Growing in the Grace of Prayer
I was recently asked by a single friend, “What do you do when you've prayed and prayed for marriage, and nothing happens? No prospects. No dates. No nothing.” It’s a good question. Many people struggle with the thought or feeling that their prayers somehow fall short. If you've had similar thoughts or perhaps even given up on prayer, you might consider a few simple ways you can persevere in this ancient privilege.
I believe we can grow in the grace of prayer, but like most things in life, we won’t if we don’t intend to. There are two primary habits I recommend to those who’d like to grow in prayer:
- Learn from the prayers of great men and women of faith.
- Start writing down your own prayers.
I believe these two habits can transform our prayer lives. First, we should set out to grow in prayer as the disciples did when they came to Jesus and asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). They recognized Jesus was good at prayer and asked Him to teach them. Likewise, those today who would like to learn to pray should study the prayers and prayer habits of Jesus and then consider the prayers of other great Jesus followers.
First and foremost, we should meditate on Jesus’ own prayers:
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Luke 22:4).
Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you… (John 17:1).
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth (John 17:15-19).
We can also learn from the prayers of the Psalmist:
Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him… (Psalm 37:3-7, ESV).
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works (Psalm 73:25-28).
I've also enjoyed learning from the prayers of saints throughout history. Here’s a prayer from Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century preacher in London who preached to an estimated 10 million people during his life:
Lord, help me to glorify Thee; I am poor, help me to glorify Thee by contentment; I am sick, help me to give Thee honour by patience; I have talents, help me to extol Thee by spending them for Thee; I have time, Lord, help me to redeem it, that I may serve thee; I have a heart to feel, Lord, let that heart feel no love but Thine, and glow with no flame but affection for Thee; I have a head to think, Lord, help me to think of Thee and for Thee; Thou hast put me in this world for something, Lord, show me what that is, and help me to work out my life-purpose: I cannot do much, but as the widow put in her two mites, which were all her living, so, Lord, I cast my time and eternity too into Thy treasury; I am all Thine; take me, and enable me to glorify Thee now, in all that I say, in all that I do, and with all that I have.
Spurgeon reminds us that God has a “life-purpose” for every person. He encourages us to pray for grace to use our time, talents, hearts and minds for God, which is a good reminder for us all—but especially for those waiting on God.
I also love this prayer from the great 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal.
O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life except to spend them for you, with you, and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do therefore what seems best to you. Give to me or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that with humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence I may receive the orders of your eternal providence, and may equally adore all that comes to me from you.
Pascal shows how to prayerfully trust God to “give or take” as He sees fit, because He alone knows what is best for us. Pascal also models prayer for humility and submission, seeing that God sometimes will bring difficulties in our life for purposes greater than our momentary comfort.
This last excerpt from the Puritan prayer book, The Valley of Vision, reminds of the many gifts we have in Christ Jesus:
But as stars fade before the rising sun, thou hast eclipsed all these benefits in the wisdom and grace that purposed redemption by Jesus thy Son. Blessed be thy mercy that laid help on one that is mighty and willing, one that is able to save to the uttermost. Make us deeply sensible of our need of his saving grace, of the blood that cleanses, of the rest he has promised. And impute to us that righteousness which justifies the guilty, gives them a title to eternal life, and possession of the Spirit. May we love the freeness of salvation, and joy in its holiness; Give us faith to grasp thy promises, that are our hope, … May we be alive to every call of duty, accepting without question thy determination of our circumstances and our service.
I believe Christians should collect great prayers. If you don’t resonate with any of these, find some you do. Start a prayer notebook to store the saints' precious prayers alongside your own prayers. I believe we should put effort into growing in prayer, and writing them down can be a great way to grow in this regard.
In Revelation, John sees a vision of worship in heaven, and 24 elders fall down “before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8). Our God stores up our prayers as a worshipful fragrance. He stores them because they are forever precious to Him. Let’s join God in remembering these great prayers prayed and then kneel before Him, filling God’s golden bowls with prayers of our own.