Adapted from Personal Disciplemaking by Chris Adsit (used with permission)
The disciple has a basic understanding of the importance of prayer, and is beginning to pray on his own.
BIBLICAL BASIS FOR THIS OBJECTIVE
At the vortex of the tornado called “The Christian Life,” there is a fact that should affect everything we do as Christians: Christianity is a relationship with God through the auspices of the risen, glorified Savior. It’s not really a “religion,” though some choose to define it as such; it’s not merely a code of ethics, though that is involved; it’s not a certain collection of behaviors, though as a result of our relationship with God, certain behaviors will come to the fore. At its very foundation it’s a two-way, vital, dynamic friendship between the Creator and His creature.
We all know that, if you want to carry on a relationship with someone, it is necessary to communicate with that person. No communication—no relationship. It’s that simple. Since we desire to carry on a relationship with God, we must talk to Him. We call this “prayer.”
Jesus commanded us in the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 to “make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” He gave us a lot of instructions concerning prayer, and a number of them are listed at the top of the following page. As usual, look up each reference, and jot down a short summary for each in your disciplemaker’s notebook.
Following are a few definitions of prayer by people who know what they’re talking about. I thought you might find them interesting:
Rosalind Rinker: “Prayer is a dialogue between two persons who love each other.”[i]
William R. Bright: “Prayer is simply talking to God.”[ii]
S. D. Gordon: “Prayer is the word commonly used for all intercourse with God.”[iii]
Dick Eastman: “Prayer is to verbalize our total dependence on God concerning all our efforts.”[iv]
Andrew Murray: “Prayer is fellowship with the Unseen and Most Holy One. The powers of the eternal world have been placed at its disposal. It is the very essence of true religion, the channel of all blessings, the secret of power and life.”[v]
Robert A. Cook: “Prayer is a cry. The physician expects the newborn babe to cry out, as first evidence of life. If it does not cry, he shakes or spanks it to produce a cry. If it continues silent, it will soon be dead.”[vi]
Dr. Jack Taylor: “Prayer is weakness plugged into strength. Prayer is saying, ‘I can’t, but You can,’ and plugging into God’s ‘I will.’”[vii]
PEP TALK FOR THE DISCIPLEMAKER
Your disciple is a brand new spiritual baby, and his needs are simple—so far. What we want to do at this point is to make sure he understands the most basic facts of prayer; we want to give him the equivalent of a first-grade education. The heavy-duty industrial-strength concepts will come when he’s older and more able to absorb them. They’ll come through specific instruction from you, or through Bible studies you have him complete, or through others who will be ministering to him. Yes, it is possible for your disciple to learn something from a source other than you or this program! In fact, you should encourage it.
Think about the Navigator’s Wheel Illustration for a minute (chapter 13). Remember the four spokes? Two of them, the Word and fellowship, usually aren’t difficult to engage in. The Bible is a rather interesting and popular piece of literature. And since we humans are by and large gregarious creatures, fellowship is practically a natural tendency, a pursuit filled with exciting possibilities.
But when you begin the businesses of prayer and witnessing, you discover some spokes of a different color. It’s harder to pray and to witness—you and I both know that. This is because our adversary, the devil, recognizes the immense holes these two activities bore into the foundation of his infernal kingdom. Prayer short-circuits his power and authority, while witnessing—which causes conversion—depletes the ranks of his prisoners. This is not to say that the Word and fellowship are by any means less important, just less of a hassle. For this reason, you can be sure of two things: (1) Satan plans to resist your efforts as you teach your disciple to pray; and (2) the sooner your disciple learns about prayer, the better off he’ll be.
You’ve probably heard that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Though men everywhere have an innate knowledge that they can and should call out to their Creator, our new natures are quite unfamiliar with true prayer which is intimate communion with our Father. Much instruction, practice, discipline and perseverance is required to learn this new and vital art. Few Christians have spent as much time learning how to communicate with God as the average ham radio operator has spent learning Morse Code. This could be the reason so few Christians know how to send out an SOS to the Captain of their souls. So keep in mind that this training objective is merely the beginning of your disciple’s education about prayer.
If your disciple has any kind of religious upbringing, he may think that his prayer life is perfectly acceptable. After all, he figures he’s been praying most of his life—and to some rudimentary degree, perhaps he has. In a way that’s good, because talking with God will come easier for him than for someone who’s never tried it. But in another way, it could be a problem—it could open the door to spiritual pride.
