Few aspects of the Christian life can cause God’s people more guilt than a lack of personal, private prayer. Few disciplines in the Christian life are as difficult as private prayer. And this struggle doesn’t just exist for immature Christians or those very weak in faith. The testimonies of even some great Christians verify that prayer is difficult.
“Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer.” —Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“There is nothing that we are so bad at all our days as prayer.” —Alexander Whyte
“There are times in my life when I would rather die than pray.” —Thomas Shepard
Consider these words from John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, whose godliness, knowledge of the Scriptures, and powerful preaching were well-known to all who knew him.
May I but speak my own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you . . . entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so reluctant to go to God, and when it is with him, so reluctant to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers; first to beg God that he would take my heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. In fact, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only (blessed be grace) the Spirit helps our infirmities (Romans 8:26).
This is astonishing honesty, but who cannot relate to Bunyan? In fact, as a pastor, I actually wish more people, including myself, could relate to this struggle — sadly, some do not even get to the struggle. Other Christians get into what might be called a “prayer rut” where they find it difficult to break out of their prayerless pattern.
A Loving Soul’s Conversation with God
Sometimes we get in a rut and develop bad habits and need a fresh awakening to get our prayer lives back on track. In 1710, Matthew Henry published A Method for Prayer, which deals with this very issue and provides valuable advice for God’s people concerning daily prayer.
The Scriptures command us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to be “praying at all times” (Ephesians 6:18), “daily” (Matthew 6:11), and often alone in secret, as Christ himself taught us (Matthew 6:6), but also together with other believers (Matthew 6:9–13). The Bible says much about prayer — why is this?
We should not consider it a mere religious performance, asking, “How often do I have to do it?” Instead, as Thomas Manton said, prayer is the conversation of “a loving soul with God,” and “acts of friendship and communion must not be rare and unfrequent, but constant and often.” He wrote, “If we have a love to God, we cannot keep long out of God’s company, but will be with him pouring out our hearts to him.”
So how can we reignite our prayer lives in a way to bring back the consistency that we all desire while we struggle on earth? Three helpful reminders will enable us to cultivate our spirits so that we can find the time to go into our closet and enjoy, not dread, our secret communion with God.
1. Begin every day with God.
“O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch” (Psalm 5:3).
People wake up early to exercise, eat, get to work, and so on. But far too easily we begin these activities without a word to our Father in heaven. Henry writes, “It is our wisdom and duty to begin every day with God.” We always have something to talk to God about. We always have something to praise him for or ask him for.
Why should you dedicate a part of the morning to God? Because you cannot afford to not speak with your Father in the morning. As Henry says, “In the morning . . . we should give him fresh thanksgivings and fresh meditations on his beauties. In the morning as we prepare for the work of the day, let us commit it all to God.”
2. Spend every day with God.
You need to begin the day with God, but you also need to spend the day with God. Paul commands the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18).
Constant dependence is the attitude of a child toward his father in whom he trusts and on whom he casts all of his cares. As a father of four children, it would be extremely odd, but also hugely disappointing, if my children ignored me throughout the day. Our Father is not indifferent to our silence. Christ experienced the silence of his Father so that we should always have the opportunity to never be silent towards God our Father.
Wherever you go or whatever you do each day, search for reasons to pray and praise. As James wrote, if you are sad, then pray to God; if you are happy, then sing praises to God (James 5:13). That covers all of life.
3. Close every day with God.
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
Just as you begin your days with God, and spend your days with God, you should also close your days with God. Again, Henry writes, “Let this still every storm, command and create a calm in thy soul.”
Lie down with thanksgiving to God. In family worship, my family covers the events of the day that we are thankful for. This is a particular emphasis I place upon my children when they pray. They should remember what God has done for them each day. I want them to be aware, as we all should, that “every bit we eat, and every drop we drink, is mercy; every step we take, and every breath we draw, is mercy.”
We should be thankful for the end of the day as God’s provision of rest, for a place to lay your head, and for the health of body and peace of mind which allows you to sleep.
Prayer Begets Prayer
What, then, is the solution to our lack of prayer? Prayer.
There are other things we can do to help fix the inadequacies of our prayer life. But through the simple routine of beginning the day with God, communing with him frequently through the day, and remembering him before sleeping, I have found that those secret times with the Lord are more frequent and more blessed.
Habitual prayer tends to give rise to habitual prayer, as our dependence on and desire for communion with our Father grows the more we bring ourselves into his presence.