By Chuck Griffin
Philippians 4:6 (NLT): Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
Like Scripture, prayer is an extremely broad subject. Again, we are talking about a many-layered discipline, one with more depth to it than we can hope to explore in a lifetime.
Prayer takes time, and that causes us to shy away from a deep commitment to it. And yet, prayer also seems to interact with time in mysterious ways, making other moments more fruitful.
In one of his great sermons, “Degrees of Power Attending the Gospel,” C.H. Spurgeon spoke in 1865 of how important the “spirit of prayerfulness” was in his church, Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.
“Let me entreat you never to lose it,” he said. Later in the sermon, Spurgeon exhorted his congregation this way: “Let us increase our praying as we increase our doing. I like that of Martin Luther, when he says, ‘I have so much business to do today, that I shall not be able to get through it with less than three hours’ prayer.’ Now most people would say, ‘I have so much business to do today, that I must only have three minutes’ prayer—I cannot afford the time.’ But Luther thought that the more he had to do the more he must pray, or else he could not get through it. That is a blessed kind of logic—may we understand it!”
Like so many spiritual activities, the only way we can understand prayer is to actually pray. If we over-intellectualize the process, seeking to understand everything before we begin, we will never give this work of piety the time it deserves.
Prayer is very much about submitting ourselves to the will of God. Too often, we see prayer as our effort to get God to do what we want, when instead we first need to be sure we are aligned with what God wants. For me, anyway, it has been important to get to a place where I’m allowing the Spirit to enter.
I am far from being an expert on prayer. All I can do is offer what has helped me as a person who has struggled with sustained prayer through the years. I certainly make sure to praise God in prayer and lift up petitions, but I have become more comfortable with prayer as I’ve combined it with Christian meditation, a deliberate effort to set my shallow desires aside so God can shape me.
I will not go into great detail about this meditative aspect of prayer—your details may differ from mine. I will say that location, posture and breathing are important. The place of prayer must be quiet and feel connected to God. The posture needs to be reverent and submissive, but also comfortable enough to not be distracting. The breathing needs to be slow, deep and deliberate.
If you feel the need to be led through prayer, there are all sorts of guides, ancient and modern, and many of them build in time for meditation or reflection. “A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God,” by Norman Shawchuck and Rueben P. Job, is one of my favorites. Combining prayer with Scripture, which go together like ice cream and hot fudge, this particular guide keeps me in the flow of the lectionary, used in particular by some preachers as they work their way through the church season.
As you commit to a deeper prayer life, promise me this: Expect something big to happen. You may find yourself shaken into a bold new life—for an example, see Acts 4:23-31.
That’s the kind of prayer experience that changes not just us, but the world around us.
Lord, bless us with a deep desire to pray, and bless us continually as we pray. Amen.