Do you ever struggle to pray?
I do at times. While I enjoy an ongoing conversation with the Lord daily, I’m still learning how to set time aside for deep, soul-to-God intercessory prayer.
The invitation in Philippians 4:6 is so beautiful. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Praying like that not only brings peace to our soul (vs.7), it moves the hand of God.
No wonder the enemy of our soul is determined to distract us from prayer. Whether encouraging complacency or tripping us up with lack of discipline, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep us from touching heaven on earth’s behalf.
Making Room For Prayer
I’m grateful for the honest way faithful men and women of God have shared their struggle to pray. Years ago, I found this story from J. Sidlow Baxter and included it in my book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life.
He describes an inner battle he fought to reestablish a regular devotional time of prayer 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 over heard 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 Teacher.
Learning to Pray
When I first read Baxter’s story in Kent Hughes excellent book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, his words unlocked something deep within my soul. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone! Other people struggled as well.
Suddenly I felt hope— I didn’t have to wait until I felt spiritual to spend time with God. I just had to make a decision of the will, and the spiritual feelings would eventually come around.
When the disciples approached Jesus on this subject in Luke 11:1, I find it interesting that they didn’t ask for instructions on how to pray, instead, they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
So here are a few tips to help you do just that:
- Set aside time – it doesn’t have to be an extended period. Start with a few minutes and grow from there
- Remove distractions – turn off the TV and/or electronic devices
- Focus on concentrated prayer – don’t attempt to multi-task (ie, fold laundry or do chores), give yourself entirely to prayer
- Use a prayer list – pray over a section each day rather than entire list
- Start with praise and end with praise – thank God for all He’s done and all He’s going to do
Disciplined, dedicated prayer time doesn’t come easy to most of us. It has to be carved out of the busyness in our days. But I want to see God move in the lives of people I love. I want to see miracles happen, I want to see my nation healed and transformed.
According to the Word of God, that must start with prayer – deep, heart-felt intercession made by you and me.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face…” 2 Chronicles 7:14
Free Prayer Resource
I really like the weekly prayer outline Dean Ridings suggests in his book, The Pray! Prayer Journal. You can learn more about each day’s focus in an article he wrote of Focus on the Family called: “How to Pray Every Day”
Monday: Pray for Your Family
Tuesday: Pray for God’s Family
Wednesday: Pray for Your Community
Thursday: Pray for the Nation
Friday: Pray for the World
Saturday: Pray for the Helpless, Hopeless, Hurting and Lost
Sunday: Pray for Personal Guidance
Check out the “Pray Each Day” sheet we’ve created to help you use Dean’s outline. You’ll find space to list current needs, but start a new sheet now and then to keep your prayer list fresh and relevant.
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I’d love to hear more from you…What tips or resources do you use to help you in your prayer life?