Dear Christians, Start Praying


Dear Christians,

I read a sad statistic today. According to a poll conducted by Lifeway Research, prayer among protestant pastors is in terrible shape (1). This is not the only poll that has shown the lack of prayer among many in the clergy. However, it is very telling. In fact, this poll shows pastors spending more time in prayer than many other polls that were conducted. In other words, this appears to be the best case scenario. According to the poll, pastors spent approximately 5 hours each week in prayer. Yes. You read that right. Five hours each WEEK. This translates to less than 45 minutes each day, on average. Keep in mind that some of this time comes from the Sunday worship services. This is less than the amount of time these pastors spent each week watching television, to give a point of comparison.  It seems that it is easy for us to sing the old hymn "Sweet Hour of Prayer", but it is difficult for us to actually live this out in our lives.

The lack of prayer among protestant clergy is a problem, for several reasons:

1.) Christ commands all Christians, including clergy, to pray.
2.) Prayer is vital for spiritual maturity.
3.) Clergy set the example for the congregation.
4.) Prayer works, and to neglect prayer is to neglect a major responsibility of every Christian and every clergy member.
5.) We live in a time in which prayer is more necessary than ever.

Let's look at these one at a time.

First, Christ commands each and every Christian, including pastors, to pray. He commands every Christian to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). His command in the Sermon on the Mount was not "if you pray....pray like this," but rather "WHEN you pray....This, then, is how you should pray" (Matthew 6:5,9). Jesus went out of His way to teach the disciples how to pray.

After Christ's ascension, the apostles continued to teach on the importance of prayer. Paul commanded the church in Thessalonica to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). He commanded the Colossian church to continue steadfastly in prayer (Colossians 4:2). He commanded the church at Rome to constantly pray (Romans 12:12). He commanded the church at Ephesus to pray "at all times" (Ephesians 6:18).  He commanded the Philippian church to pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). He asked the Thessalonian church to pray for him (2 Thessalonians 3:1). He prayed for the churches that he had contact with (see 2 Thessalonians 1:11, for example). This command to pray was also given by Peter (1 Peter 4:7) and James (James 5:13).

The command to pray was not merely lip service to the early church. We are told that Peter was in prayer right before he was told to go visit Cornelius (Acts 10:9).  The church prayed for Peter when he was in prison (Acts 12:5). The apostles were praying in Jerusalem when Mattathias was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle (Acts 1:14). Stephen was praying when he was martyred (Acts 7:59). The fact is that the early church immersed itself with prayer.

In addition to this, several passages of the Old Testament paint a picture of a regular and bold prayer life. David regularly prayed (2). Daniel was a man of bold prayer (Daniel 6:1-10). Elijah, likewise, can be seen making bold prayers (1 Kings 18:16-39). God made promises to Solomon concerning the prayers of His people (2 Chronicles 7:13-15). We can also see the prayer life of Abraham, Elisha, and several other Old Testament characters if we would just read their stories. This should indicate how vital prayer should be in our own lives.

Second, prayer is vital for spiritual maturity and growth in the life of the Christian. This is the simple answer to the old question, "If God already knows what I am going to pray for, why should I even pray?" Prayer builds Christian character. Every time we hit our knees, it reminds us that we are not the ones in charge. Every time we ask for the difficult things, it reminds us that this life is not about us. Every time we find comfort in our prayers to God, it reminds us that He is our comforter. Every time we talk to Him, it strengthens our relationship with Him. Every time we bring someone up in prayer, it reminds us to love that person. In fact, praying for someone is itself an act of love for that person. Every time we pray for forgiveness, it reminds us that we are in need of a Savior. Every time we pray a passage of Scripture, it reminds us of the importance of God's word. This list could go on and on, but I believe that this is sufficient to make my point. Prayer builds Christian character.

Third, the leadership of the church will always set the example for the congregation. Christian leadership is not always the same as organizational leadership. Pastors do not lead solely on their ability to handle administrative tasks. They also lead with their lifestyle. If a pastor places a strong emphasis on prayer and demonstrates this in his own life, the congregation will pick up on this.

