The best way to learn how to pray is by listening to people who know how. Its more caught than taught. Mature pray-ers have certain attitudes in the way they approach God. They are obviously confident He hears them and that their prayers are making a difference. There is an intimacy and warmth in the way they converse with Him and a profound trust that He is good and loving and is there listening to every word. They seem to enjoy what they are doing and are actually refreshed by it. And its usually something theyve built into their lives in a disciplined way. Often theres a set time of day and a simple structure theyll follow, yet within that structure theres room for much spontaneity. They feel free to talk to Him about whatever or whoever is on their heart. And mixed into this conversation is a lot of listening as well. God talks to them just as they talk to Him. So answers may be received even while needs are being voiced.
One of the places I get to listen to mature pray-ers is at our prayer meeting on Thursday evening. Praying with people who are passionate about prayer strengthens the way I pray the rest of the week. Today, in this portion of Pauls letter to the Romans, he gives us a glimpse into his prayer life. We get to listen to a man with a mature prayer life tell us about a matter for which he has been praying a long time without growing discouraged. Lets listen and learn. (Read Romans 1:8-15)
Before moving into the main body of his letter, Paul first wants to explain why he hopes to come to Rome. Over the years everywhere he went people kept telling him about the healthy churches that were growing in that city, and his response had always been to give thanks to God and ask permission to go there himself. He even made plans, but time and again they had been thwarted. Up to this point Paul had played no part in the faith in Christ that was spreading through the city, yet he longed to come to help strengthen believers.
What did he say?
v8 - 1) By addressing God as my God he isnt implying that God is not our God as well. Hes telling us about his personal prayer life. He uses this same word when he tells the Corinthian and Philippian churches about his prayers for them (1Co 1:4; Php 1:3). His choice of words gives us a glimpse into his heart. He has a vital and consistent prayer life and when he is in his prayer closet, God is his God. His conversations there are intimate and personal with his Lord and Friend. 2) He gives his thanks to God through Jesus Christ. What he surely does not mean is that he is praying to Jesus and asking Jesus to relay his prayers to the Father, as if believers were not permitted to pray directly to the Father. Jesus Himself made it abundantly clear that all who believe in Him may personally speak to the Father in prayer (Mt 6:6-13). But He also makes it clear this privilege has been granted to us in His name, meaning it is only when we are united to Him by faith that the Father welcomes such boldness (Jn 16:23-27) and clearly this is the truth to which Paul is pointing when he prays through Jesus Christ. He doesnt take his access to the Father for granted, but always remembers he has this wonderful privilege because of Christs death and resurrection (Ro 8:32-34; 1Co 1:4; 15:57).
vs9, 10 - Paul tells them he prays for them unceasingly, meaning he doesnt let gaps of time go by during which he forgets to pray. He says he makes remembrance (memory) of them always in his prayers, which sounds as if they have a place on his prayer list. He says each time he prays for them he feels a strong desire to come there to see them, but he knows he must submit himself to Gods will and patiently wait for the time when God chooses to make it possible.
vs11, 12 - Paul wants to see them because he wants to share (Lk 3:11) a certain spiritual gift with them in order to strengthen them. And the spiritual gift is this: the experience of being encouraged by one anothers faith. He will encourage their faith and they will encourage his. His humility and respect for these believers is evident. Though he is an apostle who has been mightily used by God, and has much to teach this church, he fully expects to receive from them as well when he arrives. Ministry will flow in two directions: from him to them and also from them to him.
v13 - He wanted them to know that the fact that he had never ministered in their city was not because he didnt care about them. He had often made plans to come, but up to that present moment he had always been hindered. Yet he did not take the delay as a no from God, but rather as not yet.
Marks of maturity
Lets summarize some of the key principles we see at work in his prayer life:
v8 intimacy with God
v8 boldness through Jesus Christ
v9 no gaps, he was consistent over time, apparently he had a prayer list
v9 few words, he felt it was enough to simply remember and mention them
v10 repeated requests, he did not hesitate to keep asking
v10 patient trust, though his request has been repeatedly thwarted he has not grown sour
v11 earnestness, his heart is in his request (he longs)
v11 otherly, his goal is to edify them, he is motivated by love
v12 humble, he doesnt look down on those hes praying for even though hes an apostle (he rejoices at what God has done in Rome without him)
vs14, 15 submission, he believes that his requests are in line with Gods will for him
Learning from Jesus (Mt 6:6-11)
v6 The real work of prayer takes place in private. Public prayer should be the tip of the iceberg, and if it is, our prayers in public will still be to God, not to impress people.
v7 God is not moved by empty words and much speaking
v8 Prayer does not inform God of anything He does not already know
v9 Prayer trusts Gods love for us (Father) and His character (holy)
v10 Prayer is not afraid of Gods will but longs to have it come to pass
v11 Prayer is a daily activity because God wants us to depend daily on His care for us
Some of us here today have undoubtedly developed strong mature prayer lives, but most of us probably need to be prompted to go deeper. We need to realize that the problems in our lives are not going to change until we learn to praynot learn about prayer or ask others to pray for us, but build the discipline into our lives which enable us to pray about matters with focus and endurance. The passing of time alone does little to change people or solve problems, but consistent prayer over time, Jesus says, does (Lk 18:1-8).
For those who decide that its time to go deeper in their prayer lives, here are three words to keep in mind:
1) Veil (Heb 10:19-23) the veil has been torn in two and we are welcomed into the Fathers presence.
My God says Paul
Our Father says Jesus
2) Sword (Mt 18:18, 19; Jn 20:22, 23)
Through Jesus Christ (Ro 1:8)
God appoints us as His deputies and honors what we request. From our side, we seek His will and pray as He leads. From His side, He ratifies our requests and gives us what we ask... in His time and way.
Prayer is a burden of love. We must accept our responsibility to pray.
Intercession is a selfless labor and therefore has to be learned and disciplined.
We intercede for:
1) The people we love
Job (Job 1:5)
Paul (2Co 11:28, 29)
2) The worries we carry
The gifts of mature prayer
We learn to see life, not as it is but as God wants it to be.
We learn that God can change almost anything if well pray long enough.
We learn that without prayer problems just get worse.
We learn to long for Gods will rather than be afraid of it.
Would you be willing to share something youve been praying about for a long time?
Where and when do you do most of your praying?
What part of Pauls prayer life do you especially need to learn?