Got anything on your reading list? I have a recommendation for you!
I have started to read an exciting book about prayer by Don Whitney, professor of Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Known for his previous book entitled Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Whitney has now come out with another excellent work called Praying the Bible. Whitney begins with a humble admission. So many believers, he says, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, find that their prayer lives are boring. This, in spite of the fact that they desire to please the Lord, they love to fellowship with God’s people, and they have their hearts set on eternity.
The truth is, when we find our prayer lives boring, we don’t feel like praying at all. Whitney notes that while we pray to the most glorious person in the universe, our prayers are often short, repetitious, and hindered by distraction. And because of this tendency, many feel that there must be something wrong with them. They believe that they are “second rate” Christians. Amazingly, Whitney suggests that, “the problem is almost certainly not you; it’s your method.” He goes on to say, “The method of most Christians in prayer is to say the same old things about the same old things. After forty years of experience in ministry, I am convinced that this problem is almost universal. Virtually from the beginning of their Christian life, it seems that nearly every believer suffers from this habit.” I have been in ministry for many years, have attended countless Bible studies and have led prayer services more than I can remember. And I am convinced Whitney is right.
We normally begin prayer meetings with prayer requests, and those have been quite consistent over the years. These include our health, our finances, our children and those we know who are struggling at the moment. Occasionally someone will pray for the government, their pastors, and about a current crisis in their lives. More so, I find that Christians often ask God to “bless” a certain person, especially missionaries; but the exact nature of what is being asked is surely a mystery. I think the word “bless” gets used because we often don’t know what we should pray for someone, so we simply insert that word with an assurance that God will know how to sort the matter out. As a solution, Whitney offers a five-day journey to transform one’s prayer life, and to learn to pray the actual words of the Bible. I cannot recommend this enough!
Thinking about prayer – the prayers of others and my own – I am reminded that we often simply expect believers to pray, without teaching them how to do it well. On the one hand, this is easy to do, because, as Romans 8:26 reminds us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” We can count on the Spirit to give us much needed help in praying. But we are also reminded that in Luke 11:1, Jesus’ disciples came to Him requesting that He teach them to pray, even as John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. And finally, the book of Psalms contains many passages that must surely be thought of as examples of how we should pray.
So, let’s make it a major priority in our lives to grow in our ability to pray well. Let’s use opportunities to read valuable books on prayer that actually mentor you through the process of praying.
Of all the things we do well in this life, may prayer be at the very top of that list!