Can we be honest? Prayer is something that we ought to take more seriously. It is something that we believe in and engage in from time to time, but we usually don't approach it with consistency and intentionality. Perhaps your prayer life consists mostly of pre-meal, pre-bedtime, pre-meeting, pre-[insert challenge of the day], and mid-crisis prayers. We struggle with corporate prayer too. We are okay with the pre and post-sermon prayers and maybe one other prayer slipped in on a Sunday morning, but beyond that, we don't give it much time or attention.
Does anybody feel guilty yet? I truly hope you don't. The point isn't to bring guilt but rather to challenge us. I'll be honest - I struggle with prayer too! I have a strange cocktail of laziness, lack of focus, distracted focus, and failure to be intentional that encompasses my prayer life.
Why is it that we struggle with day-to-day prayer but as soon as a crisis arises we are quick to hit our knees and call others to do the same?
Why is prayer such a struggle?
I think I know the answer to this, and it is one that is going to be uncomfortable (for me as well). We believe in Jesus, that salvation comes only through him. We say that we place him as Lord of our life. The reality? We like to live our lives being the ones who are in control. We don't like submitting to someone else's authority. We think we know what is best, so we order and live our lives in a way that fits our own comfort, desires, and preferences. Then, when something happens that we don't like, we go crying to God, sometimes even questioning him (How can he allow this to happen?!?). We plead with God to put us back in our bubble of comfort and control. We treat him as a magic genie who needs to be at our beck and call, or as a vending machine expecting him to give us exactly what we want.
What example for prayer are we setting for our kids?
Okay, that was rough. But did it hit home for you? It certainly did for me. There is a lot that can be said on the topic of prayer. We can't dive into all of it in this one post, but I want us to consider Jesus' teaching on persistent prayer in Luke Chapter Eighteen. Before we do, let me remind us of something: How we handle prayer is being seen by our kids. How we engage in prayer is an example for our kids, for good or for bad. Prayer is something that we should take seriously in our own lives so that we can help our kids have a healthy understanding and a meaningful practice of prayer in their lives too. We want them to develop a firmly-rooted, authentic, resilient faith. A right understanding and practice of prayer is a critically important ingredient for them to develop this type of lasting faith (Ever tried to make brownies without eggs? I have and the product is less than desirable!).
Jesus sets an example for prayer in Luke Chapter Eighteen.
At the start of Chapter Eighteen in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is teaching his disciples and the crowds with a parable about a judge and a persistent widow. Jesus describes this fictitious judge as neither fearing God nor respecting man. Despite this judge's character and reputation, there is a widow in the city that keeps coming to him and asking for justice against her adversary. For a time, the judge refuses to grant her the requested justice; however, his tone eventually changes. Because the widow continues to persistently plead with him for the justice she is seeking, the judge finally relents. He is tired of her nagging him with this issue and grants her justice. He doesn't do it because he agrees with her, cares about her, or fears God and feels compelled to do it. Instead, he gives in simply so that she will stop bothering him. In other words, she wore him down to the point that, for his own good, he gives in so that he doesn't have to encounter her persistence any longer.
Jesus uses this story to make a very important point. Look at what he says in verses 6-8:
"And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'"
Jesus wants us to be persistent in prayer.
Jesus contrasts himself with the judge in this parable. Here is a man that eventually gave the widow what she asked for because he had grown weary of her requests.
If the judge is willing to reward persistence for someone and something he doesn't care about, then think about how much more Jesus will respond to and reward the consistency and persistence of those he loves.
As followers of Christ, we are his children. He loves us. He cares about us. He wants to work for our good. This doesn't mean that he will give us whatever we want. He knows what is best for us and is always working for our good. But he asks for us to bring our hearts and desires to him. He promises that he will hear us and consider our requests. Our prayers matter!
Jesus wants our actions of prayer to match our beliefs.
Jesus teaches us that our actions must match our beliefs. Do we really believe that God loves us? Do we really believe that he hears our prayers? Do we really believe that he is powerful enough to do something about them? If that is what we truly believe, then why wouldn't we tap into the incredible and immeasurable power of prayer? God wants to hear from us. He cares about what we are going through. He calls us to be persistent as the widow. And the idea isn't that we will eventually wear him down. He says, 'I'm not like the judge in this story! I love my people. If they come to me and are persistent, then, of course, I will give justice and quickly!' Again, this doesn't mean that his answers to our requests will always be "yes." He isn't a magic genie, but we are called to persistently bring the requests of our hearts to him and ask him to act. We need to let our faith in him be on display and show him that we trust him to act in the manner that is best for us.
What is your attitude toward prayer?
There are a lot of things that are going on in my life right now that I need to take to the Lord. I'm sure that you can relate. The questions of application that we must ask ourselves are these: "Are we faithfully bringing our requests to God, being consistent and persistent in our prayers? Are we believing that God hears our prayers and cares about them? Do we have faith that he is powerful and will act in the manner that is best?" Think about your prayer life. Does it show this kind of faith, belief, and trust?
Our actions always show the condition of our hearts. A flippant posture toward prayer shows how we really feel about God's desire to hear from us and his power to act.
Okay, that guilt thing might be creeping up on you again, but here's my challenge. Don't let guilt drive you to frustration, anxiety, and inaction. Let what you are feeling be a challenge and a positive reminder of who God is. Then, lean into a life of faithful, consistent, and persistent prayer. Don't treat it like an item on a checklist. You aren't going to be able to manufacture more favor from God in how you pray. That isn't why we do it. Rather, we do it as an outpouring of our hearts of faith, reliance, and trust. We do it not only because we don't have any other option, but because it is indeed the greatest one!
How can you model an authentic prayer life for your kids?
Lastly, let's think about our kids. Think about the importance of them developing a faith that leans into their Heavenly Father in all things and looks to him for strength and provision. Consistent and persistent prayer strengthens faith and helps all of us to live a life where Jesus is Lord. We must model an authentic prayer life for our kids because they won't accidentally stumble into it. They will mimic what they see. They need to learn about this from us, both from our words and from our actions.
Developing an authentic prayer life takes time.
You've heard it before, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Your prayer life will develop and improve over time. Take it one day at a time and don't let yourself get discouraged. Share your heart with God, because he wants to hear from you, and be persistent. God isn't looking at you like a nagging widow. He is leaning into you as a beloved child.