Prayer with an Attitude
- Michael M. Smith NavPress
- 2007 10 Oct
The Bible tells us we should “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Unfortunately, for many of us, a few minutes spent in prayer feels like forever. Why do we struggle so much with prayer when we know how vital it is to our relationship with God?
We certainly don’t lack information about how to pray. Christian bookstores are packed with books that explain in great detail the various methods of prayer. But perhaps we need to also direct our attention to our motivation, our attitude, in prayer. The following article, entitled “Focus on the Father” by Rusty Rustenbach (excerpted from Discipleship Journal, Issue 6), explores how our attitude can make prayer an adventure rather than a burden. As you read through the article, underline any portions that stand out to you. Then respond to the questions and exercises.
Privilege of Prayer
Of all the ingredients in discipleship, the area many of us struggle with most is prayer. According to one recently published estimate, a typical Christian layman spends about three and a half minutes each day in prayer. Full-time Christian workers average about seven minutes per day. This pitiful situation must amaze even the Lord Himself, for Isaiah 59:16 records that when no one was found to intercede for His people, God was appalled. Why do we fail to take full advantage of the privilege of prayer? Is it a lack of discipline? Are we too busy? Are we unmotivated?
1. What things make it difficult for you to spend quality time in prayer?
_Too busy or tired
_ Can’t concentrate
_ Don’t know what to pray about
_ Don’t feel like it
_ Feel guilty
_ Not convinced it makes a difference
Perhaps the basic cause of our weakness in prayer relates to how we view God. We may have no genuine awe for the One “who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth” (Isaiah 51:13). God seems more like a superhero from a child’s cartoon, whittled down to human size.
If we aren’t captivated by God, prayer is a tedious task. It becomes a discipline that only those with wills of steel can master. I once regarded prayer as “gutting it out” before God. It meant trying to bring reams and reams of petitions before the Lord. The more requests I could bring, the more spiritual I was.
2. What similarities do you see between the author’s approach (bringing “reams and reams of petitions before the Lord”) and Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:7?
3. How would you compare the focus of prayer in Matthew 6:7 with the focus in Matthew 6:9-13? Which of these is most like your approach to prayer?
Communion or Wrestling Match?
I also misinterpreted statements from godly men about the importance of prayer. Martin Luther’s statement that “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer” implied to me that prayer was a guaranteed formula for success.
Rather than being a dynamic communion with the sovereign Lord of the universe, to me prayer was an exercise meant to wrestle effects into the lives of people and to manipulate God’s hand. Prayer became lifeless
and tedious. It was like castor oil: terrible tasting, but good for me.
4. Which of the following statements describe your general attitude toward prayer? Check all that apply.
_ Prayer is like a marriage—it is hard work but can be very rewarding.
_ I want to like prayer, but I really don’t.
_ Prayer is like writing “thank you” notes—it is an obligation I need to fulfill.
_ I look forward to prayer.
_ I enjoy the time I spend in prayer, but I would like to go deeper.
Yet God reminded me of the truth I was neglecting: He wanted to commune with me. What does this mean? Communion is defined as the intimate sharing of thoughts and emotions, and an intimate fellowship, rapport, or communication. This is the kind of relationship God wants with me.
5. How is God’s desire for communion (intimate relationship) with us expressed in the following verses?
a. Isaiah 30:18
b. Isaiah 65:1-2
c. Jeremiah 33:3
d. Matthew 23:37
e. Romans 5:8-10
f. 1 John 4:9-10
6. Summarize in your own words the most significant or meaningful insight you gained from the verses above.
What Is Your Picture of God?
I saw I had become hardened to the excitement of walking in continual awareness of God’s presence. I realized afresh that He desires open communion with me. He has little interest in the petition gymnastics I was trying to perfect in prayer. He wants me to be preoccupied with Himself. Seeing God this way enables us to stand in awe of Him. It stimulates our heart to vital communion and conversation with Him. Seeing God as He is requires faith on our part, but whoever is enamored and thrilled with God is then rightly motivated to pray. Discipline will still be necessary, but prayer won’t be drudgery. I believe that is hat John 4:24 is hinting at: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (emphasis added).
7. Read John 4:4-30, the context of the story of the woman at the well.
a. How did the Samaritan woman’s inaccurate picture of God affect her ability to worship Him “in spirit and in truth”?
b. What aspects of God’s character are hardest for you to grasp (for example, all-powerful, ever-present, all-knowing, sovereign, holy, righteous, loving, merciful, faithful, and so on)? How might this affect your prayer life?
Where Do You See God?
To grow in communion with God requires an appreciation of His awesomeness and wonder. This may seem an intangible objective, but there are practical steps we can take. When undertaken in a spirit of faith, these actions can bring new life and vitality to our relationship with God.
What, then, can we do? God has graciously given us two major resources to enable us to see Him as He is: His works and His Word. Both are avenues for deepening heartfelt communion with the Father of glory.
