- Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Chapter One: Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
I stopped by the home of a friend recently. He’s a relatively new believer who’s been coming to our church for only a short time. At the end of our visit, I volunteered to pray about some of the things we’d been talking about—the uncertainty of his job, his growing relationship with God, his concern for his teenage daughter. When I finished, he looked at me somewhat wistfully and said, “Some day I’d like to be able to do that.”
Not quite sure what he was referring to, I asked, “You’d like to be able to do what?”
“Pray!” was his emphatic response. He didn’t mean it as flattery. And I didn’t take it as such, because, after all, there is little skill involved in praying well. Praying is not a talent to be applauded, like piano playing or public speaking or golfing. It’s more like… well… mowing the lawn. It’s something we just do. I wouldn’t be flattered if my friend had said to me, “Someday I’d like to be able to mow the lawn just like you.”
One of my major objectives in writing this book is to convince you that praying is not just for the pros. You don’t have to be an apostle Paul or a John Wesley or a Billy Graham to pray well. There is no special skill involved. It is something, rather, that we become good at by just doing it.
And that’s the problem. Most Christ followers don’t do it. Often when I am speaking on the topic of prayer, I will ask my audience, “How many of you are satisfied with the amount of praying you do?” I have yet to see a single hand raised. We all wish we prayed more. We don’t need another pep talk on the importance of prayer. We believe it’s important. We just don’t do it!
Why not? Let me begin with some prayer busters, or obstacles, that keep us from praying. These roadblocks are common to all of us and must be removed in order for prayer to take off in our lives.
The solutions I propose are simple and practical. If you find anything super deep in these pages it probably got there by accident. I have read many profound books over the years on the topic of prayer. Unfortunately, most of what I learned didn’t translate into more praying on my part. The goal of this book, again, is to get you to actually do it.
That’s what Jesus’ example prompted the disciples to want for themselves. In the opening verse of Luke 11 we read: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” There is a sense of urgency to this request. Bible scholars tell us that the verb is an aorist imperative. An aorist imperative is often used to convey a demand for immediate action.
Having observed Jesus at prayer, the disciples were now imploring him, “Teach us to pray… right now! Don’t put us off. This is something we need immediately. We’re tired of being prayer deficient.”
Interestingly, this is the only place in the four Gospels where Jesus’ followers ask him, directly, to teach them something. Not that such a request would have been unusual. It was common, in the culture of that day, for students to ask for instruction on specific topics from their rabbis. And yet this is the only time we find Jesus’ disciples making such a request of him. This is important. There is an urgency about it. Teach us to pray!
Please note, as well, that this is not, strictly speaking, a how-to request. The disciples are not asking for a lesson on prayer techniques (i.e., “Lord, teach us how to pray”). They are simply seeking help to get going. It’s the same as when I ask the Lord, “Teach me to love So-and-so.” Am I asking for ideas about how to do it? No, I just need a kick in the pants to start loving. Similarly, the disciples wanted a push to start praying. Teach us to pray!
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