At this writing, my five-year-old daughter is going through the “I-can-do-it-I-can-do-it-I-can-do-it” stage. It matters not what feat is being contemplated; she, in all of her preschool pomposity, is convinced it’s a piece of cake. I’m faced with a dilemma: On the one hand I want to shout, “You have no knowledge of the skills of which you boast!” On the other hand, I want to encourage her ambitious voyage toward maturity, and keep her from ripping off her mainsail in the process.
So my wife and I have become expert diplomats in this area. As much as possible, we avoid saying, “You can’t do that.” As long as her request doesn’t involve lethal weapons or potentially destructive and catastrophic consequences, we respond with a hearty, “Go for it!” Sometimes we great permission with full knowledge that she’ll fail, but we see that as part of the learning process.
Apply the same principles to the new Christian who is an “expert-in-his-own-eyes” pray-er. Don’t squash his fragile ego by saying things like, “Forget everything you think you know about prayer. I will show you how to do it the right way”; or “The way you’re praying is just plain silly.” If the man is talking to God, encourage him! Portray the “Go for it!” attitude.
I’ll never forget the first prayer I heard Eloy pray a few days after his conversion back in college. There were several of us sitting around my dorm room having a prayer meeting. Eloy piped up, “God? This is Eloy. I’m here in Ingersol Hall…” Should I have taken time at that moment to explain to him that there was no need to clue in an omniscient, omnipresent God as to his identity and location? I don’t think so, at least not right then. It was one of the most priceless, honest, innocent prayers I’ve ever heard, and if he could retain that innocence and reverence for the rest of his life on earth, he would do far better than most. The theology could wait.
If your disciple’s praying requires some adjusting, he’ll pick it up by and by with your gentle, sensitive guidance. Let him progress toward maturity in this area a step at a time. Allow him the freedom to stumble and fall. Stand back and let him grope around in the dark a little. Discovering the light switch after grabbing around for it is such a sweet and memorable occasion.
One of the best educations he can receive is through listening to you pray. That’s the way Jesus began teaching the disciples about prayer (Luke 11). Since He had a knack for providing rather capable instructional techniques, we would do well to imitate Him. Every time you pray with your disciple, whether you know it or not, you teach him something about prayer. For this reason, it would be advisable for you to examine your own prayer life.
- Do your prayers reflect a personal, intimate relationship with a loving Father, or are they stiff, strained and formal?
- When your disciple listens to you pray, can he tell that you are engaging in an activity you are very familiar with because you do it a lot, or do your prayers seem curiously rusty, hesitant, unseasoned?
- Are you addressing your heavenly Father, or are you delivering a speech for the benefit of the human hearers in the room?
- Are you being specific in your requests?
- Are you believing God for big things? Are you stretching your faith as you pray?
- Is worship an integral part of your prayers? Are your prayers God-centered and God-honoring, or do your prayers amount to little more than a celestial shopping list—a “gimme-gimme-gimme” session?
BROACHING THE SUBJECT
How you get into the subject of prayer will depend somewhat on how much “pre-Christian” experience your disciple has had with it, as was mentioned in the Pep Talk. You might get into the subject by asking some intriguing questions about prayer to pique his interest, as well as to discover where he is in his prayer life. Here are a few suggestions (you wouldn’t ask all of these questions, however):
· What has been your background as far as prayer goes? Do you do much of it?
· Have you ever seen God answer a prayer you prayed? How about a prayer someone else prayed?
· Do you think God really does hear and answer our prayers?
· What sort of things do you pray about? Just the big things, or do you pray about anything that comes to your mind?
· Why do you think Christians pray? Why do you think God wants us to pray?
· Do you think it matters to God if we sit or stand or kneel when we pray? Is it necessary to close our eyes?
· Have you ever prayed out loud with a group of people? Were you nervous?
Based on his responses to question like these, you can figure out how much detail you need to go into with this very basic training objective.
SUGGESTIONS FOR GROWTH
In this section, we will answer the disciple’s most basic question about prayer: “How do I do it?” I’ll assume we’re talking about someone who has just stepped off a boat from Antarctica, and who knows virtually nothing about communicating with his Creator. You can weed out the material that is too basic for your disciple.
