This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Gerhard Hamm (from Russia. Mr. Hamm spent many years in prisons and labor camps in Northern Siberia), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. (Daniel 6:11)
Daniel prayed in spite of the king's decree. He was aware that praying was dangerous, but he also realized that prayer was of vital importance. How odd that praying could cost him his life, while not praying would kill him spiritually. It was no difficult choice. To him, his relationship with God was more important than his position or his life.
In Russia, prayer also met with great opposition. The devil knows only too well that praying people are victorious people.
One day, I was arrested together with 30 other brothers in Moscow. We were taken to the police station and locked up in an ice-cold room.
It was a few days before Christmas and we thought we would probably not be home by then. It was no use complaining, so one of the brothers said: 'Let's pray.' We all knelt down on the cold concrete floor and then there was followed a miraculous hour of prayer. The policeman was dumbfounded, but afterwards he said: 'What kind of fanatics are you? How dare you pray in an atheist police station?' A long conversation followed.
Later on, an officer appeared and he said: 'We don't know what to do with you. If we imprison one of you, he will convert another prisoner. If we imprison two, another two will be converted. Go home, you won't bother us there.'
And he was right. Prayer gives strength and opens doors. If it doesn't open doors of prison cells, it opens the hearts of people inside prisons. What a powerful weapon! Use it.
A moment of introspection: What is prayer? Is it a chore? Is it a "pill" to take as needed, or during an emergency? Is it a boring exercise repeated word for word over the years: "Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep..." Prayer to most believers is viewed as monotonous. Could it be more than dim and dreary? Let's take a look into God's Word and consider the input of others, to learn more.
If one finds the practice of prayer a banal exercise, perhaps there is a lack of knowing what to pray for. God's Word gives suggestions that might enliven our prayers:
Matthew 5:44 - Pray for those who persecute you.
Matthew 9:38 - Pray earnestly.
Matthew 26:41 - Pray that you may not enter into temptation.
Acts 4:23 - Pray for boldness.
Romans 8:26 - Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought.
2 Corinthians 13:7 - Pray that you may do no wrong.
Colossians 1:9 - Pray for specific missionaries.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Pray without ceasing.
1 Timothy 2:1-3 - Pray for government leaders and all authorities, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Philemon 6 - Pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective.
James 5:13 - Pray if you are suffering.
James 5:13 - Pray for your family and friends, your acquaintances and workmates.
3 John 2 - Pray for good fortune and good health for friends and family.
The Holy Scriptures present prayer as an urgent and vital part of a believer's life. It is expected and normal; it behooves us to nurture the understanding and practice of conversation with God. In its essence, prayer is the practice of the presence of God. The Psalmist explained why he practiced the prayerful presence of God: "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy." (Psalm 116:1) Why did the Psalmist regularly come before God to pray? "Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live." (Psalm 116:2) An anonymous black minister sought God's attention for his own need for support: "Lord, prop me up on my every leanin' side." (quoted in "Reflections," Christianity Today, Vol. 45, no. 2.) Because of the power of prayer to change our lives and the lives of others, worldly authorities in many countries have begun to ban Christian prayer in church, at home, in public, silent or spoken, by one person or in a group, online, or in print. Beatings have followed, expulsion from community as well--experienced by believers committed to prayer. Christians choose to connect with God despite government banning of such intercession. Praying is dangerous in many places; in today's world, praying can cost one's life. Yet, Daniel essentially considered prayer (relationship with God the Father) as "more important than my position or my life." The efforts of recent government officials in the US moving to restrict Christian worship and expression to churches--limiting believers from public expressions of faith. Pre-game or half-time prayers at secondary schools, and banners with Christian messages have resulted in coaches being fired and students suspended; the Lord's Prayer (affixed in print on various memorials) have been removed because non-believers complained.
