Prayer is communion with God. You must pray to be saved. Many illiterate persons, unable to read the Bible, have entered into the kingdom of God, but no one has entered without prayer. In prayer you plead before God for the salvation offered in Christ, and come into his presence to love and adore him.
Prayer opens to us the treasures of the Christian life. Through prayer, God:
Prayer does not bend an unwilling God to be favorably disposed toward us. It is, however, the divinely appointed instrument that God uses to fulfill many of his sovereign plans. Many of God's goals for his creation come to realization through the prayers of Christian men and women. For instance, he declares his will to forgive sinners, but it is through prayer that confession is made and forgiveness is sought.
Recognizing the premium that God places upon prayer, we are very foolish when we neglect it. As a matter of fact, Paul exhorts Christians to "pray continually" (1 Thess. 5:17). This does not mean that we are to be in prayer every waking moment, but that there should be no gaps in our life where prayer is absent. When we go for days without earnest prayer, we have ignored the apostle's command.
Although no Christian would deny the importance of prayer, many do find it difficult to pray. The reasons may be many: failure to perceive the awesome majesty and power of God, unbelief, anger, broken relationships, unforgiven sin, etc. Any of these makes personal communion with God a struggle.
However, many Christians also struggle with prayer because they do not know how to pray. Let me lay before you some ideas that may strengthen your times of prayer.
First, I would suggest that you pray out loud. Doesn't your mind often drift when you pray silently? This problem can be checked by praying audibly.
Next, consider the structure of your prayers. A number of useful patterns are close at hand.
Many believers have learned to pray according to the ACTS formula. ACTS is a simple acronym that is helpful for remembering these various parts of prayer:
Praise God for who he is and what he does. In a notebook, list truths that you learn about God and his work during your Bible study. Praise him for these things.
Ask the Holy Spirit to bring your sins to mind. Name and renounce them. Ask for grace to turn from them. Meditate on the assurance of forgiveness, which God extends to those who sincerely confess their sins (Isa. 43:25; 44:22; 55:6-7; Mic. 7:18; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:9).
Thanksgiving should be present in the life of a Christian at all times and in all circumstances (Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 2:13; 5:18). One of the marks of apostasy is ingratitude (2 Tim. 3:2). When one remembers that Paul wrote these verses, they have tremendous power and encouragement, because he suffered both physical pain and persecution for the gospel's sake. Use passages like Ephesians 1:3-10 as an outline for thanking God for the spiritual blessings you have received in Christ. Thank him for any material blessings and health. You may even thank him for adverse circumstances and trials, because these are used by him to promote your holiness.
Pray for your family, your church, your lost friends, family, and loved ones, your missionaries, and your government leaders. A helpful way of praying for your church is to pray through your church's telephone directory, praying for the needs of each family. Although you should pray for the physical and material needs of these people, do not neglect to pray for their spiritual growth. Pray for your congregation's pastor and elders, for the holiness of the church, for its faithfulness to the Word of God, and for zeal in evangelizing the lost. Our denomination's monthly magazine, New Horizons, contains a daily prayer calendar which will enable you to pray for our church's missionaries and church-planting efforts.
Use the Lord's Prayer as a pattern for your prayers. Notice that there are six petitions in the prayer. You can structure your prayers as follows:
Petition 1: "Hallowed be your name." Ask God to make his name feared and honored throughout the world. Pray that he would enable you to praise him rightly.
Petition 2: "Your kingdom come." Ask that the kingdom of sin and Satan be destroyed, that the gospel be spread throughout the world, and that you and others be brought into submission to God's Word.
Petition 3: "Your will be done." Pray for a broken heart before God, and for the desire to do his will cheerfully and faithfully.
Petition 4: "Give us today our daily bread." Thank God for his daily provision for your needs, and pray for a spirit of dependence upon him. Pray also for the needs of others.
Petition 5: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Thank God that he accepts you in Christ. Ask again for his forgiveness of specific sins, for the peace and assurance of knowing that your sins are forgiven, and for the strength to forgive others from the heart.
Petition 6: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Ask God to restrain Satan, to overrule evil in the world, and to subdue your sinful desires. Ask him to keep you alert to the dangers of temptation. Ask for strength to withstand temptation when it comes.
Pray through passages like Romans 12 and Colossians 3. Ask God to make you into the kind of man or woman that will demonstrate daily the Christian virtues found in them.
Finally, read some books that will encourage you in your prayer life. Here are several that have helped me: E. M. Bound's Power through Prayer, O. Hallesby's Prayer, Douglas Kelly's If God Already Knows, Why Pray? Richard Pratt's Pray with Your Eyes Open, and Austin Phelps's The Still Hour. I have also profited from the older versions of the Anglican and Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.
I pray that God's Spirit will renew us all in our love for the life of prayer!
Reprinted from New Horizons, May 1999. Mr. Wingard is the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church North Shore (OPC), Ipswich, Mass. This article first appeared in The Salt Shaker, September 1996.