Go through the list of statements and corresponding verses enumerated below and pick out the ones you think your disciple is unaware of or needs a refresher course on. Write the statement and verses on a sheet of paper you can refer to during your meeting with him. You’ll probably want to use only one or two verses for each point, but I put a whole truckload of them down for you to choose from. Looking up each verse will be a great study on prayer for you. Just before the verses, I’ve written a few thoughts I might share with a new believer regarding the subject. You might want to pass them along, or perhaps they’ll trigger some other ideas in your own mind.
Facts the New Christian Should Know About Prayer
1. Prayer is simply talking with God.
Though God is far more than a mere person, He is more like a person than anything else our minds can conceive of. For this reason, He asks us to converse with Him just as we would with another person.
Since the essence of the Christian life is maintaining a vital relationship with God, and since communication between two people is the only way to build a relationship, you’ve got to talk together in order to have that relationship.
Genesis 18:22-33 (example: Abraham)
Psalm 139:23-24 (example: David)
Matthew 6:9-13 (example: Jesus)
Matthew 11:25-26 (example: Jesus)
2. You can pray about anything you want to, any time, any place.
Many people think God doesn’t want to be bothered with “insignificant” matters. They think He’s too busy with such big, important pursuits as stopping wars, ending droughts and trying to tell presidents and kings how to run their countries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Proverbs 15:8 says that the “prayer of the upright is His delight.” That means that He loves to hear from us, no matter what it is we’ve got on our minds. God is everywhere-present and all-powerful, so He doesn’t have to stop what He’s doing to listen to us.
Do you remember when John F. Kennedy was the President of the United States? Did you ever visit him personally? Probably not. He was a very busy man! It would almost take an act of congress, or maybe even an act of God, for people like you or me to get an audience with him. But his two children, John Jr. and Caroline, seemed to wander in and out of the Oval Office as they pleased, and he was always glad to see them. It was reported that he would never reprimand them for their lack of decorum in barging in on his meetings; instead he often would take them up on his lap, give them a big hug and talk with them for a couple of minutes.
It’s the same way now between us and our heavenly Father. We can enter His throne room anytime we want to, for any reason at all, and He’ll always welcome us with an open lap.
1 Chronicles 4:10 (for blessings)
2 Chronicles 7:14 (for national peace)
2 Chronicles 14:11 (for help in trouble)
Psalm 18:1 (to express love to God)
Psalm 22:1-2 (when in anguish)
Psalm 52:9 (to express thanks to God)
Psalm 143:8 (for direction)
Psalm 143:9 (for protection)
Psalm 143:10 (for instruction)
Psalm 145:1-2 (in praise and worship)
Proverbs 3:5-6 (for guidance)
Matthew 5:44 (for your enemies)
Matthew 6:11 (for daily needs)
Mark 11:22-23 (for the impossible)
Mark 11:24 (for your desires)
Luke 18:13 (for God’s mercy)
Luke 22:31-32 (for your friends)
John 15:16 (for your ministry)
Romans 10:1 (for another’s salvation)
Philippians 4:6-7 (for EVERYTHING)
James 1:5 (for wisdom)
James 5:16 (for physical healing)
1 John 1:9 (for forgiveness)
1 John 5:4 (for ANYTHING)
· Any time:
Exodus 15:11-12 (when you’re “up”)
2 Samuel 12:15 (when you’re “down”)
1 Kings 18:36 (in spiritual battle)
Psalm 5:3 (morning)
Psalm 51:3-4 (when you’ve sinned)
Psalm 55:17 (evening, morning, noon)
Psalm 88:1 (day and night)
Mark 1:35 (before dawn)
Luke 10:21 (spontaneously)
Acts 16:25 (when in trials)
2 Timothy 1:3 (night and day)
· Any place:
3. God does hear our prayers.
Praying is not merely some psychological exercise or discipline. It’s not like a form of meditation where we engage in it strictly for our own benefit and edification. It’s a genuine conversation. You speak, and God listens. He’ll speak back to you through His Word (the Bible), or through circumstances, or even through direct impressions to your spirit.
4. God answers our prayers one of three ways: yes, no, or wait.
Just asking God for something in prayer doesn’t guarantee that we will receive it. God is all wise. He knows us inside and out. He knows that some requests we make will be good for us, so to those requests He answers yes. Some requests would be bad for us—to those He answers no. Some requests would be good for us in the future, but not right now. That’s when He says, “Wait.” Our attitude should be one of quiet acceptance. If my toddler asked me to let her play with the pretty butcher knife, I’d be a terrible father if I said yes. She might not understand my decision—even if I tried hard to explain it to her—and she might cry and moan trying to convince me to give it to her, but I would remain firm in my negative resolve, because I love her. Eventually, I will let her use the butcher knife, but not now.
