Spiritual Discipline 101: Prayer
Pray without ceasing. That’s what scripture tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 right between rejoice always, and in everything give thanks. The words “without ceasing” means NOT to stop, discontinue, come to an end, make obsolete, pass away, or die out. Based upon this definition, it is easy to see how prayer as a spiritual discipline would require real commitment on the part of anyone desiring to be Christ’s disciple.
Prayer has often been explained by scholars and theologians over the years. Charles Spurgeon said, “I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.” In the words of Andrew Murray, “O, let the place of secret prayer become to me the most beloved spot on earth.” Billy Graham once said, “Prayer is more than a plea, it is a place where we must spend time if we are to learn its power.”
If I could offer a simple definition of prayer it would be, “A conversation of dialogue with God for the purpose of fellowship.” There are three things we must consider when building a lifestyle of prayer: understand its practice, understand its purpose, and understand its plan.
Understanding the Practice of Prayer
God invites us to practice prayer each and every day. That means it is a discipline we pursue with frequency and regularity. Some people refer to their time of prayer as their “secret place” or “prayer closet.” The point is, the only way for us to engage in the act of prayer is to literally, pray.
The beauty in our practice is not our acts of perfection. It is rather, our sacrifice and obedience to faithfully meet with our faithful God. Discipline means we show up and keep showing up - no matter what (even when we feel like we’ve failed to do it all right). Building a consistent prayer life requires a determination to exercise commitment over convenience. The conviction to practice the discipline of prayer is rooted in our love for God, not legalistic duty.
Understanding the Purpose of Prayer
When we speak of the purpose of prayer, we are really talking about our motive for praying. In my definition above, at the end it says, “...for the purpose of fellowship.” Our purpose for seeking God in prayer cannot be selfish. If the only prayers we pray are prayers of petition, then maybe our act of praying is not motive by our love for God, but possibly a calculated perspective that is invested in our own interest.
Being in a loving, growing relationship with God will prompt us to genuinely desire communion with him just for the purpose of getting to spend time talking and listening to him. The greatest blessings and rewards of prayer are what we receive intrinsically and intangibly while communicating with our Father. The ultimate purpose is to know God more.
Understanding the Plan of Prayer
Prayer has a design or plan. It is not only for us to voice our concerns and cares to God, but it also the place we understand his plans and instructions. When Jesus taught the disciples the model prayer (also commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Pray) as recorded in the Gospels, he said, “...thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...” In other words, God has a plan of how he has designed things to be in our life. In cooperation with his plan, our job is to pray for his will to manifest in the earth.
Prayer is not about obtaining what benefits us the most, but obeying the will of God. The challenge on our part is to relinquish our will in prayer and come into agreement with his plan. When we understand God has a plan, and that his plan is the best (really for our good), then we can align our heart and mind through our devotion as we discipline ourselves to a lifestyle of prayer.
I would like to leave you with two additional resources. The first is the lyrics to one of my favorite hymns, Sweet Hour of Prayer. The second is a quick reference listing ten different types of prayers. Now more than ever, I believe God is beckoning and waiting to meet with us in our place of prayer. There is much to say. There is much to hear. And then, we must respond accordingly. May prayer be the cadence that keeps time in the rhythm of our life, day by day.
Sweet Hour of Prayer by William Walford (1845)
Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!