VERSE: “When though prayest, enter into thy closet, and…pray to thy Father which is in secret.” Matthw 6:6
“Prayer is an effort of will. After we have entered our secret place and have shut the door, the most difficult thing to do is to pray…Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door open and pray to your Father in secret and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.” (AUGUST 23rd)
I’ve appreciated Oswald’s thoughts on prayer this week. But the question arises – how do I develop a daily habit of prayer? Especially when I struggle with the mental wandering Oswald describes in the August 23rd devotion?
I’m reminded of the words of J. Sidlow Baxter who describes his battle to reestablish a regular devotional time after a “velvety little voice told him to be practical . . . that he wasn’t of the spiritual sort, that only a few people could be like that.” Baxter was horrified to think he could rationalize away the very thing he needed most, so he set about to make some definite changes. He writes:
As never before, my will and I stood face to face. I asked my will the straight question, “Will, are you ready for an hour of prayer?” Will answered, “Here I am, and I’m quite ready, if you are.” So Will and I linked arms and turned to go for our time of prayer. At once all the emotions began pulling the other way and protesting, “We’re not coming.” I saw Will stagger just a bit, so I asked, “Can you stick it out, Will?” and Will replied, “Yes, if you can.” So Will went, and we got down to prayer . . . It was a struggle all the way through. At one point . . . one of those traitorous emotions had snared my imagination and had run off to the golf course; and it was all I could do to drag the wicked rascal back. . . .
At the end of that hour, if you had asked me, “Have you had a ‘good time’?” I would have had to reply, “No, it has been a wearying wrestle with contrary emotions and a truant imagination from beginning to end.” What is more, that battle with the emotions continued for between two and three weeks, and if you had asked me at the end of that period, “Have you had a ‘good time’ in your daily praying?” I would have had to confess, “No, at times it has seemed as though the heavens were brass, and God too distant to hear, and the Lord Jesus strangely aloof, and prayer accomplishing nothing.”
Yet something was happening. For one thing, Will and I really taught the emotions that we were completely independent of them. Also, one morning, about two weeks after the contest began, just when Will and I were going for another time of prayer, I overheard one of the emotions whisper to the other, “Come on, you guys, it’s no use wasting any more time resisting: they’ll go just the same. . . ”
Then, another couple of weeks later, what do you think happened?
During one of our prayer times, when Will and I were no more thinking of the emotions than of the man in the moon, one of the most vigorous of the emotions unexpectedly sprang up and shouted, “Hallelujah!” at which all the other emotions exclaimed, “Amen!” And for the first time the whole of my being–intellect, will, and emotions–was united in one coordinated prayer-operation. All at once, God was real, heaven was open, the Lord Jesus was luminously present, the Holy Spirit was indeed moving through my longings, and prayer was surprisingly vital. Moreover, in that instant there came a sudden realization that heaven had been watching and listening all the way through those days of struggle against chilling moods and mutinous emotions; also that I had been undergoing necessary tutoring by my heavenly Father.
So my friend, what obstacles do you face when it comes to developing a life of prayer?
“Teach us to pray, Lord!” we cry along with the disciples. Teach us to pray.
From J. Sidlow Baxter’s personal correspondence, September 8, 1987. Quoted in Kent Hughes, Liberating Your Ministry From the Success Syndrome (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1987), 78-81.