Jesus left his work to pray for lengthy periods of time. In Mark 1, his disciples had to go find him while he was praying and they seemed to think Jesus had more important things to do when they said: “Everyone is looking for you” (1:37). Sometimes I struggle with the mindset that my other ministries should be allowed to crowd out my prayer life.
Apparently, Jesus’ prayer life was so interesting to the disciples that they asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Lk 11:1). They might have asked him to teach them how to teach, how to heal people, how to speak with power, or how to do a number of things that Jesus did well, but something interested them about the prayer life of the man Christ Jesus. Needless to say, he taught them in the verses following.
I think there are lots of bad resources out there on prayer. Any type of name it and claim it mentality seems to me to be entirely unbiblical. I don’t think that God has put himself under any compulsion to fulfill our selfish desires.
Sometimes it can be difficult to believe that prayer is actually effective in changing the way God acts. Since we know that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass, it can seem to take the power out of prayer. Not so. Didn’t God say he would wipe Israel out and raise up a new Israel out of Moses? Then Moses fervently prayed and persuaded God to change his course. Didn’t God tell Hezekiah that he would die in his illness? “Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (Is 38:2-3). And God added 15 years to his life. In James, we have a startling admonition to pray:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:13-18)
These biblical examples are paradoxical to some people who consider them alongside the biblical teachings on predestination. A paradox is an apparent contradiction; a charlyhorse between the ears (to quote Gordon Clark). If this is a paradox to you, I do not think you should be content to live with such a paradox. It may cripple your prayer life, or cause you to reject the biblical teaching on predestination, or simply live confused on both issues. It is not as if God has not revealed the truth on these issues. Delve into the biblical material and let the Holy Spirit guide you into the truth. Don’t doubt the clarity of the Word, just admit that the problem has more complications than you thought (as does most any other problem). Seeking to understand God’s revelation can also present great motivation to pray because, no one can give us the right interpretation but the Holy Spirit, so we need to ask Him for it.
I found this resource on books about prayer. Books I Recommend: Prayer by Tim Challies. I have particularly benefitted from listening to the Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers on audio in the car. Most of these prayers are good examples of how we can pray effectively (although there are a few counterexamples in the mix). There is also a good music album out by Sovereign Grace Ministries called The Valley of Vision which puts some of these prayers to music. I do not give it my 5 stars for artistic style, although some of it is quite artistic, but it has my 5 stars for potential to be used by the Holy Spirit to draw willing believers into prayer and meditation on the meat of the Word of God.
If you have a mind for the deep things, possibly consult the considerably funkier teachings of Stanley Kirk Burrell found in his song: “Pray (We Gotta Pray Just To Make It Today)”
In addition, John Calvin’s discussion of prayer in Book 3 Chapter 20 of The Institutes of Christian Religion has been a useful resource for me in understanding the basic principles of prayer and of how the Christian should approach the Lord through prayer.
Prayer is a rich and deep practice which is commanded by God and is a privilege that we may take advantage of through Christ. I believe many, if not all of us, have much to learn. If you have any additional resources you recommend on this vital issue, please comment on this post and explain why you recommend what you recommend.