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If we had as many answers to prayer as we have books on prayer the
battle would be won. Unfortunately it is easier to write a book on
prayer than to pray effectively. It is easier to preach a sermon on
prayer than to pray. It is easier to give a lecture on prayer than to
pray. It is easier to do just about anything concerning prayer than to
actually pray well and wisely.
The reason this is so is because we have not taken Christ as our
guide to prayer, and have tried to follow men who claim to be experts,
but who have made the matter of such complexity that it is too
discouraging, and we lose our motivation. If we went into a library
and found a dozen volumes on how to order a hamburger, we would
probably figure it is too complicated, and never brother to order one.
So it is with prayer. There are books galore, and seminars, and
special retreats, and so many people trying to teach us how to pray,
that we automatically assume that it is in the same category with
learning brain surgery and international law. So we lose hope, and
just accept the role of being poor at prayer.
People who are good at saying prayers only confirm our despair.
We say, come Lord Jesus be our guest, let this daily food be blest.
They can give a lesson on Bible history, and give guidance to
government leaders, and a challenge for world missions, all in a
prayer of thanks for a hamburger. It makes the rest of us feel like we
are not even really thankful for our hamburger, and also feeling like
we just don’t know how to pray.
The vast majority of Christians would list as one of the weaknesses
of their Christian life, their prayer life. We do not spend enough time
in prayer. We don’t pray for enough people. We don’t pray as
fervently as we ought, or as persistently as we ought. There is hardly
any aspect of prayer that we do as adequately as we ought. Christian
guilt feelings about this make them easy targets of manipulation. They
can be made to feel they need to go along with some prayer gimmicks
to get back into God’s favor. Maybe it’s an all night prayer meeting,
or some kind of prayer chain, or large group prayer service, as if the
length of your prayers or the quantity of them is the key to God’s
All of this Jesus put into the category of paganism in Matt. 6, where
He said the pagans think they will be heard because of their many
words. Jesus taught that God already knows what we need, and so a
short and simple prayer is all that is necessary. He never told His
disciples to get a big crowd together, but said get alone in your own
room and close the door. He didn’t give them a manuscript of
hundreds of prayers when they asked Him to teach them to pray. He
gave them a single prayer of about 50 words as an example.
My point is, the reason that prayer is so hard for Christians is
because they have made it hard. The Bible doesn’t. Jesus didn’t.
Christians have so complicated the simplicity of the Bible with pagan
ideas, they have put a satisfying life of prayer beyond the reach of the
average Christian. One Christian writer said she could visualize the
millions of prayers hurtling toward God at mealtime, and so she
decided to do her praying between meals when the prayer traffic was
not so thick. She also got up early to get her prayer in before the
heavy breakfast crowd. Of course, this is silly, but so is every aspect
of prayer that implies God is not omniscient. Jesus said in Matt. 6:8,
“Your father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
If that is the case, then being eloquent is no big deal, for we do not
have to persuade God. It is not as if we have to be intellects, and be
able to speak with great logic to get through to God. Neither the
quantity nor the quality of our prayers are the issue, for God already
knows what we seek to communicate. This puts all God’s children on
the same level. So what if we can go on for a half hour with flowery
words of oratory, and another can only say thank you Lord for today,
give me guidance for tomorrow?
The Pharisee in the temple was no doubt better at prayer than the
publican. If we took a vote among men after hearing them both pray,
the Pharisee would win on both length and eloquence, but Jesus said
the publican went away justified, not the Pharisee. “God be merciful
to me a sinner,” was his prayer, and on the cross the thief said,
“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And the father
of the demonized boy prayed, “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
When you look at the prayers that Jesus answered in his life, you can’t
help but be impressed with their brevity and simplicity. They are
little more than cries for help.
When the disciples were caught in the storm, and feared the ship
was going down, they woke Jesus and their prayer was, “Lord, save
us! We are going to drown.” When Peter was going under his prayer
was, “Lord, save me!” All these prayers were answered. Of course,
they were emergency situations where eloquence and length are not
only irrelevant, but potentially deadly. But what we want to see as we
examine the prayer life of Jesus is that even the normal prayer life of
the believer is to be simple and not complex.
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