How important is prayer?
If you want to know how important prayer is, ask the following people:
- A student sitting down to take a final exam that needs a passing grade.
- The wife who’s husband is battling cancer.
- A parent who’s child is making bad decisions.
- The child who’s parent is strung out on drugs.
- An employee who’s company was just bought out.
- The couple who is struggling to pay the bills.
- The husband who’s wife in cheating.
- A Christian who’s trying to figure out God’s will.
- The Son of God who prayed to His Father while he walked the earth.
Prayer should not be our last resort
Too often we treat prayer as our “last resort” when we are in trouble and have no way out. How would our lives be different if, instead, prayer was our constant, every-day routine that we started with every morning? In the book, The God Who Hears, by W. Bingham Hunter, he writes:
In contrast to Jesus, most of us are too busy coping with existence to see prayer as vital or essential. But life could be more simple. An older car, a less trendy wardrobe, reupholstered rather than replaced furniture, a little less meat on the table—changes like this could reduce the need for so much income and perhaps provide more time for prayer. Part of the reason Jesus had time and energy to pray the way he did was the simplicity of his life.
He owned next to nothing and invested his life in people, ideas, conversations and relationships. He viewed success quite differently than we usually do. And he viewed whatever he did as God’s work. These are thoughts worth pondering . . . even if they are also threatening. Who are you really in love with? Is it God? Your spouse? Your children? Friends? Success? Your image? Where is your treasure? There is you heart also. Prayer is basically a matter of priorities, isn’t it? (The God Who Hears, pp. 189-90)
The Role of Prayer in Jesus’ life and ministry
Prayer played a crucial role in Jesus; life and ministry. He was constantly in tune with His Father. In fact, He thought prayer so important that he taught and insisted that His disciples follow His example. If Jesus, the Son of God, thought prayer was important – if He found the need to pray – how much more important should it be for us? Jesus was a man of prayer – and we should be a people of prayer. From His example, we can learn three important aspects of prayer to help us develop a stronger, more intimate prayer life with our Heavenly Father.
Begin the day with prayer
Time with the Father
In Mark 1:35, we learn that Jesus got up early – long before sunrise. He wasn’t praying a quick prayer as he donned his robe and headed out for the day to do His work. He wan’t praying as He quickly walked down the highway on the way to the place He would work on that day. Nor was He uttering some memorized prayer that involved very little heart-felt words. Instead, He got up early – long before sunrise because He wanted to spend time with His Father.
Relationship with the Father
Prayer is about a relationship. The Son of God left the glory of heaven to come to a world we broke with our sin and rebelliousness. He came with a very difficult task and mission – to pay the penalty for our sin. At this point in Jesus’ life, he was approximately 30 years old and he had just begun his public ministry the day before. Prior to this, He could have slipped away to a quiet spot to prayer rather easily, but in his first day of ministry we find that he called four fishermen to follow Him, cast out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and healed many other people. In fact, in Mark 1:33 it says, “And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.”
Work like that doesn’t stay quiet for long. So while the city slept, Jesus prayed. He longed to have some time with His Father.
Think about someone who you are very close to – a sister, friend, parent, grandparent. Now think about a time when life was busy and you long to have some time to spend with this person. Have you ever longed to spend time with your Heavenly Father like that?
Why pray in the morning?
Are prayers more likely to be answered when we get up early to pray? No. There is nothing in the Bible that points to morning being the only time that acceptable to pray. You are no better of Christian because you got up before the sun to pray. In the Bible we find that Daniel prayed three times a day, the book of Psalms is full of prayer offered at night. In Acts 27, Paul prayed before a meal. And in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are told to “pray without ceasing.” Yet, there is value to starting your day with prayer and gives us a proper perspective on the day. Here are some of the benefits to starting your day with prayer:
- Begin each day with a clean slate as we confess our sins and receive forgiveness
- Brings our focus in alignment with God’s.
- Sets our attention on God.
- Puts our priorities in the right order
- Provides guidance for God’s plan and will for our lives
- Gives us strength to handle what the day brings
- Places our dependence on God rather than on yourself.
Pray without distraction
Recently, as I was driving home from the office, it was the time of day that the sun was in the best possible position to be right in my eyes as I’m driving down the interstate. For a few seconds, all I could see was sun. I felt like I was driving blind. Instantly, my thought was, “God, I can’t see anything – but you can see everything so steer this car or please move the sun.” About that time, some trees along the side of the road came between me and the sun and I could see the road again. I don’t think I’d ever been so thankful for trees before. Prayers like that, I call “may-day” prayers. Short, one-sentenced prayers uttered in a moment of panic, need, or desperation. But if our prayer life is nothing but may-day prayers, we don’t develop a relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Think for a moment about your relationship with your spouse or a close friend. If you are trying to tell them something very important but they are glued to their phone on social media, what happens to your relationship with that person? If this is a pattern that occurs often, you begin to feel like you don’t matter to that person or that what you have to say is important enough for them to put the phone down and listen. God has something very important to say to you – every day. But once the day gets going, it is full of distractions and it’s very difficult to talk to a distracted person.
