In the 9th season of the comedy series, The Office, Jim and Pam (who are married) are having dinner with another character, Brian, who was supposed to be with his wife. When they arrive at the restaurant, he informs them that his spouse is not with them because they are separating. At this point in the series, Jim and Pam are dealing with their own marital problems. Here is the short dialogue that ensues:
Brian: "We were telling two different versions of the same story, and everything just went numb."
Jim (looking very concerned): "Well that’s OK, it doesn’t mean that it’s over, right? I mean couples fight."
Brian: "Yeah, that's the thing. When we were fighting, we really felt like the relationship was still alive until we stopped fighting and then we realized it was over."
Whether you’re married, in a relationship, or not, this scene is chilling.
Not only because no one ever wants to hear the sad story of divorce, but because both Jim and Pam have expressions on their faces that say, "This might be us."
What's important here is when Brian says, "we stopped fighting, and then we realized it was over." So often, relationships end after the two parties simply stop.
They stop talking.
They stop communicating.
They stop trying.
If you were to ask someone in a romantic relationship what they and their significant other talked about, the answers would vary. Undoubtedly, however, if you hear, "nothing," you'd be concerned.
Why is that?
Because, God designed us to communicate with one another, and a couple that doesn’t do this doesn’t have much time left as a couple (unless, of course, something changes).
This seems evident. None of this should be news to anyone.
However, if we switch out the example of a romantic relationship with that of a relationship between a person and God, things change.
So, what does your prayer life look like?
Does it resemble that of a flourishing relationship, in which both parties talk about everything and for extensive amounts of time?
Does it look like a relationship plagued with busyness – one or both parties seemingly too busy to sit down and talk?
Or, does it look like a relationship destined to end, where the only communication is a passing, “dinner was good,” and “What’s the plan for tomorrow?”
If you’re like many Christians, you most likely identify with two of the latter examples. In fact, many Christians would tell you that they feel like something is missing from their prayer life. They might feel like they are just running through the motions, praying to a wall, or that they’re probably not doing it right.
Unfortunately, even though we know something is missing – or broken – often, we aren’t sure how to fix it.
But we need to fix it.
An uninspiring and infrequent prayer life is a very dangerous thing. A life lacking in prayer creates undealt with sin (you can’t repent if you aren’t praying) and a lack of scriptural understanding (it’s tough to understand the Bible if your mind isn’t in-tune with God’s spirit). Both of these, though serious problems, lead to something far worse: lack of intimacy with God.
Intimacy with God is what our heart requires; it is what God designed us for. Even when we don't realize it, we are desperately craving the presence of God. All we really need is closeness with our Creator. When we don't pray we separate further and further from God until he becomes some deistic, distant God; one that we do not see in the Bible.
Prayer has become a chore for so many Christians, just like talking has for so many broken relationships. We don’t approach God because we don’t know what to say or how to say it. Instead of crying out to him for help and guidance, we just hope he’ll understand our reasons for neglecting the conversation.
God wants more.
And we should want more!
The 19th-century evangelist and missionary, George Müller wrote,
"I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished.... I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation of it."
This is a man who gave his life to serving the Lord by creating orphanages and evangelizing all over the world. He is a man whose example ought to be followed by Christians. Yet, with all that he did, he saw his highest priority as spending time with God.
“I’m no George Müller,” you might say.
Neither am I, but we can follow his example.
We might not start a bunch of orphanages, or travel the world spreading the Gospel, but we can wake up each morning and prepare our hearts for our day by giving them over to God.
Martin Luther - a very busy man - once wrote, “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”
We might not think we have that amount of time, but no amount of time spent with God is wasted time.
So, what do we do? Start spending 3 hours each morning in prayer?
If you want to try that, then go for it!
Our challenge this week however, is to take it one step at a time.
In Matthew’s gospel, he records Jesus giving us specific instructions on prayer. Take a moment and read through this brief passage, reflecting on each line as if it were a prescription for prayer (it is).
Matthew 6:5-13, (ESV)
5“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us this day our daily bread,
12and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
What does Jesus prescribe for us?
1. Find a distraction-free, quiet place in which to pray (v.6).
I have two small children and a puppy; I know that finding a distraction-free quiet place is difficult. This cannot be an excuse, though, for neglecting time with God. We have to find this place and time where we can have uninterrupted time with the God who gave his life for us. It might be the basement; it could be the kitchen or even the bathroom. Whatever you have to do to find this place, do it. You will not regret it.
2. Pray these words.
What more could we ask for? When we aren’t sure what to say, or how to say it, we need not sit in our unsureness. We have the words to use, right here in scripture.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Spend the first amount of time in prayer reflecting on God’s greatness. Not only is this the simplest form of worship, but it helps to prepare your heart and mind for being with God. We can intellectually know that God is great, but to reflect on it solely can calm your mind and ease your heart. Remember what God has done, not only in scripture but also your life.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Next, ask that God’s will would be done here on earth just as it is in heaven. What issues do you see around you? Does the lack of love, faith, peace, etc. in the world concern you? Pray that God would intervene and make his kingdom a reality here on earth. Also, pray that you could live in his kingdom here on earth – that you would live as he would have you and thus live in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not some future reality (when we get to heaven). Instead, it is a reality here on earth, should we choose to participate (for more on this, read Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy).
Give us this day our daily bread…
Ask God to give you what you need to do his will. God wants his people to come to him with their needs. When we ask him for these with the intent of using them to do his work, he will surely provide. What do you need today to do what God wants you to do?
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
This is the time for repentance and assistance.
Repentance: We need to confess our sins to God, as he is faithful to forgive us. Unconfessed sin festers and breeds more unconfessed sin, thus further damaging the believer’s intimacy with God.
Assistance: Jesus is very clear; if we do not forgive others, God does not forgive us (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness, however, is not easy, so we should ask God for help. Ask him to reveal to you the people whom you need to forgive. Then ask him for the power to be able to forgive. Forgiveness, in its truest form, is a miracle; God's assistance is necessary.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Finally, we need God’s help in fighting temptation. We are called to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:16), and though on this side of heaven we cannot achieve this completely, we should not cease in striving for holiness. With the temptations that surround us every day, we need God’s help. We cannot fight these on our own.
This prescription for prayer can take as long or short as you’d like.
Most of us aren’t going to be able to simply start praying for three hours each morning. However, the more time we spend with God, the more time we’ll want to spend with God.
This week, let’s try to pray this prayer each morning for a set amount of time. Starting with three minutes for day one, we will pray this prayer each morning adding three minutes to each day. By the end of the week, you’ll be spending over twenty minutes in prayer. Of course, if you find yourself going over your allotted time, just keep going!
I’ve created a prayer sheet that you can download by clicking HERE. You can track your progress each day, and reflect on how that morning of prayer affected the rest of your day.
Do you have comments about prayer?
How has this study helped you?
Please let us know in the comments below!