Welcome back to our series on the five habits of a healthy Christian! Last time we talked about the first habit, weekly worship. This time we’re going to focus on the second habit, which is daily prayer. A simple definition of prayer is: talking to God. When we pray, we get to speak freely with our Heavenly Father and tell Him what is in our hearts.
Biblical Examples of Prayer
There are many incredible examples of prayer in Scripture from the saints of the Old and New Testaments. You could look at David’s prayers in the Psalms, Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple, Daniel’s persistence in praying while in exile, Stephen’s prayer just before he was martyred, or Paul’s prayers that he weaves into many of his letters, and many, many more.
But the greatest example for us of how to pray is our Lord Jesus Christ. He took time to commune with and speak to His Father. The Gospel writer Mark tells us, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Luke 5:16 makes clear that this wasn’t a one-time thing for Jesus. Luke tells us: “Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NET). It was a habitual action for Christ to escape from the crowds, to get away early in the morning in a secluded place, and pray to His Father.
Jesus also prayed in public. We find an interesting example of this in John 11, in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Just before He called Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Jesus offered this prayer, saying, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:42). Christ addresses the Father directly in gratitude, but He does it publicly in order that other people would hear and understand the type of relationship that the Father and the Son have.
Jesus also prayed in a time of great need and distress, when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His passion and death. The Gospel of Matthew says Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37). He told his inner circle of disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). Then “he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’” (Matthew 26:39). Now this passage gets into some of the deepest waters of theology, waters that we don’t need to wade into in this series. But the basic point for us is that Christ showed us how to turn to the Father in our distress. A vital aspect of prayer is aligning our hearts with God’s will, in every situation.
Jesus also prayed on the cross. He looked at the ones who had nailed Him to the cross, and offered this prayer on their behalf, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus prayed for His enemies, even those who had caused him pain and injury and put Him to death. So our Lord Jesus offers us an incredible example of what it is to pray and to commune with God the Father.
Jesus also gave His disciples a model prayer to use, which we call the Lord’s Prayer. This is incredibly helpful and clear for us. It goes like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9–13). Not only can Jesus address God as His Father, but through the work of Christ we too can address God as our Father. That’s how He taught us to pray. We can praise His name, call for His kingdom to come in our lives and through our church. We can ask for His provision and forgiveness. We can ask for His power and help to live lives of holiness and righteousness. These are all things that the Lord taught us to pray.
Biblical Encouragement to Pray
Not only did Jesus guide us in what to pray, but He also taught us how to go about praying. Hereare two major things that Jesus emphasized related to prayer in His teaching.
First, Jesus said we need to be persistent in prayer. Jesus tells a funny story in Luke 11 where He describes a guy who knocks on his friend’s door late at night, asking for some bread for a guest who just arrived at his house (Luke 11:5–6). The friend is in bed, already settled and sleeping, and essentially tells the guy to just go away. But the guy just keeps knocking on the door and asking, and so finally the friend gives him what he asks (Luke 11:7–8). Jesus then told His disciples what to take from this story, “I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Jesus tells a similar story later about a widow who keeps asking an unrighteous judge for justice, and she eventually receives what she asks for. Jesus is not saying that God is like an annoyed neighbor or unrighteous judge. He is saying that if these two characters would respond to persistent requests, how much more will your Father in Heaven who loves you. Now, God may not give us everything we ask for in the timing and way that we ask for it. But we know that He loves us. He knows what is best for us. And He always answers by giving us what we truly need according to His perfect will for our lives. Jesus tells us not to ever lose heart! We should always keep praying (Luke 18:1).
Second, Jesus said we need to be humble and simple in our prayers. Jesus reacted strongly against the prayers of the Pharisees. Their prayers were performances. They wanted to show off, to be seen as righteous and eloquent in the sight of others. They weren’t really talking to God; they weren’t coming reverently before a Holy God. Jesus told a story about two men that went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (Luke 18:10). In the Pharisee’s prayer, he bragged that he was “not like other men,” but that instead he did righteous deeds such as fasting and tithing (Luke 18:11–12). But then Jesus described the tax collector, who, “standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13).
What a picture of humility, of reverence before God, of being truly poor in spirit and throwing yourself completely at the mercy of God. Our prayer life will be completely transformed when we grasp just how good and perfect God is and how sinful and undeserving we are. As David says in Psalm 51, “a broken and contrite heart God will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). God is full of mercy, and that’s why we can pray to Him.
Biblical Ends of Prayer
There are so many things that we can pray for, but let me just list a few for you to get you thinking about this. Here are some of the ends or goals of biblical prayers:
- To express praise to God (Psalm 145:1–3)
- To confess our sin to God (Psalm 32:5–6)
- To intercede on behalf of others (Daniel 9:3–19; 1 Timothy 2:1–4)
- To abide in Christ (John 15:7)
- To have Christ to dwell in you (Ephesians 3:14–17)
- To receive wisdom, counsel, and consolation from God (John 14:26–27)
- To express gratitude and joy in God (Philippians 4:6)
These are all things that we can ask or express to God our Father, in the name of Christ the Son, in the power of the Spirit.
Practical Guidance & Encouragement
Now I want to talk through a few practical things that can help guide you as you work on developing the spiritual habit of prayer.
First, a great place to start is to pray with Scripture. There is an entire book of the Bible composed entirely of prayers and songs—the Psalms. The theologian John Calvin often called the Psalms “the Anatomy of the Soul” because every condition of the heart or situation in life is covered in one way or another in the Psalms. They can give us the words to say as we speak to God, guiding us and aligning us with God’s will as we pray them. The Lord’s Prayer is also obviously such a great prayer to memorize and say throughout the day. Praying the Lord’s Prayer can be a good practice and starting point, which you can expand upon in your prayers.
It can also be helpful to schedule your prayers. Christians throughout history have scheduled prayers at certain times of the day. Many people do morning, midday, and evening prayers. This helps keep us stay connected to God throughout the day.
I would also recommend the practice of writing out your prayers by hand. For me, this is a simple way to keep my mind focused. When we pray, our minds can tend to wander. But if we’re writing out our prayers, this brings a level of focus to what we’re doing that is very helpful.
One thing that our Pastor, Dr. Jeffress, recommends is keeping a list of your requests. He says you can start out by creating a “worry” list, writing down everything on your mind that is causing you anxiety. Then scratch out “worry” and write “prayer,” and this becomes your prayer list. You can keep returning to it and noting how God answers those prayers over time, which can be very encouraging to see.
Another thing to think about is your physical posture during prayer. You can pray at anytime, anywhere, out loud or in your mind. But the physical posture of our bodies can also help to encourage a certain disposition in our souls. So, for instance, kneeling can be a great way to remind yourself of the humility we should have before God. Paul mentions this in Ephesians 3:14 when he says, “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father…” So I would commend that to you as well.
Remember that the overarching goal of every spiritual discipline is to work through the discipline in order to bring about a change in our hearts and to become a new kind of person, to become more like Jesus Christ. Some people say, “Oh I just pray without ceasing, I don’t need to write my prayers or schedule time in the day to do it.” But what I’ve often found is that people who take this approach end up praying very little or not at all. But the people who make it a point to schedule time for prayer, to write out their prayers, and to be very intentional about these practices—these are the people who truly become people of prayer. Prayer becomes a trained reflex, a natural response to every situation. It becomes a true lifestyle where you become a person truly marked by communion with and reliance upon God.
This has been habit 2, daily prayer, in our five habits of a healthy Christian series. I hope this is helpful for you and an encouragement for you! Next time, we’ll dig into habit 3, daily Scripture reading.