Pray in a solitary place
As Jesus got up early to pray, he went to a solitary place. A place without distractions. So, He got up before anyone else, quietly got dressed, tip-toed through the house, carefully opened the door and quietly closing it behind him then hurried through the quiet streets of Capernaum to a hill outside of town – and there He met His heavenly Father.
Have you ever noticed that when you finally find time to pray that it’s right then the kids need some TP in the back bathroom or the phone rings or the news interrupts with a breaking headline story or the dryer lets you know the clothes are done, or the kids are arguing over a toy, and your spouse picks that moment to tell you his mother is coming for a week-long visit. Satan will use the distractions of everyday life to keep us from praying.
We must be intentional in setting aside a time every day to spend time with our Father. Getting up before the rest of the house, while everything is still quiet and there are no demands on your time and attention is a great way to be able to pray without distractions. Where is your place of solitude? What is your time without distractions? Be intentional in setting aside that time every day to meet God in your place of solitude.
Can’t I pray anywhere?
Yes – and please do. However, when we meet with God in a place of solitude, we are able to engage with our heavenly Father in a much deeper and intense way then when we pray on the subway or while driving on the interstate or at the office. Our prayer should include our adoration of our Father, confession of our sins, offering thanks for God’s provision and answered prayers, and our requests that we ask of Him. Each of these can be emotional. We can feel awe, reverence, praise, humility, sorrow, desperation, confusion, and more.
In Hebrews 5:7, we find Paul wrote, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Prayer is about doing spiritual business with God and you can’t do that at the level you need to with distractions all around you. It requires retreating to a solitude place where there is only you and God.
Prayer is our source for strength
Prayer is how we stay the course with life gets crazy. Jesus’ popularity grew overnight. As Peter awoke and found Jesus gone, he began to search for him. (verse 36) When he finds Jesus, he says, “Everyone is looking for you!” Peter wasn’t just looking for Jesus – he was “in hot pursuit.” If we were to put it in our words today, it might go something like:
“Hey Jesus! There you are! What in the world are you doing out here all alone? Everyone is awake and looking for you. You need to come do some of that healing stuff and casting out demons. They are all waiting for you. After your performance last night, we are off to a great start. But the crowd is going to move on to something else if you don’t hurry back.”
Jesus knew that fame didn’t equal success. In fact, at times, fame can be a stumbling block. If we are not careful, we can allow our egos to take over and our motivation for ministry and serving God becomes about dollars, notoriety, the next book deal, the next speaking gig. If we aren’t careful we will cease pointing people to Christ and instead point them to where they can purchase our book or fill out the online form for us to come speak at their church. And if we aren’t careful the song we sing in church ceases to be heartfelt worship and instead becomes about the praise people give us at the end of the service.
Prayer helps keep our focus on God
Perhaps, this is why Jesus got up early and escaped to a solitary place to pray. While the Bible doesn’t record the words he prayed, we do know that Jesus was tempted in every way we are and fame and fortune is definitely a temptation. So perhaps his prayer was to remain focused on the task he came to accomplish. It could have been very easy for Jesus to ride the wave of popularity rather than walking the path of suffering and death.
Prayer helps guide our decisions and choices
Life is hard and everyday we are presented with choices. How will I obey Him? How will I honor Him with my words in this situation? Will I choose to serve rather than be served? How will I keep my focus on what God is calling me to do? The only way to get the answers to such questions is on our knees in prayer. And Satan will do anything He can to keep us distracted without enough time in the day to pray. He will also fill your mind with the lie that says, “I’m too busy to pray.” If you are, then your priorities are out of whack.
But within the 24 hours of the day we always manage to find the time to do the things that we really want to do. It’s like a child who doesn’t want to eat their vegetables. The child says, “I’m full.” So you say, “Do you want some ice cream?” The child replies, “Yes!” And you say, “Then I guess you’re not too full to eat your vegetables.” Prayer is the same way. If you really want to spend time with your heavenly Father, then you’ll make the time. Our actions will reveal just how important we believe prayer to be. If prayer for you works like the “Bat-phone” that you pick up in a crisis, then you’re missing out on a relationship with your Father. If prayer for you works like a bottle you rub, then God is just a magical genie to you.
But what if you got up early – long before the sunrise – and got away to a solitude, distraction-free zone and spent time with your heavenly Father?
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For America to see revival, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says we are to seek God’s face. Jeremiah tells us that we will find Him when we search for Him with all our hearts.
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