It’s crazy to me that someone who is a self-described prayer failure has written not one but two books about prayer. Over the years, I’ve realized that most of us, if we’re honest, feel like prayer failures. We just aren’t sure what or how to pray. And, for many people, that means our prayer life isn’t nearly as strong as other areas.
But here’s what I’m finding, the older I get — our spiritual life is only as strong as our prayer life. Prayer is the foundation of everything else we do. It’s the necessary start of our spiritual growth. Because prayer is all about two things:
acknowledging God’s glory and recognizing my need
So often we forget that prayer is always primarily focused on God. We get caught up listing our desires and our wants and our needs. We may toss in a few “thank yous” and even a word or two of adoration. But, mostly, our prayers can be a one-way conversation about our favorite topic — us.
So how do we change that? How do we move from a shallow, self-centered prayer life into the depths of intimate communing with our Father?
WHEN PRAYER GOES DEEP
A few months ago, I was invited to teach one of the Sunday school classes at my church. This particular class is largely made up of men and women who are at least fifteen years older than me. Which is, they are all at least 65 years old.
They asked me to speak on what makes powerful prayer. And I really had to think about that. What does make powerful prayer? And is there some way we can grow in confidence in prayer? And what could I tell them they didn’t already know?
As I prepared for the class, I spent a lot of time studying the Model Prayer from Matthew 6. These words of Christ offer great direction for praying with purpose and confidence.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,Matthew 6:5-15 ESV
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, ut if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
As we look at these familiar verses, I think we can discover five key traits of deeper prayer:
1. Expectation of Prayer
In verse five, we see there is a clear expectation that we will be praying. Perhaps part of the reason why our prayers lack power is that we don’t do it enough. Consistent, routine prayer is a vital aspect of a maturing believer’s life.
2. Environment of Prayer
While there are those who pray in order to be seen, Jesus instructs us not to be that way. Rather to find a quiet space, a hidden place of prayer. Personal prayer is intended to be an intimate experience shared with the Father. We must be mindful to guard carefully our times of private prayer, seeking opportunities to pray fervently in our secret places.
3. Confidence in Prayer
Twice in these verses Jesus reminds us that the Father is aware of us. He sees our personal devotion and rewards our consistent, hidden faithfulness (verse 6). Not only does He see us, in verse eight, Jesus reminds us that God knows all we need, even before we have asked. We can have complete confidence in our prayers because our Father provides for us fully.
4. Components of Prayer
As we move into the model prayer, we discover there are four specific areas where Jesus prayed.
- Worship (verse 9) — Jesus began His prayer with recognition of Who God. So too must we make sure our adoration and honoring of God has priority in our prayers. There is no such thing as too much time spent in worship of the One who was and is and is to come.
- Submission (verse 10) — We realize the sovereignty of God as we worship Him which should lead us to a place of humble submission to His work and will in our own lives.
- Provision (verse 11) — Because we know God is aware of our needs, we can trust Him to provide for us. We honor Him by asserting our belief that He is our provider, both of the daily physical needs in our lives but also the spiritual needs we have.
- Confession (verses 12-13) — The result of our worship and submission and awareness of His provision for us is rightly confession of our own sin and our need for Him to deliver us from the temptations in our lives. If we long for our prayer life to grow deeper and more vibrant, we must recognize our confessional life will also become more honest.
5. Condition of the Pray-er
In verses 14 and 15 we discover this important truth: Forgiveness isn’t option for the believer who desires intimacy with the Lord. Just as He has given us grace we do not deserve, so too must we be willing to forgive others and extend grace. Our vertical relationship with the Lord is directly impacted by our horizontal relationships with others. Forgiveness is a vital part of both relationships. Scripture can not be more clear — we receive forgiveness in relation to the way we extend forgiveness.
So what does that tell us about developing a vibrant, deep prayer life? I hope what you see is this — God longs for us to know Him deeply, to grow in intimacy with Him. But this doesn’t happen in a bubble. Our prayers are directly impacted by our relationships with others. Which is why Jesus said the greatest commandment involves both — loving God and loving others.
If you want your prayer life to grow, you must be committed to consistent, intentional prayer and you also must be determined to live in right relationships with the people in your life. There is no short cut. But it is worth it!