Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life. Of all the spiritual disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father. (Richard Foster)
All the “giants” of the faith were people of prayer.
Martin Luther declared;
“I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.”
John Wesley spent two hours every day in prayer.
Missionary David Brainerd often set apart entire days for fasting and prayer and wrote in his journal;
“I love to be alone in my cottage where I can spend much time in prayer.”
It was said of George Fox that “above all he excelled in prayer…The most awful, living, reverend frame I ever felt or beheld, I must say was his in prayer.”
Adoniram Judson withdrew from his work and from people seven times every day to spend time in prayer.
Missionary to India John Hyde made prayer such a dominant feature in his life that he was nicknamed “Praying Hyde.”
For these people, and many others, prayer was not something added on to their daily schedules. It wasn’t something they attempted to squeeze into their day, it was their primary business and their primary concern.
Yet no matter how impressive their prayer lives were, every one of them had to learn to pray.
Jesus’ disciples sad to Him in Luke 11:1; “Lord, teach us to pray.” These were devout men who had been praying all their lives and yet something about the prayer life of Jesus made them realize they had a lot to learn.
So many of us start out with a desire to pray and become discouraged immediately because our minds start to wander after just a few minutes or because we find ourselves feeling bored. Some feel like we run out of things to say or we even fall asleep.
We walk away from these experiences feeling guilty and frustrated and decide that we are simply not designed to be one of those “prayer warriors” we hear about in church or read about in books.
If we turn on our television set and there is no picture, do we suddenly decide that there is no such thing as TV or that we have one of those TV sets that just doesn’t work so we just need to forget about watching? No, we figure out what’s blocking the reception and we get the thing working again. Especially if it’s football season!
Remembering that prayer is something we learn to do will keep us from giving up. And the truth is, we are always learning to pray. I would guess that even those giants of the faith mentioned earlier would tell us that they were still learning what the prayer life was all about even when they were praying three hours every day. In fact, Brainerd often confessed in his diaries that many times he struggled to pray.
There’s a process I’ve discovered over the years of my journey with Christ that has helped me enormously when it comes to applying spiritual disciplines to my life.
- Desire: First we feel a stirring in our hearts that this is something we want to do.
- Decision: We then make a decision to actually do it.
- Discipline: Next we have to discipline ourselves to actually do the thing we have decided to do.
It is at this point that most of us give up. Discipline is never fun. In fact, it can be downright painful sometimes, but if we continue with this part of the process we make it to the next step.
- Delight: This is the part where we find such joy in what we are doing we want to participate in it all the time.
It’s because they made it through the discipline part of the process that people like Luther and Wesley and Brainerd and Judson spent hours and hours in prayer. They knew prayer as a delight.
There is nothing greater or more wonderful than knowing the God of the universe and part of knowing Him more fully is walking with Him in prayer, but as sinful, weak creatures, we have to learn to quiet our own flesh and learn to pray.