|Vol. 16 No. 11 November 2014||
Gary C. Hampton
A good friend of mine once told me of an experience that changed his life. It seems he had played an important role in organizing an annual youth rally. Each year, the rally continued to grow in attendance. Then, one year he got so wrapped up in the details that he forgot to pray. The day of the youth rally arrived and the crowds were far below expectations. His first instinct was to blame God, but then he remembered he had not included Him in the plans. He immediately went into a room alone, got down on his knees and asked God to forgive him. He then asked God to bring about whatever good possible within the group assembled. My friend told me that was the best youth rally of all. The young people seemed to get deeper into the studies conducted and numbers of them responded to the Lord’s invitation. He said from then on he tried to always begin planning by going to God in prayer!
The lesson learned from that youth rally is one I need to remember every day of my life. It is important for me to take time to pray. Yet, as I hurry from place to place trying to fulfill all of my commitments, there just does not seem to be a convenient time to pray. Daniel’s solution was to set aside three specific times each day for prayer. In fact, so dedicated was Daniel to that routine that his enemies tried to use it to destroy him. They got the king to say no one could petition any god or man other than King Darius for 30 days. “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10). For Daniel, prayer was a part of his daily routine. I find it much easier to pray when I make prayer a habit in terms of setting aside special times for prayer.
When the crowds kept our Lord busy from sunrise to dark, He got up long before daylight so He could commune with His Father (Mark 1:35). Rather than saying I need to develop a more meaningful prayer life someday, I need to plan a time right now and keep my appointment with my loving, Heavenly Father!
Besides setting aside specific times to pray, it would be good for me to pray in a private place. As we have already seen, Jesus got up long before daylight, “departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). On another occasion, Matthew tells us, “And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray. And when evening had come, He was alone there” (14:23). During the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord instructed:
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5-6)
Public prayer certainly has its place (1 Timothy 2:8). However, it can be even more important to recognize the value of private prayer. Jesus wanted the three disciples to watch with Him while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wanted them near, yet, He wanted to be alone. Such circumstances allow me to talk with my Creator and Father about the most personal things. It gives me an opportunity to pour out all of the doubts and fears, as well as private sins, which may be hindering me from doing my utmost in service to Him!
Setting aside the time and place for prayer will prove ineffective if I do not believe God will provide an answer. In a reassuring song, the singer of Israel said, “The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing” (Psalm 34:10). Jesus promised His disciples, “And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24). James stressed the importance of belief in his epistle to the scattered first century Christians.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).
Of course, I have to pray for the right reason. James later wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (4:3).
During a class discussion on prayer, two other useful suggestions were put forth by class members. First, it is good to make specific requests in our prayers to God. Paul requested that the Colossian church ask God to give him an opportunity to preach the Gospel. He also wanted them to ask God to speak in the right way, walk wisely around unbelievers and use his time well (4:3-5). Second, it is good to develop a prayer list. Children are particularly good at this in the prayers before bed. It is not unusual for them to include every family member they can think of as well as pets and dolls! After reading Paul’s letters to various churches and individuals, it appears he too had a list (Romans 1:8-10; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:15-16; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2 Timothy 1:3-4; Philemon 1:4).
Like most other people, no matter where I have travelled, I have always wanted to stay in touch with those I love. For the Christian, that certainly ought to include our Father. So, I need to set aside times to pray. It may be helpful to do a portion of my praying in a private place so I can talk openly to God. Too, I must believe He will hear and answer or my prayers will be ineffective. To be even more effective, it is good to make specific requests of God and develop a list of people and things that you want to be sure to take before the throne.