· God answers, “Yes”:
Psalm 32:5—David’s prayer for forgiveness
1 Samuel 1:11, 19, 20—Hannah’s prayer for a son Samuel
2 Kings 20:1-6—Hezekiah’s prayer that God would spare his life
Genesis 24:12-27—Abraham’s servant’s prayer for Isaac’s wife
Genesis 25:21—Isaac’s prayer that barren Rebekah would have children
1 Chronicles 4:9-10—Jabez’s prayer
2 Kings 6:15-18—Elisha’s prayer that his enemies be blinded
Matthew 9:27-31—Blind men asking Jesus to restore their sight
Luke 17:11-14—Ten lepers asking Jesus to heal them
Luke 18:35-43—Blind beggar asking Jesus to restore his sight
· God answers, “No”:
2 Samuel 12:15-18—David’s prayer that his son, the result of his sin with Bathsheba, would live. Request denied.
Matthew 26:37-42—Jesus’ prayer that He would not have to undergo the crucifixion. Request denied.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10—Paul’s prayer (three times) that God would heal his “thorn in the flesh.” Request denied.
· God answers, “Wait”:
Genesis 15:2-5—Abraham’s prayer for a son. God said yes, but it was many years before Isaac was born.
Genesis 50:24-25—God’s promise to Joseph that He would take him and his family from Egypt back to Canaan. He did, 440 years later.
Exodus 5:22-23; 6:6-8—Moses asking God to rescue the nation of Israel. God said He would, but only after He demonstrated His power and presence to the world through the Ten Plagues.
5. There are four types of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (A.C.T.S.).
Prayer does not consist entirely of asking God for things we want. Imagine having a relationship with someone in which all the other person ever did was ask you for things! This condition dies not exist in real life (except between college students and their parents). So it should not exist in our relationship with God, either. Following are some verses that either talk about or give examples of each of the four types of prayer:
1 Chronicles 4:10
2 Chronicles 14:11
1 John 5:14-15
6. God will hear your prayers regardless of your physical posture.
If doesn’t matter to God what’s going on with your physical body as you pray—He’s much more interested in what’s going on in your heart. It’s important to come to God with a humble and reverent heart, and if getting down on your knees or prostrating yourself helps you express those qualities, then by all means do it. In today’s America, most people bow their heads and close their eyes, for two reasons: (1) out of reverence and respect to God; and (2) to keep the things and people around us from distracting us as we pray.
Here are biblical examples of variety in prayer posture:
Genesis 18:22-23 (Abraham stood)
Exodus 34:8 (Moses bowed)
Joshua 7:6 (Joshua was prostrate)
1 Samuel 1:26 (Hannah stood)
1 Kings 8:54-55 (Solomon kneeled)
2 Kings 20:1-2 (Hezekiah on his bed)
Daniel 6:10 (Daniel kneeled)
Matthew 26:39 (Jesus was prostrate)
Mark 11:25 (“When you stand…”)
Luke 22:41 (Jesus kneeled)
7. Faith is vital in prayer.
Let’s say I asked you to do me a favor. Then, at the end of my request I said, “But I don’t know why in the world I’m talking to you about this, anyway. I know I can’t trust you any farther than I can throw you. Never mind, I’ll take care of it myself.” Do you think you’d eagerly and graciously set out to fulfill my request? Not likely.
Many Christians come to God with the same attitude. Is it any wonder God remains unmoved by their requests, and they give up on prayer after a while? Throughout the Bible God says, “If you want Me to work in and through you, you’ve got to have faith that I can and will do it.” Faith is one of the primary character qualities God wants to develop in you, and He’ll do everything He can to help you grow in trusting in Him.
8. We can’t expect God to grant our requests if we are unwilling to grant His (importance of obedience).
A father spoke with his son at breakfast one Saturday morning:
“Ted, today’s the day you promised to mow the lawn. I’d like to see it done before noon, because we’re having the Bakers over for lunch.”
