January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.
If you are going to experience God through prayer, you will need a better guide than me. Because I am a minister, I am embarrassed to admit that I am not the greatest at prayer. I experience moments when my prayers lurch along in fits and starts. I often find my prayers directing God’s attention to me rather than my attention to Him. I am not the best guide for your journey.
Fortunately, I am not your only choice — nor do you have to turn to other pastors or spiritual writers. God himself provides ample guidance on how to pray. Remember Hebrews 1:1–2: “God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….”
God speaks to us in both the Old Testament (which focuses on the ministry of the prophets) and the New Testament (which focuses on the ministry of the Son).
What, then, does the Bible tell us about prayer? A whole lot, actually. Thankfully, Jesus offers a précis of prayer in Matthew 6:5–15. Those 11 verses are the central part of a larger discussion about acts of righteousness, or spiritual disciplines. They are bookended on either side by teaching about generosity to the poor (6:1–4) and fasting (6:16–18). The entire discussion begins with a warning: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (6:1).
As I read that warning, I find myself asking two questions: Do I practice the disciplines? If so, why — what is my motivation? Take a moment to ponder both.
First, “Do I practice the disciplines?” Generosity, prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines are habits we must develop to become the kind of people God wants us to be. Prayer and fasting remind us of our overriding need for God, for His tangible and spiritual blessings. Generosity to the poor reminds us that there is a greater purpose to wealth than mere acquisition — namely, meeting others’ needs and making the world a better place. Without disciplines such as generosity, prayer and fasting, we cannot love God with all our being; nor can we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37,39).
Second, “Why do I practice the disciplines? What is my motivation?” Jesus offers two possible answers: to be seen by others or to be seen by God. People who practice the disciplines to be seen by others are looking for a temporary spiritual reputation. But people who practice them to be seen by God are looking for an eternal spiritual relationship. According to Jesus, both groups will get what they want (Matthew 6:2,5,15), but only the latter group will receive what all of us truly need — the reward of heaven (6:4,6,18).
So, do you practice the spiritual disciplines? Why? Your answers to these questions are important if you want to experience God through prayer.