Prayer took much of the time and strength of Jesus, and a man or woman who does not spend much time in prayer cannot properly be called a follower of Jesus Christ.
—R. A. Torrey, How to Pray
I often get down on myself for not reading my Bible like I ought to. But recently, I’ve started to think my real problem is that I don’t pray like I ought to.
Frequency of Prayer
What is the “right” amount of prayer? For me, “more than I’m doing right now” will do for an answer, and I suspect few of us have people saying to us, “Praying again? You know, you really ought to cut down…”
In the first chapter of the book quoted above, R. A. Torrey argued that we ought to be about “constant, persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer.” And again: it occupied much of Jesus’ time during the Incarnation, and it is his chief occupation until he comes again. If I am a follower of Christ, I must do as my master did… and continues to do.
Method of Prayer
Greg Koukl writes that we should follow the acronym “SIP” when we pray: we should pray specifically, intelligibly, and persuasively.
Biblical prayers have content, clarity, and power. There is no spiritual blather. In many cases, they include reasons why God should act, as if the person praying were persuading Him of something He wouldn’t do apart from their entreaty. Sometimes the reasons are based on the need. Other times they are based on God’s character or what might happen to His reputation if He ignored the request (this was a favorite ploy of Moses’).
These are the things your would normally—and quite naturally—say if you were speaking to someone of importance making request for help or provision. You’d explain your need, why you need it, and why your request should be granted.
I think we should do the same with God. We should pray in full sentences, intelligibly, with complete thoughts. Our prayers should include clear, specific requests, and straightforward, genuine expressions of feeling and thanks. We should also give reasons why God ought to respond to our appeals.
He goes on to point out that “Some people find that occasionally writing their prayers out is helpful. It forces them to put more clarity and substance into their entreaties.” That’s helpful to me, too — especially when people send me e-mail requests for prayer. I forget who suggested this to me, but when you get an e-mail asking for prayer, why not just reply with your prayer?
Expectation of Prayer
I’ll resist the temptation to generalize this beyond myself, but I suspect I’m not alone here: my mind tends to run to all the reasons God won’t grant my requests in prayer. “My motives are wrong.” “God has something better.” “I don’t know what I should pray for, and I don’t want to pray for the wrong thing.” “My Prayer Answer-er is broken.” Or how about, “I should get rid of my sin first.” (Good luck with that one.)
Do that long enough and you’ll become a functional deist: someone who thinks God created the world, wound it up like a clock, and walked away. That is not how Christ thought of God when he taught us to pray, “Abba, Father.”
It also makes me pray very safe prayers. “God, help me to do your will” is theologically spot-on, but very safe. When Jesus prayed “not my will, but yours, be done,” he only said that after he had first fallen on his face, begging God for another way to redeem the world.
Let me challenge you to take captive every one of those God-insulting thoughts that would veto your prayer before it gets underway and pray anyway. Every time you catch yourself thinking of all the reasons to leave a prayer unsaid, remember that it’s God’s job to answer your prayers, not yours — so give him a chance to do so.
Our mission is to reach, build, and equip people in the character and priorities of Christ. He was characterized by prayer, and he certainly made it a priority. As his followers, let us strive to pray as he did.