The Spiritual Discipline of Prayer

Ask a group of people what prayer is, and you will likely receive a myriad of answers. While varied, the responses generally, however, will convey the same idea – prayer is a conversation with God.

For our purposes in considering prayer as one of the foundational Spiritual Disciplines, I believe it will be helpful for us to dig a little deeper by searching out a solid definition. To do this we could consult a dictionary (but would want to be careful which dictionary we used). Or we might look to The Westminster Shorter Catechism.

PRAYER DEFINED

Question 98 of The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is Prayer?”

This answer follows. “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”

By this definition, we see that prayer is more than a conversation (an act), prayer is also an attitude – one that is completely dependent upon God.

THE TEST

In a previous blog post, we determined that our approach to any of the Spiritual Disciplines will be one of testing the discipline against Scripture. Our aim, to see if the discipline is taught within its pages and whether it is modeled by Jesus. Only then, would we go hard after it in pursuit of our spiritual transformation.

A quick survey of the New Testament reveals much on the subject.

By Jesus

Clearly, we need look no further than the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 6:5-8) to find an example of prayer being taught in the Bible. In this passage, Jesus teaches His hearers how to pray what many now call the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Not only do we find the example we are looking for in this passage, but we also find something else of great importance – an expectation. He teaches with the expectation that His followers will pray.

By Paul

The Apostle Paul frequently taught on prayer. For instance, he taught the Colossians (and us) to be steadfast in prayer (Colossians 4:2). This he said, expresses our complete dependent upon God for help and strength to live the life He has called us to.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul teaches his hearers to “pray without ceasing… for this is the will of God.” Here, Paul echoes Jesus’ expectation that believers in Christ pray. Prayer is not optional. It is our lifeline in spiritual warfare.

And in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul teaches that prayer is a personal invitation from the King of Kings (Ephesians 3:12). What a privilege and honor! We are invited to come before our holy, almighty, sovereign Creator and present our requests to Him.

To be sure, there are many examples of prayer being taught and modeled in Scripture.  Therefore, we can say without reservation that this is a Spiritual Discipline to pursue.

LEARNING TO PRAY

If prayer can be taught, it stands to reason that it can be learned.

It is true that prayer should come naturally to the child of God. After all His spirit resides in our very being. However, it is also true that we have need to learn to pray. The disciples give evidence to this in their request for Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1).

There is always room to grow, to learn to pray more biblically. This growth is possible through teaching and practice.

3 Ways Prayer is Learned

Pray

One of my favorite things to do is to teach sessions on prayer. We go to God’s Word. We discuss the obstacles. Methods are examined. But before the day is over – we practice.

Just like any discipline, whether it’s playing a musical instrument, laying down the perfect bunt, or mastering a foreign language, good practice is needed. You can read all the books, attend all the classes, listen to all the experts, but you will not truly learn the discipline until you involve yourself in doing it.

Pray with Others

We can learn to pray from the godly example of others. During times of corporate prayer, don’t tune out. Learn to listen well. Hear the content of these spoken prayers. Hear the passion, urgency, and zeal in the heart of the pray-er. Don’t mimic these precious godly examples. Learn from them.

One way to pray with others is to get involved in a small group or discipling relationship. Meet weekly with one or two for a time of prayer. These precious practice-laden opportunities will help you learn the fundamentals of prayer and inform your prayer life like nothing else can.

Another way to pray with others is to involve yourself in a larger prayer gathering. Does your church hold an organized time of prayer? Get off your seat and go! Listen to those who are offering prayer. Some carry you with them into the very throne room of God as they pray directly from Scripture and make much of who God is. Some take you right into the very life and circumstance of those for whom they intercede. Still others capture you with their vision or their passion for the lost. Their prayers are biblical, God-honoring, humble, and bold. Learn from them.

Pray God’s Word

Prayer is also learned by mediating on Scripture.

We recently examined the foundational Spiritual Discipline of Engaging with Scripture. In regard to this discipline, we noted that hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Bible are vital to our Spiritual Transformation. By praying God’s Word, we connect the disciplines of Engaging with Scripture and prayer.

One way we can pray God’s Word is to read a passage of Scripture before we pray. Then after reading, to mediate on what we have just read. Finally, after our period of Scripture meditation, we pray. During our reading, we should look for things to praise God for, things to thank Him for. During our meditation, we can consider how the words we read apply to our daily life and allow them to convict us of our sins. And our prayer should reflect our reading and meditations leading us to offer praise, give thanks, confess our sins, and repent.

This is prayer. It is an act and an attitude. Something one can learn. What step toward its growth will you implement today?