The Fatherhood of God
When my prayers are dry, nothing brings refreshment quicker than quoting Matthew 18:3 to myself:
“Unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 18:3
My default is to come as a battle-weary soldier to a Sergeant-Major. The reality is that I’m a child — a little child — coming to my Father. That changes everything.
The Priesthood of Christ
Probably the central image I have in mind when I think of prayer is Christ’s prayer life before the Father (Luke 11:1). He is my Aaron, spreading incense in the Holy of holies and I am carried on his heart before the LORD (Exodus 28-29; Heb 7:25). I don’t have to yell up to heaven, I’m at his right hand, whispering in his ear. It’s not my prayers that need to ascend to heaven (which is good because my prayers are rubbish). Christ has ascended and I am in him (Col 3:1-4).
The Spirit’s Intercession
I’m always late to prayers. That’s because there’s been a prayer meeting going on for a very long time. And the Spirit sweeps me up into it — I now participate in the Son’s communion with the Father. So now the Spirit cries in my heart, Abba, Father. This is my new spiritual heartbeat. Once again, this is not a communion with God that I have to establish. It’s given to me. The Spirit is praying, now I get to join in.
The World’s True Nature
I’m constantly tempted to feel that the world is a factory floor and I need to pull the right levers to get stuff done. Even with ministry I can feel like I must ‘build the kingdom’, brick upon brick. But I’m not meant to pull levers or lay bricks, I’m meant to abide in a Vine that is, by nature, full of life and fruitfulness. As I pray I’m telling myself (and living out the truth) that “Without [Christ] I can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
When Hannah did not pray out loud she seemed like a crazy drunk to the high priest (1 Sam. 1:12-14). Who even does that? Who prays silently? Apparently no-one in Israel ever did that. But today in the west, we default to this madness. We even call our times with God “quiet times”? Are we insane? Do we want to ensure that our thoughts will definitely drift in a thousand distractions? Do we want to turn our time with God into introspection — a descent into the self? No? Then pray out loud. And while you’re at it, read out loud too (Revelation 1:3). Seriously, don’t have quiet times. Talk to God.
Pray the Psalms
There are 150 prayers in the middle of your Bible. Pray them. They’ve been given to us for precisely this reason. They involve the interplay of the LORD, his King/Christ, the righteous and the wicked. Figure out what interplay is going on in the Psalm in front of you and join in, playing the appropriate part.
If you want real help, check out the Daily Prayer app from the Church of England which will help you pray through the Psalms every month and they give excellent model response prayers at the end of each one.
Remember The Point
Prayer is not the point. God is. Prayer is not a thing that you do, a task you tick off, a rung on your ladder of spiritual self-righteousness. There’s the old line, attributed to a number of different saints, that ‘I don’t pray for longer than 20 minutes, but I don’t go longer than 20 minutes without praying.’ There’s something to that.
I used to psyche myself up to hours long prayer marathons and then condemn myself when I failed at it. Why? What was my goal in attempting this? Looking back I think it was mainly spiritual pride and a sense that I wanted to pray my way up to God. Our Father doesn’t want anyone to pray their way up to him. We are not meant to be strong pray-ers but weak pray-ers, feeling our littleness and yet knowing our welcome nonetheless. Aiming for prayer marathons when you’re not even praying for 5 minutes is almost certainly a sign that you’re missing the point. The point is to talk to your Father.
So if you’re not doing that, try 5 minutes. And if you’re praying for 5 minutes, how about 8? (Here’s a great app that helps you remember things to pray for). Things will build but not because you’re trying to flex some kind of prayer muscle. The point is not to be a good pray-er, the point is just that prayer is good. Because God is good. He’s the point.