How to grow in your prayer life
Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. It is one of the “means of grace,” the ways that God strengthens our faith and enables us to live faithfully in a fallen world. If you’re not praying then you’re not growing as a disciple.
Consider what the Westminster Larger Catechism tells us about the role of prayer in the life of the believer:
Q. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to His church the benefits of his mediation?
A. The outward and ordinary means of grace…are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.
Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/A 54
Prayer is one of the conduits through which God’s grace pours into our lives. Charles Spurgeon said of prayer,
“I would sooner see you eloquent with God than with men. Prayer links us to the eternal, the omnipotent, the infinite, and hence it is our chief resort…Be sure that you are with God, and then you may be sure that God is with you.”
The Scriptures contain a number of models for ways in which we can learn to pray. The prime example is, of course, our Lord’s prayer.
However, the Apostle Paul also provided a model for faithful Christian praying in his letter to the Ephesians. I’d like to briefly pull from the first section of Ephesians (1:15-23) some of the characteristics of Paul’s prayer life as he describes them there.
Here’s what Paul writes:
“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
I don’t want to suggest that Paul is prescribing this as a model for all Christians at all times. He is, through his words here, modeling fidelity in prayer and indirectly instructing the Christians about how to pray.
I see three simple characteristics of prayer (this isn’t rocket science) here that can enhance your own experience of God in prayer:
- Paul prayed regularly (“I do not cease”). Throughout his letter, continual prayer is a theme of the apostle’s ministry. Clearly, he saw his vocation centering around prayer and study of Scripture. (See 1 Thess. 5:17, Eph. 6:13; Rom. 6:18, Col 4:2). Our world isn’t conducive to unbroken times of prayer. However, we can set aside times for prayer with regularity so that we are not going for more than a couple of hours before we again approach the Lord in prayer.
- Paul gave thanks in his prayer (“…to give thanks…”). Again, looking across his letters thankfulness is a key theme in Paul’s written prayers. Thanksgiving is a discipline that may be especially hard for us given that our consumer culture orients us toward a perpetual sense of need rather than contentment. However, by being thankful we can set the broader context of our life so that we are able to bear pain and suffering when it inevitably enters our life.
- Paul interceded for others (“…and to remember you…”). Paul made it a habit of praying for others. This included both prayer for the furtherance of the mission, but this desire was intimately connected with the specific individuals whom Paul loved and who had dedicated their lives to the spread of the Gospel.
When you pray, do you pray for individual people and for specific needs? Does your prayer prompt you to be moved to love and serve others?