Chapter 15: Realizing the Struggle of Prayer

 “It is not a matter of time so much as a matter of heart; if you have the heart to pray, you will find the time“ – Charles Spurgeon

…..from Stephen Covey’s book First Things First. He explains how often when we create a daily schedule, we try to add things on to our busy schedule without prioritizing what is most important. Covey writes, “The key, however, is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” If we sit down to make our daily schedule, write down everything and then try to add prayer, it will never happen. However, if we sit down and schedule prayer first, then we are setting ourselves up for success and we will be able to get a lot more done.

We need to discern what our priorities are in life, schedule those first, and then everything else will fall into place. Too often we make the “sand” or “little rocks” in life more important and that is why we end-up failing when it comes to prayer.

Another essential principal that will help you develop a daily prayer routine is to schedule prayer in the morning and evening. I have learned from personal experience that if I don’t pray first thing in the morning, it never happens. I can never rely on the day being the same, as something always comes up. However, the time in morning and evening are like blank slates that typically stay constant.

The key is to make it a habit. We all have daily habits, such as brushing our teeth. We don’t need to think about habits, they simply “happen.” Habits are so ingrained into our daily schedule that if we disrupt a habit, we feel like something is missing.

The most important part of establishing a schedule of prayer is to be intentional about it. We can’t say to ourselves that we will pray every day and then expect it to happen. We need to be deliberate and make it a priority, putting pen to paper.

“….And when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know the human heart)” 2 Chronicles 6:29-30  (NIV)

When we’re too busy, tired, stressed or unmotivated to pray,  it’s because we’ve become hardened from living in denial of what’s going on inside our hearts and lives. The struggle to pray reflects our resistance to be influenced.  It is through the scriptures and honest conversations with friends that God helps us develop awareness about our  true motives, emotions, thoughts, sins and desires. (Hebrews 4:12-13Proverbs 20:5)  We can’t be vulnerable with what we are unaware of. Rather than isolate, welcome the daily influence of spiritual relationships and the Bible to develop heart awareness that will make your prayers real rather than religious.

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” Matthew 6:6 (NIV)   

No meaningful conversation (especially prayer) can be had in a place filled with distractions. Find a specific place where your only focus is God, which means closing the door to any distractions, whether from your phone, home, school, workplace, or social media.  God wants to hear from you, not your texts, emails, or the stressors around you. Set out inspiring places and times where he’ll have your undivided attention.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5:16 (NIV)

We struggle to pray when we stop believing our prayers really matter. Specific confession of sin is what makes our prayers effective. To confess means to agree with with God about our sin—how he views, thinks, and feels about the impact of our sin on our relationship with him and others. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11) When our primary aim is to deny or minimize our sins (Psalm 66:19-20), prayer becomes a religious practice in ineffectiveness, rather than a refreshing turning point to transformative change.

The struggle to pray is marked with a disinterest in understanding the lives and needs of others. Without understanding we can’t genuinely love others. Inspired prayers are fueled by love. Love invigorates us to overcome the walls we hit. When we expect God to attend to and understand our every need and struggle, but lack this same understanding and concern for others (e.g. husbands for wives), how can we expect God to be moved? Specificity reflects our depth of care and understanding for people. We develop understanding for others through prayer and by spending more effort considering others and less time on self. God reveals to us original thoughts and ways to inspire, involve and influence others through us when we pray about others specifically.

“Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (CEV)

The times when we hit a wall, quit praying specifically, or stop praying altogether, we can be sure it was preceded by a loss of gratitude. Gratitude is what jump-starts our prayer life, renews our faith, and inspires others about what God can do rather than what we cannot. Evaluate your prayer life not by length of time, but how much more gratitude for God and love for others you walk away with. The resilience to overcome our walls is developed in this kind of prayer.

Many of us struggle to read our Bibles and pray on a daily basis. Therefore, when we do, we rarely question our motivation. It’s easy to assume that Bible reading and prayer are magic bullets — if we read and pray, we will grow. It’s not that simple. As Charles Spurgeon puts it, “It is not enough to do the correct thing; it must be done in a right spirit, and with a pure motive. A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, and because of the greatness and goodness of his holy name.”

The state of our heart is of utmost importance as we practice spiritual disciplines. It’s possible to read our Bibles, pray, attend Lord’s Day worship, and even take the Lord’s Supper for all types of carnal reasons. Unless we do it for God’s glory, and our joy in him, it does us no ultimate good.

An inherent danger in spiritual disciplines is a propensity of the human heart to look to self-effort or practices or methodologies for growth. It is important to understand what is going on underneath the disciplines. What is the motivation for the discipline?

So one of the most significant things in spiritual disciplines is understanding the affections of your heart. Is the motive Christ? Is the means Christ?

Take for instance, the proverbial quiet time. If you ask someone anonymously, or maybe on a survey, What do you really think? What do you really think is happening when you have your quiet time or when you don’t have your quiet time? I think most evangelicals actually believe they phase in and out of God’s love based on their performance.

Consequently, the quiet time often becomes simply a means by which they follow the discipline of reading Scripture versus a time where they use the Scripture to adore and worship God in Christ for who he is and for all he has done for them. But what is fascinating is: You can’t tell when you are just looking on the outside.

Chapter 15 Questions

  • Pg 114 (top of page) ” but steal their time so they do not have time to have an intimate fellowship with Christ “  How is your time stolen….or how do you thwart Satan when he tries to steal your time !
  • Pg 114 “Devote yourself to prayer “. What does this look like ?  How is our devotion different than Daniel’s ?
  • Pg 114 – Hudson Taylor  “ As wounds when healed often leave a scar, so the sin of neglected communion may be forgiven and yet the effect remain permanently “. Please discuss this quote.
  • Pg 115 ” the problem of maintaining a systematic devotional time was identified as their greatest spiritual struggle. “   Is this true or false for you ?
  • “ Cultivating meaningful disciplines in our lives is a struggle, and if a person has never known anything of a struggle there is likely a lack of depth in the persons development “. Please discuss these statements  .
  • Pg 116-117   Recap the the words of Pastor J. Sidlow Baxter in these pages and discuss what he was saying  . What can his words teach us ?
  • Were there any new insights/thoughts in the book or in the notes that you would like to share ?

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