The opposite, however, is also true. If a pastor spends less time praying than watching TV, what message does that send to the congregation? How can we expect the congregation to take prayer seriously if church leadership will not? How can church leadership expect members of the congregation to follow through on their commitment to prayer if the leadership will not?

Fourth, prayer is a major responsibility of every Christian, especially church leadership. It was commanded by Christ and by the apostles. It was borne out in their daily lives. While this is a primary reason why we are responsible to pray, it is not the only one. We must ask, "If we do not pray for the people around us, who will?" The simple answer is that no one else will pray for the people around us and have their prayers heard by God. We cannot rely on our neighbor to pray for those around us. We cannot pass the buck in regards to our prayer life. We cannot pawn this responsibility off on someone else. It is our responsibility. If not us, then who?

It is also important for us to pray because prayer works. It always has. Peter was rescued from prison after the church prayed (Acts 12:1-19). While Peter prayed, he was given his task to go to Cornelius, a Gentile (Acts 10:1-23). After Elijah prayed, the window's son came back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24). Something similar happened with Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37). God sometimes answers prayer in the way that we ask, as happened in Elijah's case. Other times, He answers in a way we do not expect, as happened with Peter. The take-away from this is that prayer works.

Prayer is not something that only worked in biblical times, however. It is something that works today. It has been widely noted that, after Christians pray outside of abortion clinics, more than half of the scheduled abortions usually never happen. In fact, after Christians prayed and took action over an unlicensed late-term abortion clinic that was opening, ALL of its scheduled abortions were cancelled (3). ALL OF THEM. This is just one area that is often neglected in daily prayers. There are others that could be mentioned here in which prayer has been shown effective. What would happen if we prayed more? Do you think that we would have even more impact on the immoral practices that happen around us? How many more people would have their hearts and lives opened to the Gospel of we spent more time praying for them? How many people would turn from sin if we spent time praying for their strength? How many fewer people would have divorces if we would but pray for their marriages? What if prayer for their marriage was a regular part of their lives? The point is that prayer works, and if we do not pray, we neglect a major responsibility in our call to impact the world for Christ.

Finally, we live in a time during which prayer is more necessary than ever. Our culture is more divided today than it has been in a long time. This division is particularly strong along political lines. Many people no longer view those who disagree with them as people who disagree with them. Rather, many view their political opponents as vile creatures who don't deserve the same status as they do. We are seeing people demonizing one another for their political beliefs. Don't get me wrong. There are some things that are discussed in the political world which are absolutely immoral to implement (4). We should definitely speak out against the moral injustices that are happening in our world. However, our first obligation is to Christ, not to the political world. This does not mean that we should demonize the person holding a view with which we disagree. The best thing that we can do for those who hold such beliefs is to pray that they have a change of heart. In this regard, prayer is more necessary for the church today, and it will only become more necessary to us as time goes on and as our world continues to divide and descend into darkness.

It is important for us to recognize that politics will divide us, but Jesus unites us. There are Christians of different political persuasions. It is important that we remember the command to pray for one another (James 5:16). I challenge every one of you to practice this. Conservative Christians, go out and pray for a liberal Christian. Liberal Christians, go out and pray for a conservative Christian. That is your responsibility and your challenge. If you start praying for those who you want to pray for least, you will soon discover yourself caring more about them.

Of course, this is the way things should be. We should be people of prayer. However, we are actually people who know how to make excuses. Our prayer lives are no exception to this rule. Christians make excuses all the time in regards to when and where and how they will pray. This needs to stop.

I know someone is thinking, "Travis, I pray for a minute or so before I go to bed every night and before every meal. Isn't that enough?" You have missed my point. You never get 'enough' prayer. Prayer should be something that we default to, not something that we do whenever we get a spare minute. Scripture does not paint prayer as something that we may do for a minute or two each day. It paints prayer as something that we should do constantly.

