‘On all occasions with all kinds of prayer.’ (Eph 6:18 NIV)
Prayer is not just painted in one colour. A whole rainbow of ways are presented. Let’s first look at some of the ways in which we can pray by ourselves.
a. Regular prayer times
The most famous and obvious way to pray is our regular, sustained talking to our Father. As Jesus said, ‘When you pray, shut the door and speak to your Father which is in secret.’ This is Jesus’ invitation to us, the incredible privilege of sonship that we can talk to our heavenly Father.
Murray McCheyne says, ‘What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, nothing more.’
You remember the word that came to Ananias when he was told to go to Saul, that Pharisee who had been persecuting the church. Ananias was very scared to go but God told him ‘don’t be afraid, behold he prays’. Samuel Chadwick noted, ‘Prayer, the privilege of sons, the proof of sonship.’ Don’t be afraid Ananias, he prays.
D A Carson says, ‘Much prayer is not done because we don’t plan to pray.’ We need to develop our prayer life. We need to diligently carve out time. I was so grateful that when I went to Bible College I had already tried door-to-door evangelism for two years and knew how hard serving God could be. I was surprised that guys being trained for ministry would talk late into the night and then were too tired the next morning to pray. You have got to make choices if you’re going to be up and praying.
b. Nehemiah prayers
Another kind of prayer is what we might call a ‘Nehemiah prayer’. When Nehemiah felt God’s call, he began to ask his boss, the king, ‘Can I go to Jerusalem? The walls are down, the gates are burned. I want to go.’ And you get that famous saying, ‘I prayed to the God of heaven and I said to the king.’ Here’s another kind of prayer. It’s kind of ‘Lord help me now!’ To be aware of Him in the middle of situations. You are in the supermarket queue and this person seems to be friendly and open and you ask ‘What shall I say next Lord?’ It’s calling on Him, being in touch with Him. All kinds of prayer.
c. Extended specific times
Jesus prayed all night before He selected his twelve. There were moments when He gave himself to a more extended prayer time. It says at one time, ‘He rose up a great while before day.’ We know that Jesus fasted for 40 days. These were special seasons, times of focus.
I remember my very first approach to Wendy – well it was barely an approach. She wrote me a little note which said, ‘Just in case you were thinking I might be interested romantically, I’m not.’ To be honest I wasn’t sure that I was at the time but when I got this letter I was caught. She was very cunning. I was hooked! I was going to have three days to pray and fast. I remember I had a list of concerns and Wendy was top of the list. I said, ‘Lord, is she for me? If she is for me, I want her please.’ I was praying. I gave myself to this. I had a very happy day on the last day when she came to me. Hallelujah!
Over the years, one of our sons was terribly backslidden and far from God. Wendy and I were supposed to be going to the States together and she said, ‘I don’t think I am supposed to come. I feel I am meant to fight for him. I am going to fight for Simon.’ She stayed behind and gave herself to some days of prayer and fasting, and fought for him. One day he said to her, ‘I thought you were going with Dad.’ ‘Yes, I was.’ ‘Why haven’t you gone?’ ‘I’m fighting for you.’ He replied, ‘I think you might be winning!’ That was the beginning of a wonderful turn around.
There are seasons, dear friends, when something becomes so important that you must get the answer to it. God allows things like that to arise. When that happens, don’t let it go. Fasting is not a hunger strike. It’s not trying to bend God’s arm. It’s coming to Him with real intention where faith can grow and promises like ‘the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man avails much’ are outworked.
d. Pray without ceasing
We need to be very careful with this one because it can be ‘That’s what I do. I don’t have a special time. I just keep praying. “Parking spot Lord, thank you.” I just pray all the time.’ Michael Eaton in his little paperback commentary is so helpful. He is very pithy. He just says, ‘If we find a way of praying that’s not really praying we shall neglect actual praying.’
Be careful that you don’t casually say, ‘well I just talk to God all the time’. That’s great if you really do, but we need seasons when we shut the door and are with our Father in secret. It’s a breathtaking invitation.
This post was adapted from the 3rd of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010