What are the works of God, and how can they help us appreciate God? Most of us think of the works of God as being His spiritual work in people’s lives. It is good to rejoice and express our praise to God as we see this. But another work of God, neglected by many of us, is His creation. The universe has been marred by sin, but it still declares God’s glory. In our modern secularization, many of us have lost our sense of wonder at the ordinary miracles God performs all around us each day.
8. From the following passages, record some of the places in which God’s work can be observed.
a. Job 38:12-41
b. Psalm 8:1-3
c. Psalm 19:1
9. In what ways are you most likely to recognize God’s involvement through nature? If you don’t often perceive God through His creation, use the verses above as reminders to look for and acknowledge His work this week.
God wants us to experience awe and wonder when we see the return of spring, or the variety in the animal world, or the impressive powers of wind, rain, and sea.
All of these are God’s handiwork. Failing to return praise to Him as we observe them is just like failing to return the glory to God as we see Him at work in someone’s life. Isaiah wrote: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?” (Isaiah 40:26). We, too, should consider the One who made it all, and we can ask God to help us see Him in His creation.
10. Isaiah 40:12-31 is a wonderful passage about God’s greatness. Spend some time reading this passage, reflecting on its truths about God and His creation. Jot down some key words describing God’s attributes below.
11. Now copy the following verse onto an index card or into your daily planner. Over the next several days, work on memorizing this verse. Then, the next time you take a walk or a drive at night, let the stars remind you of God’s greatness.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)
The second resource available to us is God’s Word. The Bible is a vast reservoir of riches designed to remind us of the greatness of the God we serve. Many passages throughout Scripture focus on what God is like. When you read them, think of the implications these attributes of God have for our lives, and talk with God about them.
The life of Jesus Christ, as told in the gospels, also draws our
attention to God’s character. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul mentioned how God’s glory was “in the face of Christ.” As we read about Jesus talking with and living among people, we see vivid examples of God’s character in action.
12. Read the following verses and record how Jesus’ life reflected God’s character.
a. John 1:14
b. John 12:44-45
c. John 14:8-11
d. Colossians 1:15-20
e. Hebrews 1:1-3
13. How might reflecting on Jesus’ life affect the way you pray?
Giving God a Proper Response
One aspect, you’ll remember, in our definition of communion was that of sharing. Communion means sharing the same thoughts as we communicate. Therefore we need to respond to God concerning the specific things He has spoken to us about.
We often fail to do this when we read the Bible. In a particular passage, God may speak to us about His holiness. But our mind is preoccupied with how we can come up with enough money to pay next month’s rent. So when we put down our Bible and pray, what do we talk to God about? Not His holiness, but the rent money!
It is not wrong to pray about our needs, but God wants us to listen to Him and give Him a proper response. Imagine telling someone, “I love you very much,” only to hear him respond, “I sure hope I get a pay raise soon at work.” Such conversations don’t do much to build intimacy in a relationship. So listen to God and respond specifically to what He has said.
14. Let’s put that into practice. What does God say about Himself in Isaiah 57:15? Try writing out an appropriate response to this verse. (For example: Lord, sometimes I forget how high and lofty You are. It humbles me to think that You care about and interact with me.)
15. God not only tells us about Himself in Isaiah 57:15, He also implies something about us. What kind of person does God want you to be? How might you respond in prayer?
Another way to appreciate God and commune with Him is to read and meditate on the great prayers of the Bible. Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple (1 Kings 8:23-53) began with lavish praise for God. When the early Christians prayed for boldness (Acts 4:24-30) most of their words recounted what God had already done.No wonder their prayer for boldness was clearly answered. Many of
the psalms of David and the prayers of Paul also focus on who God is and what He has done, rather than on their requests.
16. Let’s take a closer look at the passages mentioned above. As you read through these prayers, note what the person says about God and what he actually requests of God.
a. 1 Kings 8:23-53
_ What Solomon said about God:
_ What he requested of God:
b. Acts 4:24-30
_ What the people said about God:
_ What they requested of God:
Attitude, Not Activity
Growing in reverent communion with God isn’t another burden to add to your already busy schedule. It is not just an activity; it is far more an attitude of heart that should especially influence your Bible study, Scripture memory, and quiet times, as well as prayer. William Carey said that “secret, fervent, believing prayer lies at the root of all personal godliness.” We could add that an exciting sense of reverence and worship—an increasing appreciation of God’s presence— lies at the root of all “secret, fervent, believing prayer.”
17. Take a couple of minutes to review your discoveries in this session.
How would you summarize the attitude needed for meaningful communion with God?
18. Record here any particular thought, truth, or verse of Scripture about how to “focus on the Father” that stood out to you in this study.
19. How can the insight you recorded in question eighteen improve your prayer relationship with God this coming week?
We forget one important fact, I think, about God: We forget that He is actually alive. And He has told us that it’s His business to open our eyes to Him, in His own ways, so that we can know Him.
—David Hazard, “Seeing More of God,” Issue 85