What does it look like (or feel like) to pursue consistent, fervent prayer? Is it an endless repetition of the same words? Is it mindless pleading, mixed with angst and flowing tears? Is it rehearsing the same requests over and over in an attempt to “get the right words” that will cause God to act?
No. Jesus addressed this very issue in His Sermon on the Mount, and just before He gave us a wonderful example of how we can pray:
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Matthew 6:7-8 (NIV)
If God already knows our needs, why SHOULD we practice consistent, fervent prayer in the first place? Because God desires to hear our heart cry. When something touches our heart– even though God already feels our sadness, pain, and fear–God wants to SHARE it in personal and intimate detail. What He does not want is for us to use prayer to try to manipulate a particular outcome, or to push our own desires and agenda ahead of His wisdom and sovereign will.
Instead, we should meet with God as our Father, knowing that He knows us, cares for us, and cares about the things that concern us. Consistent, fervent prayer is simply sharing our concerns with a loving God honestly over time.
- Whining and “babbling” shows that we don’t trust God’s wisdom. It’s like a toddler, who keeps saying, “Please….pretty please…pretty please with sugar on top…” “But I want it…I REALLY need it… REALLY…”
- Saying nothing is no better. It is closing our hearts away from the one who loves us unconditionally. Sometimes, we try to over-spiritualize, saying that because God already knows our needs, we need not mention them again.
- We need to find a middle ground. We need to be humble enough to say that we need God’s help and His wisdom, and huble enough to accept that His ways and timing are not the same as ours.
So what DOES it look like? Probably a little different for each person, but I think there are some guidelines:
- Consistent prayer means that we pray every day, throughout the day. About everything! Not just obsessively about our worries or needs, but about our joys and sorrows, as well as our questions, wonders, adoration, praise and confessions. Much like speaking with our best friends–the best ones are willing to listen to the same story about our cat even if we’ve told it twice before. They will cry with us next week as we share our continuing frustration with a rebellious teen or our parent’s journey with dementia. The difference is that God has a purpose and a plan in sharing our grief and our weakness beyond anything we can imagine. He is the “God of all Comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) as well as a God of healing.
- Fervent prayer isn’t just anguished prayer or dramatic, emotional prayer. It is intensely humble and full of faith. The Apostle James gives an excellent example in chapter 5 of his epistle: 17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:17-18 NIV) When Elijah faced the pagan prophets of Baal and Asherah, he prayed fervently, but he left the drama to the others. Elijah chided the prophets of Baal, because they prayed with raving, shouting, dancing, and cutting themselves in an effort to get Baal to hear them. Elijah’s prayer, while simple, was answered immediately and with dramatic effect. This wasn’t just a show of God’s awesome power through His chosen prophet. It was also a clear sign that Elijah was in constant communication with the One True God. He didn’t have to “get God’s attention.” He knew God was right there with Him. (See 1 Kings 18 for the whole story.)
- Consistent, fervent prayer is part of a journey, not a destination. The same Elijah who was able to call down fire from Heaven, ran and hid in a cave and prayed to die! God wants us to pursue prayer the same way we pursue righteousness– knowing that God is the source of our wisdom and strength. He wants our anguished prayers as well as our prayers prayed in absolute trust– He wants them all!
- I find it helpful in my personal prayer to have a journal. In it, I keep a list of people and places, concerns and requests. Each day of the week, I have a focus point for my prayers, and a list of specific people to lift up, plus a place for immediate and ongoing concerns. This does the following for me:
- It allows me to put concerns into perspective. On Mondays, I concentrate on family and friends. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pray for my family on other days, but Mondays are focused on family and friends. On Wednesday, I concentrate on praying for my community. On Thursdays, I pray for global issues. This doesn’t preclude urgent requests or needs, but it keeps me from obsessing about some concerns at the expense of others. And it reminds me that God is the God of my family, AND my community, AND those suffering from a recent earthquake or famine.
- A Prayer Journal gives me a place to write out my requests. Sometimes, seeing it in writing reminds me that God already knows– my concerns are written on His heart! No need to use the same words over and over again–but God may want to hear how MY heart has changed since I wrote the request. Maybe I have new information that changes my outlook. Maybe I can see how God is already working in the situation…which brings up another advantage of journaling:
- I have a space in my prayer journal for answered prayer. Sometimes, I’m praying for someone from my church with a health issue. I can come back and write out God’s response– maybe He provided miraculous healing; maybe He took them “home.” Maybe He is causing them to travel a long road — giving them opportunities to bear witness to His faithfulness in every situation. Perhaps He is causing their family or caregivers to see Him in a new way!
- Finally, a Prayer Journal helps me to be more consistent. I can turn to it every day for prompts and reminders of God’s love and faithfulness. God IS Fervent and Consistent– He is Faithful, and His Love is limitless. And He is the one who can teach me to be the same!