How often do YOU pray? Paul teaches that we must “pray without ceasing”. Of course he does not mean that every minute of every day of our lives must be spent in prayer. That, of course, could not be; every man has physical needs as well as spiritual which must be satisfied.
Yet prayer is of utmost importance to our Christian life. Prayer is “the chief part of thank- fulness”, according to the Catechism, and we must be thankful in order to “live and die happily” (Lord’s Day 1 and 45); indeed, it is not all of thankfulness, but certainly the most important part. Prayer is so necessary that God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who ask them of Him and are thankful for them. (Lord’s Day 45)
Why then, at times, when one of us young people is asked to pray in society or elsewhere, the result is an unintelligible mumble, or the unfeeling recitation of a few well-worn phrases? We do not talk to our friends that way, why then to God. Talk about reverence in prayer, that is not even polite.
Why is the problem? Don’t we know what to pray or how to pray? Haven’t we been taught? Must we be taught? Do we need special instruction in this in school? Catechism? The home? Certainly, we must learn to pray. And it is our parents primarily, though also our teachers and elders, who show us the way of prayer, both by teaching us simple prayers as children and by their own example. But that must not be the end. As we mature and are instructed in our heritage of truth, we must also grow in the knowledge of prayer.
How? As in all human learning, we develop by continual, regular usage and practice. A coach can teach his players the rules of a game, but with that alone they will never win any games. They must practice and practice some more, and if they cease they will lose whatever skill they did have. How much more should we attempt to develop in something which is absolutely essential to our life and well-being.
We must, therefore, keep a regular schedule of prayer. Family praying is a part of this and important, but we must also find time to pray alone, by ourselves and about ourselves. Everyone has their own personal sins and problems and these, as well as individual and personal thanksgiving, should be confessed to God in private.
I know, however, how hard it is to set and keep a regular period of prayer. The hectic pace of the life we lead, long hours of work, and a busy social life, make it very difficult to find time for our Bibles and our God. Coming home late at night after a date, work, or whatever, how easy it is to crawl into a warm bed without pausing on our knees for a few moments on the cold floor.
Yet that is no excuse. May we tell Jehovah that we have no time for Him? To wake an hour or half-hour earlier in the morning and go to bed a little later in the evening is very small thanks for the gift of eternal grace: likewise cold knees or a missed TV program.
Look at the example of our Lord. Though He prayed in public and in the company of His disciples, yet, even as God, He prayed to God, alone; not casually to His Father, but in bloody sweat and anguish; not just in times of extreme trial but at all times. “It would be utterly unthinkable to picture Jesus Christ without the dimension of prayer. It is perhaps because we read the gospels so often as unpraying men that we are insensitive to the deep prayer dimension of His life. For Him prayer was not peripheral, causal or irrelevant but, on the contrary, absolutely central and essential. The first disciples soon recognized something very unusual about His life: His unique wisdom, power and closeness to the invisible God. They surmised rightly that His prayer life held the secret of His unique relation with the Father.” (Charles Whiston, Pray, page 19). Therefore they ask; “Lord, teach us to pray.”
“Let us follow their example and seek to build a life of distinctly Christian praying on solid foundations; not spasmodic, intermittent, situational prayer in times of crisis, not prayer based on the felt need of the moment. That kind of prayer may be able to rest on the immediate occasion and need. But we must have prayer which rests on solid and enduring foundations; prayer which is rooted and grounded in the deep truths concerning God and man. Let us begin by turning away from ourselves to Jesus Christ, the man of prayer.” (Ibid p. 18)