Prayer: problems encountered, solutions proposed
For more than 43 years, I have been travelling the francophone world to run a six-hour long seminar on the theme of prayer. To this day more than 40,000 people, including you perhaps, have attended one of these seminars. It’s encouraging, isn’t it? In France today there is a large number of people who pray and desire to not only improve their prayer life but also intercede with fervour and precision for their country. These Christians encourage me to persevere and to do everything possible to rekindle the passion for prayer in people’s hearts.
Listen to some of the real problems in the prayer lives of participants in these seminars: lack of time or motivation, struggling to concentrate (too many things going on in my head), shifts, noise, fatigue, stress, discouragement, few people at the prayer meeting. Prayer meetings are often badly organised and monotonous. For others, prayer is a legalist duty and not a joy. There is a lack of teaching about the effectiveness of prayer and the different kinds of prayer: intercession, adoration, listening, thanksgiving, confession, requests, fasting with prayer.
We need biblical and practical teaching to give us the answers to the following questions: How do I pray? Where should I start? How do I progress and persevere? What do I do when I find myself unable to pray? God does not respond to my prayers when or how I want him to, what should I do?
Biblical and practical solutions to improve your prayer life
- Base your prayer on God. In other words, start your prayer time in adoration. Praise is the engine for prayer because it makes God both the subject and the centre (Psalms 22:26).
Praising God involves putting his attributes under a microscope, contemplating, studying and appreciating them: his majesty, power, mercy, patience, greatness, etc. The foundation, bedrock, heart of Christian biblical prayer is God.
Read this beautiful quotation from C.H. Spurgeon: “Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.”
Prayers of adoration turn our eyes and thoughts from the mountains (our problems), to focus them on the one who is able to move those mountains. Adoration is the air which all other kinds of prayer breathe and the sea in which prayer swims.
- Find a set time each day and a calm place for your prayer.
- Nourish your prayer time by reading a Bible passage. For too long there has been a divorce between prayer and the Bible. May no one separate what God has put together. Praying and ignoring the Word of God is an abomination (Proverbs 28:9). This harmony between praying and the Bible prevents us from deviating even slightly from God’s wishes.
- Buy a prayer notebook. You can take a note of the subject of your prayers and responses to them. Include photos of your family and friends to act as a visual aid which will refresh your memory.
- Work out how much time you spend watching television each week. Cut this time in half and dedicate some of it to praying!
- Attend your church’s weekly prayer meeting regularly.
- Occupy your spirit with good reading, such as books on prayer. Have you read the works of Pablo Martinez? They are clear, biblical, invigorating: take a look at Praying with the Grain: How your personality affects the way you pray, Pablo Martinez, Éditions LLB. I also recommend Knowing God by J.I. Packer, a book which will renew and expand your knowledge of God.
- Examine how God responds to the prayers in the Bible (there are more than 653 prayers in the Bible).
- Try to understand why God doesn’t always respond to our prayers. There may be a discrepancy between God’s calendar and ours, or there may be a conflict between what we want and request and God’s will for us (Isaiah 55:8: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord”). Are the subjects of and motivations behind our prayers the right ones? (James 4:3). Be careful, prayer is not a way of getting what we want but a way of becoming who God wants us to be!
- Know that the spiritual combat takes place in the heavens (Ephesians 6), but also in our heads, in our thoughts. What should we do when bad thoughts arise like a storm in our spirits? Slander, hatred, jealousy, greed, doubt and immorality have their roots in our thoughts (James 1:14-15). It is through prayer and confession that we can tackle and stop these thoughts. Other kinds of prayer, like intercession and gratitude, are fertilisers which renew, wash, purify and work the ground of our sprit and prevent weeds from taking root and invading our “inner garden”. Through prayer, we give new direction to our way of thinking.
- Pray regularly with someone else.
- Persevere. Jesus invites us to “pray and don’t give up” (Luke 18:1). Paul tells us to be “faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Molina, the mother of Saint Augustine, prayed each day with perseverance for her rebellious son. He left for Italy where he lived a wayward life full of sin. For 32 years, his mother persevered in praying for his salvation. Augustine finally turned towards God. Later, he became one of the greatest Western theologians and created what would become the framework for protestant theology many centuries later.
Georges Müller, this giant of faith, who noted over 10,000 responses to prayer in his notebooks said: “all the children of God, when once satisfied that anything which they bring before God in prayer, is according to His will, ought to continue in believing, expecting, persevering prayer until the blessing is granted.
I’ll finish with these three suggestions: persevere, persevere, persevere!
“Prayer involves making ourselves available to God so that he can do in us what he has wanted to do for a long time. Through prayer, God wants to mould us, change us. Praying is like being the canvas in front of the painter and the marble in front of the sculptor”. Dr Alexis Carrel