How important is prayer to you? When the apostle Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy there were many things on his mind he wanted to write about. He wanted to give instructions about how to organise the church with a godly and qualified leadership. He wanted to warn them about false teaching, He wanted Timothy to be a caring pastor, ensuring that the poor were well taken care of, and that the elderly were given proper respect, and that the rich would be warned not to be covetous.
But before doing all that, the first thing he did was to emphasise the need for prayer. “I exhort therefore, that first of all,…” The words “first of all” here means “above all things.” That indicates primacy of importance. Prayer must take an important place in the life of every believer and in the life of the church. Whatever you do, and no matter how busy you are, you should never forget to pray.
When the prophet Daniel knew that praying might cost him his life he continued to pray as he did before (Daniel 6:10). Nothing could prevent him from keeping his prayer time with God, not even a royal prohibition. Yet many today would readily sacrifice the time of prayer for other activities and self-centered interests.
Obstacles to Fervent Prayer
Since the Fall of man, sin has been the cause of separation between God and man “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8)
Sin is therefore the primary obstacle to prayer. “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1,2, cf. Psalm 66:18).
Sinners have no desire to pray because they do not know God, nor seek after Him. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19, cf. Romans 3:11) They would rather shy away from the Lord’s presence and keep themselves hidden from Him, than draw near to Him.
When God saves sinners through Jesus Christ, this natural aversion for God is replaced with a desire to seek God and pray to Him. “When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” (Psalm 27:8). “Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12,13)
Prayer is the expression of our fellowship with our heavenly Father. “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6) The desire to pray should be so natural to us, that if anyone who professes to be a Christian always has no desire to pray, it is doubtful that he is truly saved.
However, even born-again Christians face obstacles to prayer. We desire to pray, but find it difficult to maintain a life of fervent prayer. Why is this so?
Five Causes of a Poor Prayer Life
Some attribute their poor prayer life to disappointments. They prayed, but did not receive a favourable answer from the Lord. This is due to a wrong attitude to prayer – an attitude that is self-centered rather than God-centered. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3).
Some blame their lack of prayer on their busy schedule. They cannot find time to pray because of their many commitments at work, school, or home. This is due to the wrong order of priorities. As greater priority is given to other pursuits and concerns in life, prayer is gradually pushed down the list to the lowest level of priority.
Some find it difficult to pray because of wandering thoughts. This is due largely to a lack of self-discipline and insufficient preparation of heart (Job 11:13).
Some are not able to pray well because of ongoing relationship problems. According to 1 Peter 3:7, a husband’s prayers may be hindered if he is not dwelling with his wife according to knowledge and giving her the honour that is due to her.
Some experience seasons of spiritual dryness due to disobedience or unconfessed sins. “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” (Psalm 32:3,4)
Ten Steps to Prevent or Cure a Poor Prayer Life
- Make your prayers God-centered.
- Seek to accomplish God’s will, not your own. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9,10, cf. 26:42).
- Assign a high priority to prayer.
- “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:18) When something is important to you, you will always make time for it. The same principle applies to prayer.
- Be disciplined when you pray.
- “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41, cf. 1 Peter 4:7). Remove all sources of interruptions (e.g. Turn off your handphone). Do not rush into prayer. Spend a few moments to calm your mind and to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
- Be sure that you mean whatever you say in prayer.
- Do not just mouth the words and use the same stock phrases over and over again in your praying. “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8) Think carefully about everything that you say to God. (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
- Settle any relationship problems that may be hindering your prayer life.
- “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matthew 5:23,24) Do not harbour a bitter or unforgiving spirit against anyone.
- Confess your sins regularly.
- Do not allow them to accumulate and clog up your channel of communication with God. “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
- Cultivate a thankful spirit toward God.
- There are so many blessings that we take for granted: Health, well-being, safety, family, peace and stability. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
- Meditate on Bible verses on prayer.
- E.g. Jeremiah 33:3 – “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Write them down and place them in prominent places where you can see them and be reminded to pray.
- Keep a prayer journal or diary.
- Record whatever you prayed for and how it was answered. E.g. “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and He heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardest my voice.” (Jonah 2:2) Review it from time to time. Many of the psalms are recorded prayers.
- Keep company with brethren who pray.
- The more you associate with prayerful people, the more you will want to pray. “And it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
Dear Reader, please ask yourself now: “Is my prayer life all that it should be?” If it is not, do not delay to apply the above steps. It is worth having a fervent prayer life – you will experience not only the joy of answered prayer, but also an exciting, intimate walk with God.
Reflect: Let this be a goal in the new year, as we tarry onwards in our various vocations, let us not neglect our prayer life, for it is vital in every Christian’s spiritual walk.