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The Habit Of
Many Christians lack a vital dimension in their spiritual lives.
Prayer helps provide it.
By Malcolm B Heap, Midnight Ministries
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hen I was a young boy, my parents attended the Methodist church. Every Sunday, until I was about 11, it was a regular weekly event. My paternal grandfather had been a Regional Superintendent in the north of England, a passionate preacher and ardent churchman. Hull dockers nicknamed him the ‘red-headed devil’ for his outspoken attacks against drunkenness and the neglect of their families.
My father and his five sisters had benefited from the legacy of this man of God’s fiery zeal. They all became zealous, in their own way, for the traditions they had inherited.
Dodie, Wol and Nin (Millicent) all became Methodist missionaries and went to outposts in the Empire to do their bit. Dodie died of black water fever in Africa. Wol and Nin returned from India in later life. Ruth married a Methodist minister. Eileen married a hard-working nurseryman who was also a Methodist lay preacher. And my father, Ron, was likewise a Methodist lay preacher.
Despite all this, I don’t once remember my father praying, except in church. I never heard a sermon on prayer. Granted, I was young and didn’t take much notice of what was said in church anyway, but you would have thought that, if the Methodist church was a praying church, the example would have rubbed off on me in some way. I would have learned from it, or at least known about it.
But I didn’t. I was never taught how to pray in the Methodist church. It was some four or five years later, when God called me, that I learned the need for prayer, and started to develop the habit.
It was similar for the first disciples. In their upbringing, prayer was equally obscure. It was not a habit. So, when they saw Jesus praying, at once they realised their lack. They asked Him to teach them to pray, just as John the Baptist had taught his disciples (Luke 11:1).
To be a disciple of Jesus means to be disciplined in the things which Jesus taught. One of those disciplines is prayer.
It is something we all have to learn, and I don’t believe that you can stop learning in this life. Just as we can all progress from faith to faith (Rom 1:17), so we can all improve in this vital area of spiritual development.
Real prayer makes a Christian!
Learning To Pray
I was 16 when I first became aware that Jesus expects us to pray regularly: When you pray... (Luke 11:2), He said.
Paul wrote: Pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).
I had learned from the literature of others who taught about Jesus that prayer is so essential to us that NOT to pray is like ceasing to breathe.
As physical human beings, we often need practical guidelines in the physical to help us get started. One that made a great impression on me was the example of others who prayed on their knees for half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening.
What I read stirred me to action. I began from that day to develop a habit of praying which has not ceased since. Of course, I have varied that regime according to circumstances and need, but to this day it still remains a rough guideline for me.
David prayed three times a day – morning, noon and night (Ps 55:17). For some that is possible. For others, with pressures of work, that is not.
God does not lay down hard and fast rules in His Word about how to pray, other than in sincerity or earnestness (Jas 5:17; Heb 2:1; Jn 4:23). He knows that we are all different. Our needs, our proclivities, and our personalities are all so varied that, how we pray is a personal decision.
Not all believers pray on their knees, as I often do. In our fellowship meetings we all pray seated. Helena has a unique intercessory gift, linking up to the Spirit wherever she may be at that time when the Spirit moves. She is not rigidly tied to the spot. I do not suggest that you copy me in what I do, although we do see Jesus adopting that position from time to time (Lk 22:41), and others (Eph 3:14; Rev 5:8). You have to follow the prompting of the Spirit. What is important is that whatever position you adopt, it helps you in your communion with Him in the spirit.
The whole point in prayer is that you make contact with God. This first means you yield yourself to His Spirit. Humility is the starting point. People who arrogantly come before God with their pride in tact won’t make the connection they need. But the moment you lay yourself down at His feet, you will.
It’s what takes place in your spirit that makes the difference. Your words can either go no higher than the ceiling, or they can penetrate the heavens! And the difference is in the attitude of your spirit.
...on this one will I look: on him who is poor [needy] and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My Word (Is 66:2).
Sigh and Cry
When Daniel was so cut up about the tragic plight of God’s people, and that the light of godliness had been snuffed out, God came through so strongly! (Dan 9-12.) The angel Gabriel visibly appeared to him and told him things that have been recorded for us all to benefit from today!
