Introduction to Prayer Central
~ My Prayer Testimony ~
Prayer as a New Christian (top)
For many years, as a young and new Christian, I viewed prayer as a necessary but non-central part of being a Christian. I would pray in a disciplined manner for about five minutes each day, bringing my thoughts, worries and desires before God, and asking forgiveness for my sins. As I look back, I doubt if I had any appreciation of what I was doing: whilst realising that it was God to whom I was talking, I had no understanding of His power, why I should pray, and what I should pray for.
During this period, God graciously worked in me to grow in my Bible reading and study, and in my theological knowledge; but my relationship with Him could hardly be classed as a relationship - it was stale and impersonal.
Over the years, however, my prayer gradually grew, reaching twenty minutes at times (not that the length of prayer is an indication of depth, but that it is an indication of how hard I tried to pray), and with the encouragement of those around me, good Christian books, and the desire of God working in me, I had periods of great depth in, and devotion to, prayer.
Encouragement by Example (top)
A notable period of depth in prayer came in first year University. I read the autobiography of Billy Graham (Just As I Am), and the example of his life so encouraged me that for a period of time I was in a state that could be accurately described as being in "continuous prayer" (1 Thess. 5:17): every situation and concern went to the Lord. It was a time of great closeness to Him and of great working in my life. It was also at this time that I was first led to consider ministry on the Internet.
A Struggle (top)
Following this enlightened time, however, I fell back to ritualistic, unloving prayer; and felt distinctly the loss of my closeness to God. I struggled to get back the relationship I once had, but found that I could not. It seems to me now that that short time was a gift of God to me; first that I may know what it is I should struggle towards, and second, that God could use me to do His will better during that time.
So I struggled. For about two years I grew in my Bible knowledge and theology, and tried to get depth and meaning in my prayers; and while I did grow in maturity with respect to my outward personal holiness, I didn't seem to come close to returning to the type of relationship with God I had once had. I realise now that I was applying what I learned to myself for selfish reasons - so that others could see my growth, not so that I could grow closer to God.
Here are a couple of things I noticed during this time: -
- After getting settled into the routine of praying at night before bed, I decided to switch to morning prayers (since I am a "morning person") - my rigid discipline however would not let me go to sleep without praying - it felt wrong. So I ended up praying in the morning and at night. I then found that in the morning I wouldn't put in any effort to my prayers thinking, "Well, I'm going to pray again tonight so I'll try harder then"; and then at night I would be tired and think, "Well, I'm not supposed to be praying now anyway, so I'll just pray for the regulars, get some sleep and pray more heartily tomorrow morning". Obviously, this situation was a big problem - my discipline became my master and worked to my detriment!
- I found that the cold hardwood floor was good to keep me awake whilst praying kneeling beside my bed at night - though a better remedy would have been better planning, more sleep and deeper prayer.
- I realise that I frequently 'prayed to the wall' - i.e., I wasn't praying to God; I was just voicing my concerns.
- I didn't know God's character very well - which meant that I didn't really understand what I should be praying for in different circumstances.
- When praying in groups I would pray for others' benefit - not necessarily to God but to others.
- I would frequently drift off, not paying attention - especially during others' prayers.
- I have heard others pray in church to no-one - I mean the prayer went something like this: "Let the name of our Lord God be praised, and His Spirit and His Son..." - when they could have prayed: "May your name be praised O Lord and the name of your Son and your Spirit..."
- I frequently managed to promote myself in prayer, and it is not uncommon to gossip through prayer.
They were the bad things... The good things are found elsewhere throughout this section.
More Encouragement by Example (top)
One night at church I was alone photocopying the weekly news bulletin and picked up a book that had been left out of place. I started to read it, having not much better to do. It was the autobiography of George Muller, a 19th Century Christian renowned for his faith and prayer life. Up until that point, I had not heard of him.
Muller would pray for hours every day, praying with faith, and fulfilling God's works in a powerful way - through prayer alone, he provided for the needs of thousands of children in England (i.e., God provided for the needs of thousands of children through Muller's prayers).
I thought that it would be great to have the focus, faith and patience to pray in such depth that an hour-long prayer came naturally - which I immediately set out to do. That initiative largely failed, although I did pray about more things. The problem was that the depth wasn't there and I didn't know what to pray for once I got passed the obvious - for what do you pray for that person at church who you don't really know much about and have only spoken to fleetingly, on matters of little importance?
I realised that my theology and Bible knowledge needed to be grown to guide me in this issue.
An Encouraging Guide (top)
In the weekly Bible study that I attended we had done a series on prayer some months earlier, which though helpful, was to me most memorable for its appendix: an excerpt from, and abridgment of, a book on prayer by D.A. Carson entitled A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. I read that appendix one night after the study, engrossed, even as others were talking and sharing. I was in fact so impressed that I bought the book (but didn't read it). Following the reading of Muller, however, I knew which book (already sitting on my shelf) I would turn to next!
Although (and this is stated in the book itself) it is not a handbook on prayer, I found that Carson's masterful examination of a few of Paul's prayers as recorded in the New Testament made clear a great number of considerations I had previously been neglecting, and answered many of my questions regarding the content of godly prayers. I now knew what to pray for, even when praying for people I had never met. It is for this reason that I include some of the lessons I learned from reading Carson and Paul, in point and summary form, for your benefit in this section; although I would highly recommend a complete and meditative reading of the work if you too are desiring growth in your prayer life.
It was during the reading of Carson that I was led to the idea and motivation to add this "Prayer Central" section to this site, and it is to God working through Carson, Muller, Graham and the Bible that I credit my growth in prayer. I have not reached "prayer perfection", but I have grown considerably in my prayer and I can now reflect on how God was preparing me for this time as I was struggling: first, the time of closeness with Him in first year University as a result of reading Graham's autobiography, then the long time of spiritual struggle followed by the introduction to Carson's book (which led me to buy it but not read it until ready!), then the introduction to Muller (happily, left where I would pick it up to read!) and the ensuing encouragement and motivation I received from his example, to the moving to read A Call to Spiritual Reformation, to the immense motivation and desire for closeness that God gave me all through the process.
Please be aware that God works in everyone differently to call them closer to Him - if you truly desire closeness to God, pray constantly and consistently for it, think heavily on what you can do to improve your approach to praying and Bible study, and understand what the Bible and other mature Christians have to say about the approach to praying and godly content. But it will only be an act of God, in His strength and to His glory, that you will grow.
In an attempt to aid you in your growth, I have included these studies and discussions, as a record of what I learned whilst trying to grow in prayer. I hope and pray that these are as useful to you as they are to me.