Three keys to unlock a better prayer life
In this messages - which is a follow up to the Go To Your Room message early November - I share another three keys that will unlock a better prayer life: focus, patience and desire.
Jesus often explained the Kingdom of God in parables. There is a one-verse parable that has always fascinated me. Not because of its tweetability, but just because of its impact.
Matthew 13:44 (ESV)
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
The parable makes total sense if you think about that treasure being an actual treasure chest, filled with gold and jewelry and stuff. Yeah, great return on investment! Smart move!
But Jesus says, that it’s the intangible Kingdom of God that is worth giving everything up for. The radicality and complete abandonment of everything else the man in the parable considered important before, is astonishing.
It’s the radicality you and I are called to as well. It’s the radicality that’s behind Jesus’ invitation to everyone to ‘come, follow me’. Following Jesus, embracing the Kingdom of God, does mean that everything else becomes of secondary importance, if not obsolete.
I think that we need to bring this type of hyper-focus and determination to our prayers as well.
I know. I’m struggling with that too.
We have become so used to distractions that we don’t even realize how distracted we actually are.
What are some things that you could switch off, turn down or fast from this month that would help you to focus on God and prayer?
What is your biggest distraction, the thing that prevents you from experiencing God in your everyday life?
Perhaps a jam-packed calendar through which you are always in a hurry.
It could be music or tv that is always on in the background.
Maybe it is social media which kills every opportunity for a dull moment to be turned into a holy moment.
Test ride a less distracted life with me this month, and let’s see what it does for our prayer lives. I believe it might help to bring more focus, and a bigger awareness of His presence.
This past year, the Lectio365 app by 24/7 Prayer, has been a huge help for me to turn more moments into prayer. Every day they lead you through 10 minutes of Scripture and prayer, and they consistently start it with this sentence:
As I enter prayer now, I pause to be still; to breathe slowly; to re-center my scattered senses upon the presence of God.
We need this type of focus as we enter into each time of prayer, and as we enter into a month of prayer.
So switch off what needs switching off, Turn down what needs to be turned down and Fast from whatever you need to fast from
to get that focus.
A second key to unlock a better prayer life is patience.
It’s often said that people of my age group and younger that have grown up in the Western World are so used to wealth and instant gratification of any desire that we have unlearned the skill of patience. I remember it took a couple of minutes to turn on a computer… And then it would take another 5 minutes to connect to the internet!
We are so used to have the whole world literally within arm’s reach that we are losing the sense that some things need to be waited for. But God hasn’t changed. And it often seems like God is out to test our patience, possibly to remind us He is not a cosmic vending machine.
The book of Isaiah is an extraordinary book. It’s written many years before the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon, but already prophecies the return of the exiles to Israel and the coming of God’s reign –in the restored Jerusalem, the coming Messiah and the Kingdom of God breaking through ever since.
The book contains 66 chapters, and the first 39 are mostly filled with warnings and gloomy predictions of the coming destruction as a retribution for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.
From chapter 40 onwards, there is a turnaround. The chapter starts with the words “Comfort, comfort my people, says the Lord. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” This comes as an absolute relief after so many chapters of warnings and woes.
The chapter continues to speak of hope and restoration, and the incomparable greatness of God. And then it ends with these words.
Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Hemmed in between descriptions of God’s greatness and the time of blessing and promise which is coming soon, there is a very clear instruction to ‘wait for the Lord’.
How is your waiting for the Lord? I think it is safe to say that mine is not altogether exemplary…
Yet, it is those who wait, who will renew their strength. Those who patiently wait for God to come through for them in their struggles, meet them in their worries and lift them up in due time, that get to soar like eagles and run without getting tired.
Patience is vitally important in our prayer lives.
Without patience, there is no perseverance.
Without patience, we won’t find the inner silence to actually hear God’s voice.
Without patience, we only appreciate God for what He does for us, but not for who He is.
How is your patience in prayer?
Can you take time to just sit in silence before God without bombarding Him with important requests?
Waiting on God is something that has marked the Vineyard movement from the beginning. John Wimber, the founder of the movement, became a believer in the Quaker tradition, a group notoriously known for their desire for God to move among them as they waited for Him.
Can you pray, and keep on praying for something or someone with persistence and patience, believing that every single prayer you pray matters, even if God seems to do nothing?
Can you enjoy the little things, the ordinary things together with God, as you would with a friend or spouse?
In the Prayer Course you will learn some exercises from the contemplative tradition that will help you to become aware of God’s presence and enjoy intimacy with Him.
Lastly, I want to talk about desiring God. Any deepening of your prayer life must start with a desire, or even a desperation, for the presence of God in your life.
As I was reading one of Pete Greig’s books recently, leader of the 24/7 Prayer movement and main teacher in the Prayer Course, he was uncovering something about a Bible character, Obed-edom, which was new information to me.
When King David decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant – which represented the presence of God – to Jerusalem, the first trip there didn’t go so well. They put it on a ramshackle cart and almost fall off, and the man who touched it to prevent it from falling dropped dead on the spot. David decided to stall the Ark for a while at Obed-edom’s house.
2 Samuel 6:10-12 (ESV)
So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.
This is all we hear about Obed-edom in the two books of Samuel. Yet, he shows up again in the book of 1 Chronicles. When the Ark was in Jerusalem and the Levites began to serve God with music and offerings, in what would later be the Temple, Obed-edom became a musician and a gatekeeper.
Apparently, the time that the Ark had spent in his house had had such an impact on him, that He wanted to be as close to the Ark as much as he could from now on. The taste of God’s presence in his life, the blessing he experienced, made him hungry for more.
It’s likely that Obed-edom was a wealthy man, and that this is why David stalled the Ark at his house. Yet, Obed-edom left whatever he was doing that had made him a wealthy man, to serve as a humble gatekeeper – just so that he could be in the presence of God.
In him, the words of Psalm 84 are fulfilled:
Psalm 84:1-2, 10
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies
I long, yes, I faint with longing
To enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
A single day in your courts
Is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
As we embark on this month of prayer, can we bring that same longing and desire for the presence of God into our prayer times?
Can we bring that lovesick, desperate, hyper-focus, ready-to-go-all-the-way determination to our month of prayer?
We are heading into a new year which will probably be full of turmoil again and will demand our flexibility and patience. How do we position ourselves as a church as we are heading into 2021? I believe that the best things that we can do is by developing a deep craving for the presence of God – because anything that’s good and worthwhile starts there.