in the varied afflictions we endure?

All Because We Do Not

To test its truthfulness, we need to peal back the poetic skin and see if it has a Scriptural skeletal structure. And as it turns out, it does:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)

God’s amazing promise to us through Paul is the power behind the hymn’s simple poetry.

And the promise really is amazing! We must not let the familiarity of these verses make us dull to their edge. God is promising us peace in everything and freedom from controlling anxiety! Peace is ours for the taking.

So if we don’t have the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds, it’s all because we do not . . . do something God calls us to do.

Carry Everything to God in Prayer

The wonderful thing is that what God calls us to do is easy! His is an easy yoke, a light burden (Matthew 11:30). He’s calling us to pray.

And what is prayer? Prayer is asking our generous heavenly Father for whatever it is we wish (Luke 11:13; John 15:7), trusting that he will answer with whatever we need (Luke 11:10; Philippians 4:19). It is casting our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

But the only problem with bearing this easy yoke of asking God in faith for what we need is that we often find it hard. And what we find hard about praying is believing God — believing that it’s making any real difference.

Prayer is the native language of faith. That’s why a soul full of trust in God finds prayer almost effortless. But a soul full of doubt finds prayer a heavy burden. Prayerlessness is the muteness of unbelief.

An accurate gauge of our level of faith is how and how much we pray. A growing prayerful dependence on God is evidence of our growing spiritual maturity. And the more we pray in faith in everything, the more we experience the peace of God.

The Secret to Prayerful Dependence: Resting on the Faithful One

Why do we find faith so frequently difficult and therefore prayer such a labor? And what is the secret to realizing the promised peace Paul wrote about and experiencing what it means to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)?

Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China, struggled with this very issue. Here’s how he described his struggle:

I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?

Then he experienced a breakthrough that changed his life:

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from [his missionary colleague, John] McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never know it before. McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure but saw the light before I did, wrote: “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read, I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.” “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more.” (Spiritual Secret, 261)

The key for Taylor was that he stopped focusing on trying to exercise more faith and instead he looked to Jesus, “the Faithful One,” as revealed in the written word. While his focus had been on his lack of faith and trying to work it up, he was miserable. But when his focus turned to the fullness of Jesus, he discovered the peace surpassing understanding.

Faith is not a muscle that we need to pump up in order to be strong enough to trust Jesus. Faith is our response to what we perceive as trustworthy. The more trustworthy, solid, stable, dependable, unfailing, and secure something appears to us, the greater our trust or faith in it will be. When our faith is weak, it’s an indicator that our focus is on the wrong thing.

Taylor’s refocusing transformed him. For the rest of his life he was marked by the peace of God and a remarkable freedom from anxiety. It bore up under the real world weight of his excessive labors, financial stress, frequent dangers, disease, the deaths of his wives and children and colleagues — the sort of difficulties that Paul knew (2 Corinthians 11:23–28).

For the rest of the post…

“The greatest thing anyone can do for God or man is pray.”

~ S.D. Gordon

“Every mighty move of the Spirit of God has had its source in the prayer chamber.”

~ E.M. Bounds

Oswald Chambers

“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.”
Oswald Chambers
May 2016
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