Of all the ingredients in discipleship, the area many of us struggle with most is prayer. According to one recently published estimate, a typical Christian layman spends about three and a half minutes each day in prayer. Full-time Christian workers average about seven minutes per day. This pitiful situation must amaze even the Lord Himself, for Isaiah 59:16 records that when no one was found to intercede for His people, God was appalled. Why do we fail to take full advantage of the privilege of prayer? Is it a lack of discipline? Are we too busy? Are we unmotivated?
1. What things make it difficult for you to spend quality time in prayer?
_Too busy or tired
_ Can’t concentrate
_ Don’t know what to pray about
_ Don’t feel like it
_ Feel guilty
_ Not convinced it makes a difference
Perhaps the basic cause of our weakness in prayer relates to how we view God. We may have no genuine awe for the One “who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth” (Isaiah 51:13). God seems more like a superhero from a child’s cartoon, whittled down to human size.
If we aren’t captivated by God, prayer is a tedious task. It becomes a discipline that only those with wills of steel can master. I once regarded prayer as “gutting it out” before God. It meant trying to bring reams and reams of petitions before the Lord. The more requests I could bring, the more spiritual I was.
2. What similarities do you see between the author’s approach (bringing “reams and reams of petitions before the Lord”) and Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:7?
3. How would you compare the focus of prayer in Matthew 6:7 with the focus in Matthew 6:9-13? Which of these is most like your approach to prayer?
Communion or Wrestling Match?
I also misinterpreted statements from godly men about the importance of prayer. Martin Luther’s statement that “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer” implied to me that prayer was a guaranteed formula for success.
Rather than being a dynamic communion with the sovereign Lord of the universe, to me prayer was an exercise meant to wrestle effects into the lives of people and to manipulate God’s hand. Prayer became lifeless
and tedious. It was like castor oil: terrible tasting, but good for me.
4. Which of the following statements describe your general attitude toward prayer? Check all that apply.
_ Prayer is like a marriage—it is hard work but can be very rewarding.
_ I want to like prayer, but I really don’t.
_ Prayer is like writing “thank you” notes—it is an obligation I need to fulfill.
_ I look forward to prayer.
_ I enjoy the time I spend in prayer, but I would like to go deeper.
Yet God reminded me of the truth I was neglecting: He wanted to commune with me. What does this mean? Communion is defined as the intimate sharing of thoughts and emotions, and an intimate fellowship, rapport, or communication. This is the kind of relationship God wants with me.
5. How is God’s desire for communion (intimate relationship) with us expressed in the following verses?
a. Isaiah 30:18
b. Isaiah 65:1-2
c. Jeremiah 33:3
d. Matthew 23:37
e. Romans 5:8-10
f. 1 John 4:9-10
6. Summarize in your own words the most significant or meaningful insight you gained from the verses above.
What Is Your Picture of God?
I saw I had become hardened to the excitement of walking in continual awareness of God’s presence. I realized afresh that He desires open communion with me. He has little interest in the petition gymnastics I was trying to perfect in prayer. He wants me to be preoccupied with Himself. Seeing God this way enables us to stand in awe of Him. It stimulates our heart to vital communion and conversation with Him. Seeing God as He is requires faith on our part, but whoever is enamored and thrilled with God is then rightly motivated to pray. Discipline will still be necessary, but prayer won’t be drudgery. I believe that is hat John 4:24 is hinting at: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (emphasis added).
7. Read John 4:4-30, the context of the story of the woman at the well.
a. How did the Samaritan woman’s inaccurate picture of God affect her ability to worship Him “in spirit and in truth”?
b. What aspects of God’s character are hardest for you to grasp (for example, all-powerful, ever-present, all-knowing, sovereign, holy, righteous, loving, merciful, faithful, and so on)? How might this affect your prayer life?