The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.-James 5:16b
But to you have I cried out, O Lord,
And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
Over the past several months the Lord has begun a new work of grace in my heart, and I have found that nearly 100% of the time, along with God's works of grace comes conviction. The Lord has been convicting me of the effectiveness and fervency of my prayer life, or rather the lack thereof. My prayers are sometimes fervent, most often heartfelt, but sometimes they still fall flat. When it comes to effectiveness I would have to admit that I have not been very strategic and focused when it comes to prayer. I tend to pray as I fall asleep at night, while I'm bored doing supper dishes, or when I walk into town to run errands for my Mom. Not really what I would call focused, intentional prayers. The Lord has convicted me to change that. He has convicted to me to commit, concentrate, and cry out to Him. I now have a strategy; by His grace may I succeed in it.
The hardest part of prayer is simply getting to a place where you can pray in solitude, and finding a time when there is nothing else vying for your attention. Committing to regular, intentional prayer is the first step, and the most difficult. In Psalm 88:13 (quoted above) the Psalmist speaks of how he cries to the Lord during the first light of the day in order to set his heart upon God.
Make a commitment to spend the first fifteen minutes of your day in prayer. Thank the Lord for the day, ask for His grace and safety throughout, pray for an area of the world or a close friend that He has laid on your heart, and before you know it fifteen minutes will have passed in communion with the Lover of your soul. I find that I can get a bit carried away when I pray. Once I actually commit to spending those first fifteen minutes in prayer I find that I have a lot more than fifteen minutes worth of praising and petitioning the Saviour to do. :) Perhaps, if you pray for grace to keep your commitment you will find yourself years down the road spending the first hour or two of your day in prayer, and wondering how you ever lived without that time of fellowship with Christ.
I also find it important to end my day in prayer, just as I end it in the Word of God. Quiet times should not mean just reading the Word, but should also involve meditating on that Word in prayer. It is at those times that I find the Lord "opens my eyes to see beautiful truths in His Word." Not when I am staring blankly at a page of my Bible, but when I am humbly praying back to Him what I have read. In addition, I have also set different alarms on my phone that go off mid-morning and mid-afternoon reminding me to pray for specific things that the Lord has laid upon my heart.
If you are serious about keeping your prayer commitment it is helpful to decide what you are going to pray about ahead of time. Pick a specific country or people group to pray for, and jot down several specific things to pray about. Email or text a friend asking them how you can pray for them, remember those specific requests and pray about them the very next morning. Tell them later that you prayed for them. An accountability partner can also go a long way in helping you to keep a prayer commitment, just don't let them become a distraction.
There are very likely things you will have to give up and sacrifice in order to make and keep a prayer commitment. Perhaps you'll have to get up fifteen minutes earlier each morning, or perhaps forgo watching your favourite evening television show in order to spend that time in prayer. Trust me, it's worth it. The Lord will reward your sacrificial attitude if your desire is truly to commune with Him and know Him better.
It will take time to grow faithful in such a prayer commitment. There will be days when you feel like getting fifteen extra minutes of sleep, instead of spending that time on your knees, and there will be days when you fail miserably and do roll over for fifteen extra minutes. But by the grace of God the joy and blessing He gives us when we make such a prayer commitment will far outweigh the times that we fail.
Concentration can be hard to accomplish during prayer. Our minds wander to a thousand other things, our eyes wander to the glorious sunrise outside our window. Once we make a commitment to pray there are countless things that the Enemy will try to use to distract us from that commitment. Several things can help.
When you feel distraction winning the prayer battle, pray. Pray against distraction, renounce the Enemy's hold on your wandering mind in the Name of Jesus and press forward in your commitment to fellowship with your King.
I have found my physical posture to play a huge role in how distracted or not distracted I am during personal prayer. Have you ever wondered why we close our eyes as we pray? I think the primary reason is that is keeps our eyes (and in turn our minds) from wandering to other things. The practice of physically kneeling during prayer does much the same thing. I know it might seem a bit old-fashioned, but if you find it difficult to focus while you pray alone try kneeling beside your bed, sofa, or a chair to pray. I do so often, and it helps immensely.
Finally, I have found that praying out loud, even if is only in a quiet voice, or a whisper, helps me to concentrate on what I am praying. It is like having a conversation with your best friend, it causes you to think of what you are going to say next, and then actually articulate it. Praying aloud also often gets me more excited about the fact that my Lord can actually hear and answer my prayers.
Those that we esteem as heroes of the faith have this in common: they prayed. Fervently, committed, and focused. They prayed for the healing of their nation, they prayed for rain to cease, they prayed for nations to come to know the Lord. They prayed often, and they prayed intentionally. Let us take our example from a select few that I will share with you.
Jesus Christ spent hours in prayer, in solitude, in quiet communion with His Father. He did not venture to His knees in the Garden just before His arrest because He knew it was coming and thought prayer might be wise. No, He was often seen there alone or with His disciples for hours, simply praying. When the night of His arrest came it would not have been at all unusual for Him to lead His disciples to the Garden after the evening meal. He had taught them how to pray, but He also modeled an exceptional prayer life.
William Wilberforce spent several hours in prayer each day as he fought tirelessly against the evils of the slave trade in the British Empire. He knew that prayer alone could sustain him through sleepless nights, and monotonous days when the temptation to give up was especially great. He said, "Of all things, guard against neglecting God in the secret place of prayer."
Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma and translator of the gospel there, is one of my favorite examples. He spent over three hours of his day in devoted, concentrated, intentional prayer. On his knees before his Saviour he pleaded for the souls of the Burmese, and the Lord granted his request as he changed the face of an entire nation with the message of Christ's salvation. He encourages us all to,
"Arrange thy affairs, if possible, so that thou canst leisurely devote two or three hours every day, not merely to devotional exercises but to the very act of secret prayer and communion with God. Be resolute in this cause. Make all practicable sacrifices to maintain it. Consider that thy time is short, and that business and company must not be allowed to rob thee of thy God!"
What a commitment! May we ask for grace to emulate it.
To conclude this post I would like to share a story with you, an example of the power of this kind of commitment to intentional, fervent prayer. The story tells of how prayer played a vital role in a movement to Christ among the Bhojpuri people of India. For years this area had been called the graveyard of mission because so many were hostile to the gospel, but prayer changed everything.
Without persistent prayer, I am convinced there wouldn't be a movement among the Bhojpuri. I recently sat in a room with the top Bhojpuri church planters. Each of these church planters and their teams planted at least 50 churches per year. One team planted 500 churches the year before. A research group, engaged to verify our numbers, wondered about possible common threads in what they saw in church planting among the Bhojpuri. They started asking questions to see if they could discover common elements present among church planters. They asked, "How much time do you spend in prayer?"As they went around the room reporting, my jaw dropped. Team leaders spent an average of three hours a day in personal prayer. After that, they spent another three hours praying with their teams everyday. One day a week the leaders fasted and prayed. Their teams spent one weekend a month fasting and praying. Many of these leaders maintained secular jobs while engaged in their church planting. They got up to pray at 4 A.M. and were at work by 10 A.M. James tells us: "The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful" (James 5:16b, HCSV). James was right. Just look at the Bhojpuri.
Prayer is powerful. It can change you, and it can change the world. Will you make a prayer commitment today?
How much time do you spend in prayer each day? (Be honest with yourself).
What could you accomplish if you increased your daily prayer time?
Do you think spending more than three hours a day in prayer is unreasonable? Why or why not?
Could you afford to sacrifice three hours of each day in communion with your Saviour?