The Priority of a Prayer Filled Life

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The disciples had the amazing privilege of getting to know Jesus really well. They did life together, they eat together, journeyed the dusty roads of Israel together. They were the ones who got to listen when Jesus talked to the crowds about the Father, they were on the front row when Jesus spoke about the kingdom and they even had the opportunity to receive private tutorials. They even got to witness all of the miracles, healings and deliverances which Jesus did.

In the context of all of this they come to Jesus with a request: “Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1). They did not ask to have a lesson on how to heal people, or even how to construct and use parables as an effective teaching aid. They simply wanted to know how to pray.

The disciples had lived with Jesus and seen his life and lifestyle in a close intimate manner. They were the people who knew Jesus the best (though they did not really understand him) and they knew that prayer was something that made Jesus different. Prayer was a vital part of Jesus’ life. It was a priority for him. The disciples could see that and so they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Jesus does just that, He begins with the Lord’s prayer, but does not stop there. He talks about boldness in prayer using the picture of a friend arriving unexpectedly at midnight. He reminds them of the need for persistence in prayer, Ask, Seek and knock and he spoke of the Fathers willingness to answer the requests given with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus made prayer a priority in his life and he taught his disciples to do exactly the same. If you glance through the book of Acts, you can see one of the top priorities of the believers was prayer.

It must have been so wonderful to have that closeness with Jesus that the disciples had. But prayer makes that relationship possible for us today. As we make prayer a priority in our lives, an integral part of our daily routine we are drawn into a deeper and closer relationship with him, just like the disciples had. “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).

It’s one of the greatest privileges we have in prayer, growing in relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But unless we take the time to schedule it, it won’t happen. We make the time for the things we think are important. But how often do we schedule time to be with God in prayer. The busier life gets, the more important that scheduled time becomes. Have you scheduled a time of prayer today?

How Do You Want Me To Pray?

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There is a big difference between praying God’s heart for a situation and praying from our heart. When we hear of a situation our response is quite often to pray out of our own compassion for the situation. This is certainly important and there is nothing wrong in praying out of our compassion, after all that compassion is a God-given gift to us so we should use it. But there are times when the Lord allows a situation to develop because he has a greater purpose. If we are too quick to jump into prayer we could miss what God wants to do.

In John 11 we find the account of how Lazarus was brought back to life. But if Jesus had stepped into prayer as soon as he heard the news of Lazarus being sick, if he had prayed out of his compassion for his sick friend then the outcome might have been different. Lazarus may have been heard, which would have given glory to God but not in the same way as the glory which came from bringing Lazarus back to life.

Jesus did not jump into praying for Lazarus until he had checked in with the Father as to what the Father wanted to do in the situation. Jesus said that he only did what he saw the father doing (John 5:19). Out of that checking with the father, Jesus waited till Lazarus had died before going to visit with the result that Lazarus was raised back to life and God was glorified.

Pausing to pray “How do you want me to pray about this situation, Father?” allows the Lord to direct us onto his path and purpose for a situation. His directions may be quite different from we would expect…

The Lord told Gideon he had too many men, even when they were vastly outnumbered by the Midianites (Judges 7:2).

Naaman was told through the prophet Elisha to go wash seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:10).

Hosea was instructed to take for himself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness (Hosea 1:2).

None of these people expected the directions they received in prayer. But God had a greater plan and purpose which he wanted to see happen.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

So when we step into that place of prayer with all our thoughts and ideas about how things should unfold, one of the most important things we can do is to pause and pray…

“Father, how do you want me to pray for this situation?” Then listen and follow his direction.

Learning to Hear God’s Voice

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How do I know if it is the Lord speaking? This is the biggest question when it comes to learning to listen to the Lord in prayer. When we look in Scripture, everyone seems to know when it is God who is speaking, but, but the prophets and priests who heard from God had to learn how to recognize God’s voice.

When the Lord called Samuel in the middle of the night he did not recognize who was calling to him. He thought it was Eli. Eli did not realize it was the Lord at first. But the Lord was patient and persistent and eventually Eli clued into what was happening and instructed Samuel to respond and say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).

Samuel began to learn to listen to the Lord and the Lord continued to reveal himself to Samuel through his Word (1 Samuel 3:21). Samuel learned to recognize the Lord’s voice by studying his Word. So as we spend more time in God’s Word we will grow in discerning whether what we we hear is from the Lord or not. God is not going to give us direction to do something which is contrary to his Word in scripture. So as we read, study and immerse ourselves in Scripture we will grow in being able to say “that sounds like the Lord.” We always need to examine what we hear to determine if its God or not.

We can effectively do that by asking the following questions…

  1. Is what we are hearing something which will exalt Jesus in the present and future?
  2. Is what we are hearing consistent with Scripture’s revelation of God’s will and character?
  3. Do other people affirm what we are hearing?
  4. Is their fruit? Is there confirmation, through other people or through what happens?

Samuel and Eli talked about what had happened after the Lord had spoken to Samuel. It helped to confirm that it was the Lord speaking and it was further confirmed when what Samuel had heard actually happened. There was fruit.

Even as we become better at recognizing God’s voice, there is always a need to “test the Spirits” (1 John 4:1) and check that it’s not just or desires which we are expressing. These four questions provide a continual check for us so that we can be confident in saying “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Listening

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It is possible to miss the power of prayer because we do not take the time to listen. It has been said by Epictetus, and requoted by most mothers at some point, that “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Now think about the last time you spent time in prayer, how much listening actually occurred?

Prayer is a conversation. But a conversation requires a back and forth process of listening and talking. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who does all of the talking? It can be hard to get a word in. I had an aunt like that. My Dad would always say that he did not have a conversation with her, but instead he would have a “talking to.” Sometimes I wonder if we don’t give God a “talking to” in prayer.

We can dominate the conversation in prayer with our lists of requests and concerns that we want to bring before the Lord. But how often do we stop and listen during the prayer?

As we make space for listening we allow the Lord to speak. Perhaps words of comfort, or affirmation, or love. But also words of wisdom, about how better to direct our prayers so that they are more in line with his will. Guidance about what to be praying for will come when we listen to what God has to say.

Prayer is no longer a simple monologue where God gets a talking to from us. When we take the time to stop and listen then prayer becomes a conversation and we get God’s input into the situation.

Listening takes time and practice, it is not easy at first because we have so many distractions to deal with in our lives.

  • The first step is to intentionally make space in our times of prayer for God to speak.
  • Secondly, in those times ask the Lord to speak “Speak Lord your servant is listening…” (1 Samuel 3:10)
  • Thirdly, listen and learn to recognize God’s voice and check that what you hear is in line with God’s will as revealed in scripture.
  • The fourth step is then to follow the direction which the Lord gives. It is no good listening and hearing from the Lord if we do not step out in faith and obedience.

As we listen to God he will give us answers to our prayers and guide us as we continue to walk with Him and it makes prayer powerful.