Some of you may be saying, "Travis, I would like to pray more, but I am just too busy." Hogwash. We all have the same 24 hours in each day. The way in which we spend this time tells us what our priorities are. If we take time to watch television, but neglect prayer, it is really a sign that television is more important to us than prayer is. The fact is that we have no reason not to prioritize prayer in our lives. It is at the heart of Christian practice. We should set aside specific time each day for prayer and guard it from intrusions. This should be more than a couple minutes at night and a minute before each meal. Imagine if you only spoke to your spouse, parents, girlfriend/boyfriend, or other significant person in your life for only 5 minutes each day. What kind of relationship would you have with that person? If we wouldn't treat those closest to us this way, why in the world would we treat God this way?

On the other hand, some may be saying, "Travis, I have too much time on my hands. I will pray later. I don't know when, but I will get to it when I get to it." Why? Why wouldn't you carve out a specific time for prayer, especially if time is not an issue? This seems, to me, to be another way of saying that prayer is not a priority. That it is something that can be pushed off until it is convenient. Let me offer a word of advice: If you do not set aside time for prayer, you will not end up with much time, if any, for prayer. Prayer time is something that should be guarded and protected. We must especially guard it against procrastination.

The list of excuses does not stop there. When I bring up the importance of prayer, I have been told, "I just don't know what to pray for." If this is your excuse, you are not looking hard enough. As long as there are still homeless people on the street, there is something to pray for. As long as hospitals are still full, there is something to pray for. As long as there are still hungry people in the world, there is something to pray for. As long as there are individuals who are being abused, there is something to pray for. As long as people are struggling in their relationships with others, there is something to pray for. As long as the world continues to fade into darkness, there is something to pray for. As long as there are people who are hurting physically and mentally, there is something to pray for. It is not difficult to find something to pray for in the world in which we live. It is actually more difficult NOT to find something to pray for.

At this point, another issue comes up. Some may be saying, "With all of the things in the world to pray for, I just don't know where to start." Start wherever you feel compelled to start. If God wants you to pray for something specific, He will lead you to that particular issue, whether He brings it to your mind or whether you pray for that particular issue naturally. The important thing is that you are praying for God's will to be done.

Some people say, "I am too tired at the end of the day to pray." Then start praying at the beginning of your day. You don't have to wait until the end of the day to schedule time for prayer into your daily routine. You can wake up early. You can even take time in the middle of the day. Do you get an hour at work for lunch each day? Take 30 minutes of that time to pray. Go to your vehicle or to a room away from everyone else. Again, the way in which we spend our time is indicative of where our priorities are.

Others who are reading this may wonder, "Won't praying make me seem weird to everyone else?" Perhaps, but why should this be a concern? "Normal" to the Christian is not defined by what others think. It is defined by Christ. If we bear His Name, He defines who we are and what is normal for our lives. In a sense, the Christians who are not spending regular time in prayer are the ones who are "weird". This should not be a concern for any of us.

Finally, what about those who do not know how to pray? I would challenge anyone who does not understand prayer to look at the life of Jesus and His instruction concerning prayer. A good place to start is Matthew 6:5-15. Read this several times, especially verses 9 through 13. I have also compiled a list of 12 guidelines concerning prayer that may be of use:

1. Pray According To God's Will

In His model prayer, Jesus prayed, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". We must always keep God's declared will in mind when we pray. For example, Scripture clearly teaches that God does not desire for any person to perish (2 Peter 3:9). It is, therefore, imperative that we pray for the salvation of those who do not know Christ, and would thus perish.

2. Pray Boldly

The author of Hebrews tells us that we should, "come boldly to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). We should not forget this when we pray. We can pray bold prayers because of our adoption as children of God. We don't have to beg for small things. Instead of asking, "God, if it is not too much trouble, and if it is not an inconvenience to you, could you please take care of this little thing that I want?," we can ask, "Father, will you help with [insert prayer request here]? I know that You have the power and authority to handle this, and I trust Your decision in this matter." We don't have to be afraid to come to God in prayer. We should feel confident enough to talk to Him like we talk to members of our own family.

