John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray. Likewise Jesus. Must be important.
CHOOSE A TIME
What we schedule we treat as significant. If we don’t schedule it, we may be less likely to enjoy a consistent life of prayer. If you say to someone, “Hey, let’s get together sometime,” meaning in the distant future, and he gets out the calendar, he is valuing that appointment more than you are. If you’re married, how about scheduling a prayer time together as well? I love praying with my wife. We are different in how we approach prayer, so we learn from each other.
While you are deciding on the time, pick a spot. Peter and John went to the temple (place) at the hour of prayer (the time), and God showed up. Daniel prayed three times a day in the same place–and position; he knelt. If you have a place and time, I guarantee you—Jesus won’t be late for the meeting. But it’s possible to have a good prayer life and not have a specific time and place–especially if you’re the apostle Paul.
An acronym helps to keep me on track: P-R-A-Y.
Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘Father’”. The apostles prayed to the Father (Eph. 3:14). It positions us as children coming to receive. We are servants of the Lord and children of the Father. In prayer we are children. Jesus taught us to pray to his Father and ours. It is not wrong to pray to Jesus, but it is not the way he taught us.
I start with praise for three reasons: First, we are encouraged to enter this way (Ps. 100). Second, it decentralizes us, an ongoing need. The world does not revolve around me. I am not the center of the universe. I want to live a God-focused life. And third, we become what we behold. The more I focus on God, the more I become like Him. I used to focus on myself and my sin in prayer. Didn’t work. I praise God both for who He is (like sovereign, generous, forgiving, accessible, helpful) and what He does (sanctifies, seats me in the heavenlies, overcomes). I include thanksgiving because the Bible says, “In all things give thanks.” I didn’t obey that for a long time–now I do. I thank God daily for tests, trials, tension, and for conflict. Then I see how He uses them, and I am less likely to complain and more likely to praise him in difficult times.
God takes sin more seriously than I do. Think cross. Repentance sobers me up. I easily overlook a wrong thought, an unkind word. Not to confess could harden my heart to sin. Unforgiveness leads to torment (Matt. 18:35). It was sin that ruined the human race. To repent of sin enables me to not focus on sin. David described what happens to people who ignore sin (Ps. 32). Not a pretty picture. It makes our soul sick–and sometimes our body. God turns from directing to disciplining. We don’t hear His voice in the same way. Confession clears the deck and brings back fellowship with God and others who walk in the light (I John 1:7). Part 2 next.