Pray like you mean it.


We finished off our church’s Prayer Week yesterday afternoon with a wonderful time of praise to the Lord through song and testimonies, followed by worship at the Lord’s Table. There are times when my heart just melts as I stand before our congregation as they sing full-hearted praise to the Lord. We closed the praise service with “My Jesus, Fair”, a song which our congregation has come to love very much. The last verse is absolutely powerful as it proclaims the triumph of Jesus Christ—“My Jesus, strong, shall come to reign, to reign in majesty—the Lamb arose and death is slain. Lord, come in victory!” What a glorious day that will be.

Yesterday morning we spent time thinking about three prayers recorded in the OT. Two of them were by Hezekiah (Isaiah 37 and 38) and the third by Nehemiah (1:4-11). The specific focus of our attention was the way in which each man framed his petition before God; specifically that they joined reasons for God to answer to their requests. They were earnestly seeking God about a matter that they considered very important, so they boldly expressed its importance to God.

I’ll not re-preach the message here, but I do want to lay out three possible reasons why I think we, in our day, don’t pray like these men prayed: (1) spiritual—we don’t sense the seriousness of our situation like they did; (2) theological—we don’t genuinely believe that prayer makes a difference in the outcome of things; and/or (3) methodological—we have learned bad habits of prayer that reduce it to something like reading a list to God attached to a few “bless them” and “be with them” type prayer clichés.

The main focus I intended for the sermon was to address the third problem. The other two are vitally important problems to be faced, but unless we move on to the third we will almost never pray the way we ought to pray. I’m burdened about the state of prayer among contemporary believers (which includes me!) in that it seems that a lot of our praying is so lifeless and cold. It can almost seem, at times, as if we don’t really care whether we receive the things for which we are asking. I should be clear about the fact that this is not unique to our day. Consider what Charles Haddon Spurgeon had to say in the 19th century about his day:

a great many people play at praying, it is nothing better. I say they play at praying, they do not expect God to give them an answer, and thus they are mere triflers, who mock the Lord. He who prays in a business-like way, meaning what he says, honors the Lord. The Lord did not play at promising, Jesus did not sport at confirming the word by His blood, and we must not make a jest of prayer by going about it is a listless unexpecting spirit (“Pleading,” in Twelve Sermons on Prayer, p. 51).

His concern is mine. I define pleading with God in prayer as fervently presenting our requests before God along with reasons for God to answer those requests. Requests plus reasons. Too often we simply run through a list of requests, but don’t take time to talk with God about the reasons we are asking for these things. Unless we are praying in a completely mindless way, we have reasons, so it is important that we express them in prayer.

Why is it important to join reasons to our requests? It is tied to the very nature of prayer. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines of prayer as “an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” The front end of that has two parts: “our desires” and “things agreeable to his will.” If we don’t truly desire the things we seek from God, then our prayer lacks sincerity. If we desire things that are contrary to God’s will or without regard for God’s will, then our prayer lacks integrity.

Identifying the reasons which support our request pushes us to subject our desires to the light of God’s Word. This can have the effect of purifying and intensifying them. We are more confident that what we seek is in line with God’s revealed will, and that ought to stir us to seek it more fervently. It produces more thoughtful, focused praying, and focus is an essential aspect of fervency in prayer.

Let me encourage you, therefore, to consider whether you need to slow down your prayer life a little in order to deepen and strengthen it. Instead of running down your prayer list in order to make it quickly through, pause to think about what exactly it is that you’re seeking from the Lord and why, based on Scripture, you are seeking it from Him. Make specific, meaningful requests that spring from God-centered, Scripture-saturated reasons.

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