Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Praying in Personal Devotions
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Face-to-face communication is breaking down. The next time you go to a restaurant, observe the married (or dating) couples sitting in the booths around you. It is a common sight to see a man and a woman, close enough for feet to touch, so involved with their phones that they utter not a word to each other the whole hour they eat. Such is a strange sight—if they are in a relationship, then why do they not talk?
However strange that may be, what about a Christian who does not pray, or prays only infrequently? God has established his covenant with us. He has taken us to be his friends. He, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, has quickened us together with Christ. By grace are we saved (Ephesians 2). The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted us, all of his grace, and we enjoy rich fellowship with him (II Corinthians 6:18).
So, do we pray?
To ask the question is to answer it: of course we pray (and must)! As adopted sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, will we not, every day, praise him, thank him, make our requests known to him, and confess our sins to him?
Prayer is communication with God who is on his throne in heaven—covenant communion with our Father. It is to this spiritual discipline that we now turn. Prayer is a rather general topic, so we again limit ourselves: we will consider private or personal prayer. Private or personal prayer is prayer that an individual makes all by himself, alone, without others.
Examples of private prayer fill scripture. David (Psalm 51), Hezekiah (II Kings 19:14ff), Daniel (Daniel 6:10), Paul (II Timothy 1:3), and Jesus himself (Mark 1:35) prayed privately. The list goes on. Even though it is true that we are Christ’s body, and often our prayers are with others, it is also true that personal prayer is still necessary, for each saint stands in a personal relationship with his Father in heaven.
Like last time with Bible reading, I provide below some guidelines, this time for individual prayer. The list is not exhaustive. I encourage the reader to add more guidelines.
First: find a good place. As with reading the Bible in personal devotions, so private prayer requires that we retire to an isolated place where we can give undivided attention to our communication with Almighty God. Jesus went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).
Second: choose the right time. We should locate the part of our day in which we are most alert and our mind most uncluttered—it is no use praying when we are groggy, or when we are distracted with other business. Whether that time is early in the morning, late at night, or sometime in the middle, find a couple of times in the day that work for you. Here, especially, is where discipline comes in: make a plan for prayer. Even if it must be in writing, plan when you will pray each day, and rigorously adhere to that plan. Consider prayer to be more important than any other part of the day. Do not allow anything to alter that schedule. And, just as Jesus rose up a great while before day to pray (Mark 1:35), make sure to set aside sufficient time for prayer.
Third: color your prayers with God’s Word. It is best, in personal devotions, to read and meditate upon the Bible first (see the last blog post), and then, after that, to pray; when we proceed in this order, God’s Word will color our prayers. For example, you are up to Psalm 23:1 in your devotions. You read, reread, and meditate upon the truth that Jehovah is your shepherd, making the confession that he is your shepherd. You drink deeply. Then, you pray it. You pray that Jehovah the Shepherd would lead you, feed you, protect you, and give you rest. What a rich prayer this is! How will your prayers be fresh, living, and specific? Bible reading and meditation! Besides, when you pray the holy scriptures, you know your prayers are pleasing to God.
Fourth: address personal needs. This is what sets private prayer apart from all other prayers that we make with other people: in private prayer, we come before God’s throne with our personal praise, needs, struggles, and sins (read Psalm 51), while that is usually not possible when we pray with others. You know your sins better than anyone else. You understand your trials better than anyone else. Private prayer is an opportunity to open your heart to God, in a way that you cannot in public prayer. Certainly, pray for others—spouse, children, friends…but do not forget to pray for yourself. It may even be helpful to keep a journal, writing down throughout the day matters for personal prayer, and having those written thoughts available at the time of personal devotions.
Fifth: pray from the heart. Prayer is covenant communion with our Father in heaven. If we truly know who God is and what our needs are, then our prayers will be diligent, sincere, urgent, and heartfelt. Every morning we wake up to another battle with the flesh, Satan and the world, and we face another day filled with work and burdens—so we pray from the heart for grace to face the new day! Every evening we fall into bed exhausted from sin, but knowing the faithfulness of our Father—so from the heart we confess our sins and thank him for his faithfulness! It is no wonder that the Bible uses the word “cry” to describe the prayers of God’s people!
Such a prayer life requires discipline! Such worship of God requires commitment and resolve. Consistent, heartfelt prayer is hard work, and not without its challenges, as any child of God will testify. But God will give grace. Pray for that grace—the grace to pray! Pray, for prayer is “the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them” (Lord’s Day 45, A. 116).
This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.