“No way, Dad. That’s just too much work for a guy like me. You’ll have to go find someone else to do it. Now, not to change the subject, but Bill and I want to go to the beach this afternoon. The surf’s really up today! Would you drive us over there so we don’t have to walk all that way with our surfboards?”
What do you think Dad’s answer is going to be? Obviously, if Ted’s unwilling to obey his father, dear old Dad is not going to be exactly thrilled about doing favors for Ted. Ted’s dad would probably love to see Ted out there enjoying himself in the sun and the surf, but if he’s a good father, he knows that learning responsibility and respect for authority is much more important than a good tan and great waves.
Our heavenly Father has the same sentiments. How can we expect God to look favorably upon our requests when He is saying to us through the Bible and His Holy Spirit, “My child, here is what I want you to do,” and we respond with, “No. Now, here’s what I want You to do”? So one thing to keep in mind: Our willingness to obey God will greatly influence the effectiveness of our prayer life.
9. We must deal with any known sin in our lives before we can expect God to hear and act upon our prayers.
It’s foolish to think that you and I will never disobey God. We’re human; therefore, we will blow it from time to time. Our goal is that, as we grow more mature in the Lord, we’ll blow it less and less. In the meantime, when we become conscious of disobeying God, we need to get things right with Him as soon as possible. If we don’t, our conversations with God will be a lot like this one between two friends:
“Hi, Mike! How’s it going? Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you, do you think you could let me borrow you truck next week? I’ve got to help a friend move and…”
“Uh, Dennis, did you know that you’re bleeding?”
“What? Where? Oh, that? That’s nothing. Just a little nick. As I was saying, you’ve got about the greatest truck in town for moving, and I was really hoping…”
“Dennis, that thing is really bleeding! In fact, I think you may have sliced an artery there. Don’t you think you should get it taken care of?”
“Nah! It’s no big deal. I’m pretty sure it’ll stop bleeding in a while. Now, about that truck. I love how it handles the big loads and …”
“Look, old buddy, I really don’t think we should be standing here talking about trucks when your arm is about to fall off! You’ve lost about a pint of blood just standing here! Look at the sidewalk!”
“I’m sure it’s nothing to be concerned about! If you really cared about me, you’d let me borrow your truck!”
“Nothing doing! I’ll not listen to another word until you let me take you to a hospital and get that gash taken care of.”
The thing that was heaviest on Dennis’s heart was borrowing a truck so he could help a friend move. A noble cause, but Mike knew that if Dennis didn’t take care of his wound soon, he wouldn’t be alive to help with the move. We have a lot of important things on our hearts, too, as we come to God in prayer, but our Father isn’t going to take the time to listen to them if he sees sin in our lives, cutting us to ribbons.
10. Prayer is hard work, and, as in all work, a very important factor is patient perseverance.
Let’s say you wanted to become a champion ice skater. Probably one of the first things you’d do is to go out and buy a pair of skates. Next, you’d find a rink where you could get lessons and practice what you learn. If you’re really serious, you might even dip into your savings account and hire a professional coach. Now your lessons start, and after a while, you begin to lose heart. The ice skates hurt your ankles. The rink is cold, and each fall reminds you of how hard it is, and how tender your poor body is. The coach yells at you a lot, and the money’s not there for you to do the things you used to. This is all rather discouraging! As you watched the skaters on Wide World of Sports, it looked like so much fun! So carefree! So easy! But now that you’re into it, you see there’s a lot more to it than first met the eye.
But because you are determined to become a great skater, you stick with it. Even when it’s inconvenient, when it’s boring, when it hurts, when it’s expensive, when you’d rather be doing something else—you persevere. And you’re patient. Patient with yourself, your coach, the program; patient when it doesn’t seem like you’re making much progress; patient when others seem to be doing better than you are; patient when things don’t turn out as you’d hoped. And after many years, the patient perseverance pays off, and you become one of the best skaters in the world.
While the ice skater may be pursuing a perishable wreath (1 Corinthians 9:25), what you and I are doing when we are involved in prayer will have eternal consequences. In order to become good at prayer, you must understand that it is not only an activity that looks like fun—carefree and easy—but that it is also a discipline that requires perseverance and patience to master. Yet if we keep in mind that this activity will reap eternal, positive results, our motivation should be even stronger. At times you will be exhilarated and joyful, but you must anticipate a person’s natural inclination to grow weary, and meet it with the same sort of stick-to-it-iveness that the aspiring ice skater does. The Bible says that this attitude will not go unrewarded.