3. Pray Humbly

On the other side, we must also remember to pray humbly. It is important for us to pray boldly, without fear. In this, we should not think too highly of ourselves. We are still human beings, and we are in no place to "boss" God around. How He responds to each prayer request is ultimately His decision, not ours. He can do this because, well, He is God and we are not. We can take comfort in the fact that He knows what He is doing, and that He sees the big picture.

4. Pray Distraction-Free

This is a big one for many in my generation. We always want our cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets within arm's reach. This is bad for prayer time. The daily time you set aside for prayer is supposed to be time spent between you and God, not you, God, and your buddy Ralph who just caught a whopper of a fish in the lake up the road. This is not to say that prayer cannot be done in a group. You can pray for other people and, in that sense, the conversation would be between you, God, and the person or people for whom you are praying. However, there is a difference between this and a distracted prayer time. You are still focused on Christ when you are praying for your friend. You are not so focused on Christ when you stop praying to listen to Ralph's tale about how much his fish fought him before he caught it. A best practice in regards to prayer is to put everything that could distract you away.

5. Pray Intentionally

Don't "beat around the bush" when it comes to prayer. What's the point? God already knows what is in our hearts (Psalm 139:1-4). Know what you want to pray for and pray for it. Don't hide your prayer requests from Him, because it won't do much good anyway.

6. Pray Specifically

Again, know what you want to pray for and pray for it. Instead of praying just for, "the sick," ask yourself whether or not you know anyone who is sick. Have you heard about a specific person who is sick and in need of your prayers right now? What specifically are you asking God to do? Remember, you may not always get what you want in the way you want it. It is still a good thing to pray specifically. This is also an opportunity for you to grow in Christian character.

7. Pray Continually

I think I have hammered this enough on this blog post for all of you to get the idea, but just in case you haven't gotten it yet: Prayer is supposed to be something that we do often. It is not supposed to be something that we do on occasion, or whenever we have a desperate need. God is not a genie. He should also not be like a distant cousin that you only speak to during the once-every-decade family reunion.

8. Pray Expectantly

Every time that we pray, we should expect God to do something. He may not do exactly what we want in the way that we want Him to do it. This should not stop us from expecting Him to do something. With this, we have to be willing to accept whatever He does in response to our prayers.

9. Pray When You Don't Want To

There will be times when you do not feel like praying. During these times, pray anyway. You will encounter people in life that you do not want to pray for. You need to pray for these people the most. This is not only for their sake, but for yours. It is part of living out the command to love even our enemies. Think of the person who makes you the angriest. Now go pray for that person. Think of the person who makes you saddest. Now go pray for that person. Think of the person who you want to be around the least. Now go pray for that person.

10. Make Your Prayers Christ-Centered

This is the big one. All of our prayers must be Christ-focused. Prayers benefit us in that prayer helps develop Christian character. There is a larger issue if our prayers are not Christ-focused.

11. Pray Sincerely

Sincerity in prayer is important for all Christians. Sincerity in prayer helps us avoid praying for the wrong reasons (yes, you can pray to God for the wrong reasons).

12. Pray Thankfully

The fact that we are even able to pray is a testimony to the goodness of God in each of our lives. We are alive. We are breathing. We are able to think clearly. We are able to speak to God. We know God through Christ (which is the greatest blessing we could ever receive). There is no reason for us to be anything but thankful whenever we pray. In fact, we are commanded to give thanks to God in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

There are other suggestions that could be added to this list, but I think this should suffice to help paint a picture of what prayer should look like. The bottom line of this message is this: Start praying.



(2) The book of Psalms is, in a sense, a book of prayers set to music. David is credited with half of the Psalms that we read in our Bibles. In addition, David can be seen praying throughout his life as recorded in the books of Samuel and Chronicles.


(4)I cite abortion as one example here. Abortion is the ending of a human life.


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