If I were to go to a spiritual MD, I suspect that the diagnose for my prayer life would be disappointing. My prayers are not terminally sick, just ridiculously mediocre, like a common cold. The prognosis (educated guess about the outcome) would be that there is no real hope for improvement since most people’s prayer life is also mediocre. Like a cold, you just learn to live with it. Clearly, this is not an option for those who desire to be spiritually healthy pastors.
The original disciples were also sick of being mediocre, so they asked Jesus to show them a better way: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). His prescription for the common prayer life was the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. Hmmm.
Can I be brutally honest? I’ve tried that and it doesn’t seem to work for me. Unless you are about to play a football game or you are fighting in a foxhole somewhere, saying this prayer feels formulaic and wooden. Besides, I never know whether to say “debts” or “trespasses.” After looking a little closer at the Lord’s Prayer, I realized that it is basically an outline to work from, not an actual prayer to recite – unless your football coach tells you to.
I have some good news if your diagnosis is similar to mine – there is a better way to pray. You can improve your prayer life, which will greatly impact your relationship with God and fruitfulness in ministry. Jesus shows us how in John 17. This is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible, which is not better than “the Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6, just different.
The primary prayer takeaway is to focus on your Father instead of formalities. Don’t worry about trying to impress God. It is not even a remote possibility, so relax and enjoy a relational conversation that is similar to what you would have with a loving Father or friend. This seems elementary for pastors until you consider the last preacher-prayer you heard at a meal or worship service. I wonder sometimes who these pastors are talking to as they are praying publicly.
Let’s face it – intimate, consistent prayer is not easy, when it feels more like a monologue than a dialogue. In John 15, Jesus directs us to “abide/remain” in and with Him. A lot of personal and ministry fruit comes out of our abiding walk with Jesus.
Two chapters later in John 17, we see Jesus putting on a prayer clinic. I am compelled by Jesus’ tone in this intimate conversation with His Father. It stirs within me a hunger to have a consistent conversation with my Father that reaches above a conventional “quiet time.” I hope that hunger never goes away.
“This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You sent – Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
God is eager to spend quality time with you, so I hope you will join me in this noble fight for a growing relationship with Him through prayer. Fight hard against mediocrity and formality; fight even harder for intimacy and fruitfulness. Fight against the lukewarm prayers that subtly creep into a pastor’s life; not so much because of your call to ministry, but because of your call to salvation.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
“There is still no cure for the common cold. We just treat symptoms,” a pharmacist friend just told me this morning at the airport. The good news is that there really is a cure for a common prayer life, and our Great Physician is never wrong. Why settle for less?