Yet praying is something that many Christians do not do, or do infrequently. F.B. Meyer said, "The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer." (F. B. Meyer, Men of Integrity, Vol. 2, no. 2.) There is danger not only in praying but in not praying. Gerhard Hamm described not praying as killing us, spiritually. Joan Chittister explained this, saying "A spirituality without a prayer life is no spirituality at all, and it will not last beyond the first defeats. Prayer is an opening of the self so that the Word of God can break in and make us new. Prayer unmasks. Prayer converts. Prayer impels. Prayer sustains us on the way. Pray for the grace it will take to continue what you would like to quit." ("In a High Spiritual Season", in Christianity Today, "Reflections," Vol. 44, no. 9.) Prayer changes us; Sören Kierkegaard described praying, saying that "prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays." The more we pray, the more we desire to pray, and the more we yearn to learn how to increase the effectiveness of our prayers; the less frequently we pray, the less we desire to pray. Edward Farrell describes the result, saying "the penalty of not praying is the loss of one's capacity to pray." (Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 2.) In practicing the presence of God, communication is vital; someone likened such communication within a relationship to a married couple sitting in bed together, one person reading a book, the other focusing on his/her cellphone, and not talking to each other. No communication? It does not help a relationship, to fail to enjoy the presence of the other one. The same is true with prayer. Self-centeredness, coldness, insensitivity--each can work to break a relationship. Praying is fundamental to strengthening our trust in, commitment to, and love for our heavenly Father.
Prayer--costly, vital, sustaining a relationship. Dwight L. Moody said it is important enough in our lives to pray: "We are not told that Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, but He taught them how to pray. He wanted them to have power with God; then He knew they would have power with man. ("D. L. Moody's Little Instruction Book". Christianity Today, Vol. 43, no. 2.) A recent poll found agreement in terms of the number of people who pray and who have power or influence through answered prayer:
Percentage of Americans who pray daily: 75%
Percentage who say they have had prayers answered: 95%
(Life, 3/94. "To Verify," Leadership.)
Even the devil knows the importance of prayer; William Cowper (English poet and hymnodist) has stated that "Praying people are victorious people; the devil knows this, and Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees." If this were not so, prayer would not result in so much opposition, in today's world. Prayer is important. It is one of the believer's principal tools in prevailing in our wrestlings "against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). We who pray know the detriment of distraction that our foe sends, in our prayer times. Vance Havner has stated, "Any house wife knows that the best way to remember the things she meant to do and forgot is to start praying. They will come to her and divert her from prayer. The devil will let a preacher prepare a sermon if it will keep him from preparing himself." (Leadership, Vol. 3, no. 3.) And John Donne described his own experience with distraction during prayer: "I throw myself down in my chamber, and I call in and invite God and his angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his angels, for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door." [Sermons (No. 80). Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 10.]
How can we make our prayer experience better?
- Schedule a specific time and duration for prayer.
- Include a generous portion of praise to our Father (using the praise Psalms as a guide).
- As you read your Bible, each sentence or two, or paragraph can elicit prayer to God.
- Pray for your family; earnestly pray for our country’s leaders, your own needs, your friends' needs, etc.
- Remember to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters risking their lives for the sake of the gospel.
- Thank God for His steadfast love and his faithfulness; for His desire that we do pray, for the promised answers (1 John 5:15), for His forgiveness, for His trustworthiness, for His creation, for His sovereignty, and more.
- Then trust Him to answer your requests. May this be part of your prayer, in perhaps your own words:
I do not deserve that You should hear me and answer my requests, but for the sake of my precious Lord Jesus; for His sake answer my prayers, and give me grace quietly to wait until it pleases You to answer my prayers. For I believe You will do it in Your own time and way.
- Take the time to learn how to improve your prayers. A resource that might help is “The Essentials of Effective Prayer”, by Kay Arthur, David & BJ Lawson.
- As in any relationship, it is imperative to its success and longevity, to focus on the other person's desires/needs and in our prayer, on what God desires, and not as much on what we need. (Philippians 2:3)
- In your prayers, present your requests in Jesus' name (John 14:13-14).
As we present our requests to God, a major benefit is knowing His peace (Philippians 4:6-7); anxieties/stresses fade as we trust Him with our requests and with His answers. Prayer--it's a powerful and vital tool in our "whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:13-18) "…praying at all times… with all prayer and humble supplication." In peril or peace, stay near to God, and persistently pray, pray, pray.