What's the Point of Prayer?
Early in my spiritual life, I struggled with the concept of having a consistent prayer life. About all I could muster were spontaneous requests shot up to God in a panic. But, one pivotal day, I realized that I could pray to God about helping me pray!
When I decided to ask God to teach me about the awesome privilege of prayer, I fully expected drudgery and joyless labor. But, as I moved ahead to develop a meaningful prayer life, I was surprised by the blessings that began to blossom in my heart. As a favorite hymn tells us, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” I want to name a few blessings of prayer now, because they are blessings that you too can know as you cultivate a heart of prayer.
Blessing #1: A Deeper Relationship with God
Although I’d heard that prayer would deepen my relationship with God, I had never experienced it. But, when I started to spend regular, daily, unhurried time in prayer — when I lingered in intimate communion with God—that deeper relationship was mine. When you and I commune in prayer with God, we grow spiritually in a multitude of ways.
Prayer increases faith — I once had heard some advice about how to teach young children about faith in God by encouraging them to keep a prayer list. Like a child, I wrote out a prayer list in my special book and began taking my concerns to God, my Father each day. I was awed as, for the first time ever, I paid close attention to how He answered item after item.
Prayer provides a place to unload burdens — Problems and sorrows are facts of life (John 16:33). So, armed with the call to cast all my cares and burdens on God in 1 Peter 5:7, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work forwarding my concerns to God in prayer. Soon it became natural for me to start each day by giving all the cares of life to God in prayer, and I would rise up relieved, freed from many heavy weights. Author and fellow pray-er Corrie ten Boom offers a vivid image of this privilege, “As a camel kneels before his master to have him remove his burden, so kneel and let the Master take your burden.”
Prayer trains us not to panic — Jesus taught His disciples that we ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1). Also, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Turning to God for every need during regular daily prayer time ingrained in me the habit of prayer. Soon I was replacing my tendency to panic at the first hint of any problem with God’s nearness and strength. Cultivating a heart of prayer is a sure way to experience God’s presence.
Blessing #2: Confidence in Making Decisions
How do you make decisions? I know how I used to make decisions before I learned to pray about them. Maybe you can relate. The phone would ring around nine in the morning. A friend would be asking me to help plan a gathering in the near future and, because I’d just eaten a scrambled egg and some toast, taken my thyroid pill, had a cup of coffee, and gone for a walk. I would be full of energy and blurt out, “Sure! When can we get it on the calendar?”
At four in the afternoon, the phone would ring again, another friend was calling with the same basic request, but, because it was the end of a long day and I was beat and ready to relax, I would answer this lady, “Not interested!” (My actual words were more gracious, but those were the words I was thinking.)
Why did I respond so differently? What criteria did I use for these decisions? In a word, feelings. While I was feeling full of fresh energy in the morning, my answer would be yes. In the late afternoon, when I was worn out, my answer would be no. My decisions were based on how I felt at the moment. I wasn’t making spiritual decisions — I was making physical decisions.
This approach to decision-making changed as I began to pause and sometimes write down every decision I needed to make. I developed a motto for myself: Make no decision without prayer. Whatever option arose, I asked for time to pray about it first. The more important the decision, the more time I asked for. If there wasn’t time for me to pray about it, I generally answered no because I wanted to be certain my decisions were actually God’s choices for me. And I followed this approach for everything — invitations to showers, weddings, lunches, opportunities to minister, problems, ideas, crises, needs, dreams. I wrote down every decision I needed to make and took each one to God in prayer.
Imagine the difference this practice can make in a woman’s life! The principle make no decision without prayer keeps me from rushing in and committing myself before I consult God. It guards me against people-pleasing (Galatians 1:10), and it ended my practice of making commitments and later calling to back out.
Another benefit of praying first about my decisions is that my tendency to second-guess my commitments has stopped. As the events on my calendar approach, I feel no dread or fear or resentment. I don’t wonder, “How did I get myself into this? What was I thinking when I said I’d do this? I wish I hadn’t said yes.” Instead I experience a solid confidence — confidence in God — and the excitement of anticipating what He will do at these events. A woman after God’s own heart is a woman who will do His will (Acts 13:22) — not her own. The maxim “make no decision without prayer” has helped me do just that!
Blessing #3: Greater Purity
Another major change brought about by a consistent prayer time is greater purity. Becoming pure is a process of spiritual growth, and taking seriously the confession of sin during prayer time moves that process along, causing us to purge our life of practices that displease God. That’s what happened to me when I began working on my prayer life.
For me, gossip was a serious struggle. Even though I knew God spoke specifically to women about not gossiping (1 Timothy 3:11 and Titus 2:3), I did it anyway. Convicted of that my gossip didn’t please God and actually hurt both others and myself, I tried some practical remedies like taping little notes on the telephone (Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?) and setting self-imposed rules for my speech. I even prayed each day that I wouldn’t gossip. And still I gossiped!
Real change began when I started not only to pray about gossip, but to confess it as an offense to God each time I did it. Let me quickly tell you that I’ve had my lapses, but still that day was a significant turning point for me. Purification—purging my life of a major sin (1 John 3:3)—took place, in part because I faced my sin regularly in prayer. Do you see the progression? Sin led to confession, which led to purging, which led to victory.
Blessing #4: Improved Relationships
Understandably, prayer — specifically prayer for the people closest to us — strengthens our bonds with those dear people, but being a seeker of God’s heart results in better relationships with people in general. How does this happen? These prayer principles, which I discovered as I began to pray regularly, help answer that question.
- As you and I settle our personal needs with God in private prayer, we can then rise up and focus all our attention outward — away from self and on to others.
- You cannot think about yourself and others at the same time —
- You cannot hate the person you are praying for — Jesus instructed us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and God changes our hearts as we do so.
- You cannot neglect the person you are praying for — As we invest ourselves in prayer for other people, we find ourselves wonderfully involved in their lives.
An end to self-centeredness, the dissolution of ill will, and an end to neglect — these results of praying for someone will inevitably improve our relationship with him or her.
Yes, But How to Begin?
How can we cultivate a heart of prayer and enjoy the blessings that accompany a life of committed and devoted prayer? Here are some quick thoughts. Begin by asking God to help you pray. Start a prayer log to record requests and responses as you travel your own personal journey of prayer. Set aside some time each day to linger with the Lord in prayer and remember that something is better than nothing. Pray always (Ephesians 6:18) and in all places, enjoying God’s presence with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9). Pray faithfully for others — including your enemies (Matthew 5:44).
Begin small — and watch for the Lord’s mighty effects!
For more encouragement in your spiritual walk,
read A Woman After God’s Own Heart.