LOL to the thought of fitting the concept of “prayer” into one blog, or even into one book. Prayer is too vast a concept to try to squeeze down into a few hundred words.
And yet, Jesus himself, when asked how to pray in Matthew 6, gave only a few lines:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On Earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Although he said this in the context of not praying “to be heard for [your] many words” like the Pharisees (Matthew 6:7), I don’t think Jesus meant these words were literally the only ones you could pray. Rather, these 12 lines epitomize everything our prayer life should be without just “going through the motions.” Our prayer life should be praising God. It should be asking that God’s will be done and that our needs be met. It should be the request for forgiveness and the acknowledgment that we should follow Jesus by forgiving others too, and it should be the request for help resisting temptation and Satan. It should be the realization that God’s kingdom endures forever. This prayer—the Lord’s Prayer—is everything a prayer should be, and that’s why Jesus commands us to, “In this manner, therefore, pray” (Matthew 6:9).
In Luke, Jesus elaborates on his teachings on prayer and tells a parable, how a man goes to ask for bread in the middle of the night from a friend to feed an unexpected guest, and how the friend will literally not get out of bed to give him anything…but he persists. Eventually, the friend gives up hoping the man will leave: “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. So I say to you ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:8).
I’m pretty sure God isn’t the reluctant friend who only gives if you beg and beg, but he does value persistence. In fact, on Billy Graham’s website, there’s an article called “Praying with Persistence” that elaborates further on this: “Persistence in prayer comes when we realize that we have nothing. One of our problems with prayer is this: since we’re not sure that God’s going to grant our petitions, our prayers consist mainly of us just asking and hoping. We always have in the back of our mind a Plan B…You see, the man in Luke 11 had no Plan B. When we come to the place where we have no Plan B, no other alternative, where we have nothing, where we are destitute, then and only then are we persistent in prayer.” I equate persistent prayer with genuine prayer.
Persistence in praying for someone or something is important, and so is persistence in praying period. “Pray without ceasing,” the Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Why would God command us to pray continually? Obviously we can’t sit like hermits in the woods and pray 24/7; we have to live life in this world. Jesus himself says that “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). But I think that when we are living life to the very fullest is when we are living it in prayer. It’s an attitude of walking through life with Jesus.
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster talks about flash prayers, developed by Frank Laubach. Foster says of Laubach, “He purposed to learn how to live so that ‘to see anybody will be to pray! To hear anybody…may be to pray!’” Essentially, the concept of a flash prayer is “swishing prayers” at others. It’s simply saying a quick prayer for anyone who crosses your path. Maybe for that person at the red light next to you, or that person walking towards you in the mall or the quad, or the person taking orders in the drive thru. Imagine, if we all prayed a quick “flash prayer” for every single person that crossed our path, how many people our prayers could touch in this world of “six degrees of separation.”
Of course, like with meditation, prayer should be a habit that inundates your daily, hourly life, but time must also be set aside for concentrated prayer. I don’t know about you, but some of my best prayers have happened after I’ve run out of things to say. When you get over the “small talk”—the “Please keep my family safe, and help me make an A on this test, and thank you for this meal”—that’s when the real stuff surfaces. Those habitual prayers are important too… It’s just that the deep stuff, the stuff I really most need to talk to God about, isn’t foremost on my mind under after I let go of the day-to-day things. This is why it’s so important to take our time and actually pray, and to run out of things to say and to start to listen.
I’m not saying I’m good at this, because I’m not. I’ve drifted out of the habits of concentrated prayer and of flash prayers, and I definitely don’t “pray without ceasing.” But I want to be good at it. Because think about it. Think about if only we could find 30 minutes a day to pray, sitting in our rooms or walking on the treadmill or anywhere else where we can focus. Think about if we could make a habit of praying for the people who cross our path. We are weak, but he is strong. We may never change the world, but we have the ear of a God who holds it in his hands.
And since the ear of the King is inclined towards you, what will you say?