The Mystery of Prayerlessness

...and finding them asleep He said unto Peter, "What? Could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matthew 26:41

Opening Prayer: Father, I've been very weak in my prayer life. Show me how to get better, I pray.

It seems very odd to be writing this lesson. After all, prayer is just talking with God, and we have been talking (or signing or whatever) for most of our lives. Even very shy persons enjoy the times when their words are heard, understood, and appreciated.

So if prayer is just talking to God -- Who is smart enough to understand us and powerful enough to create entire universes with a single word -- why don't we pray more?

Well, why should we? What's so special about praying?

For starters, the benefits are pretty remarkable. Maybe YOU have discovered an easier way to achieve complete fulfillment -- maybe through working longer hours at work or spending more time watching television or cruising the Internet. Maybe you even enjoy religious rituals and liturgy. But true prayer is something very special, very different.

Does this passage, Psalm 16 verse 11, describe you?

In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

Sounds like SOME people experience wondrous joy in the presence of the Lord. But isn't that type of prayer something mysterious, to be undertaken only by some gifted, privileged elite?

Nope. Let's look at James chapter 5:

16 The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. 17 Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

If you are willing to pray earnestly, you can pray as effectively as Moses or Elijah. Are you willing? Good. This lesson is for you.

The first step is to recognize to Whom we pray. Psalm 118, verses 1-3:

1 Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness [endureth] forever. 2 Let Israel now say, That His lovingkindness [endureth] forever. 3 Let the house of Aaron now say, That His lovingkindness [endureth] forever.

What is the obvious message of these three verses?

That the lovingkindness of the Lord endures forever. Even I can figure that one out.

So why is His lovingkindness so important to MY prayer life?

Because when we pray, He listens intently, like a loving parent hoping for speech from a year-old toddler. Like a loving parent, He already has a pretty good idea what we need before we ask. He knows the food and activities and learning materials that will help us grow and develop. And He already knows the toxic stuff that we should be shielded from.

But if He already knows what we want, why doesn't He just give us the joy and all that other stuff? Why make us pray?

Let's go back to our toddler example. A good parent is willing to invest the time to help the child learn the right and wrong ways to achieve his/her objectives. In the process, the child learns a lot about life and how to live it.

When we're newborn babies, we have incredible potential to learn and grow and communicate. Fortunately we start out weak and clumsy, unable to either help or hurt ourselves to any great extent. As we grow, we (hopefully) learn wisdom and values to guide the use of our new motor and verbal skills.

Likewise when we're born again, through faith in the Messiah of Israel, we immediately receive a supernatural heart transplant and a complete new set of potential gifts. Fortunately, we are not immediately able to move mountains and call fire down from heaven. There's a learning process. Prayer and Scripture study are the core of the process.

But teacher, I already say some prayers and read some Bible verses every day. What else is there?

OK, maybe YOUR prayer life is already nearly perfect. But there's a lot of room for improvement in MY prayer life, so bear with me as go along here. Since I'm a visual learner, I look to the Bible for real-life examples of real men and women with really effective prayer lives.

Our first example, Joshua 10 verses 12-13:

12 Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, "Sun, stand still upon Gibeon; and Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. 13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not go down about a whole day.

Fortunately, the Lord has never asked me to stand up in front of two million people and pray for the earth to stop spinning on its axis. Joshua must have had an incredible prayer life, to be so absolutely sure of God's will.

Do you really believe that story? How could the earth stop rotating on its axis?

I don't know, to be honest with you. But all over the world, ancient historians -- from areas as separated as China and South America -- record such an abnormal day. People near the site of Joshua's battle recorded a supernaturally long period of sunlight. People on the other side of the globe recorded an abnormally long night.

Now let's look at the book of 1 Kings 18, verses 30-39:

30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD [that was] broken down. 31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: 32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid [him] on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour [it] on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. 34 And he said, Do [it] the second time. And they did [it] the second time. And he said, Do [it] the third time. And they did [it] the third time. 35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. 36 And it came to pass at [the time of] the offering of the [evening] sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou [art] God in Israel, and [that] I [am] thy servant, and [that] I have done all these things at thy word. 37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou [art] the LORD God, and [that] thou hast turned their heart back again. 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that [was] in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw [it], they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he [is] the God; the LORD, he [is] the God.

To be honest with you, I've had some wonderful times in prayer, but none quite this spectacular. How about you?

Our next example is in the book of Daniel, Chapter 6, verses 10-23:

10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. 11 Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. 12 Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king's decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask [a petition] of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing [is] true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. 13 Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which [is] of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day. 14 Then the king, when he heard [these] words, was sore displeased with himself, and set [his] heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him. 15 Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians [is], That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.
16 Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast [him] into the den of lions. [Now] the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. 17 And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him. 19 Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. 20 And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: [and] the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? 21 Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. 22 My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. 23 Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.

This is a very unusual story. Daniel had a consistent prayer life, and it landed him into the lions' cage at feeding time. What interests me most about the story is how Daniel's life (which was based on his relationship with the God of Israel) had profoundly touched the life of this king. In fact, you and I would do well to imitate the king's example of all-night prayer and fasting in times of crisis. Maybe then we'd get fewer lion bites.

So why don't WE pray like these great men of God?

Good question. Let me pray about it and get back to you.

Closing Prayer: Father, I've let the busy tasks of daily life interfere with my prayer time. Forgive me, and help me rediscover the joy of spending time in your presence, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

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