God responds to the heart cry of His people – not a selfish heart cry, but one that cares for the holiness that God cares about:
...put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations... (Ezek 11:4).
In our fellowship meetings each week people pray in tongues (those with the gift, which does not include me), and according to what God wants to convey, I prophesy or interpret some of the tongues messages. One recent tongues message said that God’s heart yearns for holiness in His people.
That is the basis of true prayer – a heart that is attuned to God’s, a holy aspiration, and zeal for His truth and purity.
James reminded his readers that it’s no use using prayer as a means to try and GET what you want from God (Jas 4:3). Such motivation is not good but evil. God knows what you need before you ask Him (Matt 6:8), so you don’t need to come before Him with a ‘shopping list’.
There are times when you won’t know what to pray for. After praying for God to succour believers who are in prison, in adversity, in pain or in anguish, just let the Spirit take over.
"I don’t know how to do that." Well, you yield your spirit to God. You humble yourself before Him. You allow Him to do what He wants within you. You let Him speak to your spirit.
If you are new to this, to get to that point, first you need to go through the rudiments Jesus outlined in Matthew 6. These recognise our place in a body of believers, not merely alone, so that God is our Father not merely yours (Matt 6:9); that He is holy (utterly without taint or sinful tendency, unlike us) (6:9); that our desires must be centred on His kingdom being established and His will being done in your life (6:10); that you need His spiritual nourishment for that day, so get your Bible out and let Him speak to you that way (6:11); extend a heart of forgiveness to those who have hurt or offended you, and realise that you have also offended others, especially God (6:12); cry out to Him to deliver you from the evil one Satan (6:13); and acknowledge deep down that you are not to seek power and glory for yourself but for Him only (6:14).
Then, with this beginning, you can proceed.
...you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith [faith is obedient trust in God], praying in the Holy Spirit... (Jude 20).
When a desire for holiness is birthed in you, and you are prepared to lay down your all in life to do His will, you will find that you can yield yourself to Him in prayer and He will come through. Then He will baptise you in His Spirit, to receive gifts, one of which may be tongues to enable you to pray in a prayer language of His choosing. With that gift, He will help you to yield more to Him, and you can pray for others in an unknown tongue, praying in the Spirit.
If My People Will Pray...
I remember the time when I was 17 and laid down my all before His heavenly altar, for Him to use me as He saw fit. I meant it. It wasn’t just words. At that moment this indescribable peace came over me. It filled me inside with an unassuming assurance, a warmth, a tenderness, a sense of acceptance, of usefulness, of surrender. I can’t describe it better than that. Words don’t convey all that God’s Spirit can. When you reach the same place (many have), you will know what I mean, and you will know this peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7).
In an article of this brevity I cannot cover all the aspects that have a bearing on effective prayer, or the many times God has answered His people. It is only a reminder, and encouragement. You can read for yourself all the instances in the Bible where God answered the heart cry of the faithful – sometimes dramatically like Elijah on Mt Carmel; or Jehoshaphat on the battlefield (2 Chron 18:31); or when Asa faced an Ethiopian army of a million (2 Chron 14:11,12); as Moses and Aaron stood before the Eternal (Lev 9:24) and fire descended; and when the same happened after Solomon dedicated the Temple (2 Chron 6,7); or when the first disciples prayed and the place was shaken (Acts 4:31).
The common thread in all these instances is:
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chron 7:14).
Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer... (7:15). ...IF you walk before Me as your father David walked and do according to all that I have commanded you... (7:17).
By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified (Lev 10:3).
Do you have that motivation? If you develop a habit of prayer with that pure motive as its basis:
...you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you (Jn 15:7b).
Because you will be at one with Jesus, living in Him, and He living in you (Jn 15:7a).
By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples (Jn 15:8). & Malcolm B Heap
Bible quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) unless otherwise stated
Further Reading: Why Pray? (WP); Articles of Faith Vols 1-5 (F1-F5). The Bible Speaks Vols 1-5 (TBS1-TBS5).
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