11. We must approach God in humility, remembering who we are talking to.
Have you heard people refer to God as the “man upstairs,” or the “big guy,” or the “boss”? This could indicate that the speaker does not have a genuine relationship with the Lord. Though the Lord deeply loves us, and desires an intimate relationship with us, He’s not our “good buddy.” It’s very important that we remember He is the all-powerful, sovereign, ruler of the universe, and He is eminently worthy of our utmost respect and reverence. As you read the Bible, you’ll find that it greatly pleases God when we come to Him in humility, and it has the opposite effect when we exhibit pride.
12. Yet we feel bold and confident about approaching Him in prayer, because He fully accepts us as His children.
It may seem difficult to balance this concept (approaching God confidently) with the previous one (approaching Him with humility), but when you think about it, it’s not so hard. It’s like the orphan servant boy who was adopted by the benevolent king. As long as he could remember, the boy had been in awe of the king. He had seen the king as the epitome of wisdom, power, courage and love. After the astonishing day the king adopted the boy, the boy’s feelings in no way depreciated concerning the king. In fact, his opinions of the king soared higher than ever. Only now he didn’t have to wait by the door outside the king’s chambers, fearing for his life if he should anger the king. Now he could approach the king any time he wanted to, because now the wise, powerful, courageous, loving king was also “Daddy.” He wouldn’t come bounding in like an uncontrolled schoolboy on the last day of school, hooting, hollering and swinging from the chandeliers, because of the respect he held for the king and his office. On the other hand, he wouldn’t come cowering and flinching, either, afraid of losing his head, because he knew this man loved him enough to make him his son.
The analogy holds true between us and our heavenly Father. We approach Him in prayer with a humble heart, because of His position as our Creator, Savior, King of kings and Lord of the universe, but we also approach Him with boldness and confidence because He loved us enough to die for us, to adopt us, to exalt us. And besides—He said we could!
13. When you pray out loud, don’t try to impress other people who might be listening in; just concentrate on talking to God.
It’s a shame, but some people, when they are praying out loud in public, are really just making a speech for the benefit of the other people listening in. They aren’t talking to God at all. They’re interested in having people exclaim when they’re done, “My, wasn’t that a lovely prayer. How eloquent he is. Someone as silver-tongued as he is must be a righteous man.” Prayer is meant to be an exercise where you talk to God, and God listens. If you’re interested in talking to people, that’s OK, but that’s not prayer. That’s a sermon.
Now this doesn’t mean public prayer is to be avoided. On the contrary, Jesus encouraged us to pray out loud with other believers. There is something special and powerful about group prayer. It’s just that we need to be careful about our motives during public prayer. If we’re trying to get people to be impressed with our prayers, they may be, but God won’t be. And we have lost our primary target audience!
14. Use your brain when you pray; don’t just repeat phrases.
When we pray to God, we are supposed to be communicating with Him from our heart. If we just repeat memorized phrases, it’s easy to let our minds wander, and our prayers can become meaningless chatter, rather than deep expressions of our inner being. I don’t think God appreciates that. What would your feelings be if you were conversing with a friend and he started stammering, “John, I really like the way you pitch. John, I really like the way you pitch. John I really like the way you pitch…”
You’d probably wonder if your friend hadn’t gone off the deep end. “Lights are on, but nobody’s home,” as they say. Remember, God is an intelligent being, and our prayers to Him should be intelligent as well.
15. Pray expectantly, being specific in your requests.
This is only logical, right? If you expect a specific answer, make a specific request. We do this in every other area of our lives. When you drive up to the gas pump, you don’t ask for “some liquid.” You specify gasoline, and you specify the grade of gas, and you specify how much you want. You don’t tell the waitress, “Just bring me some food.” The surgeon doesn’t tell the nurse, “Hand me something pointy.” In those situations, if you were the askee, you’d probably say to the asker, “Please be more specific. I don’t want to start acting upon your request until I’ve got a better idea of what you want.”
God is our benevolent, loving Father, and He loves to give us good gifts (James 1:17). Not that He’ll lavish you with your every whim and urge, but He gets great satisfaction out of “making your joy complete” (John 16:24). Often He will take the initiative and bestow terrific things upon us without us even asking, but frequently He wants to know what we want! He asks us to ask Him! But when we ask, we need to ask in such a way that He is able to answer, and not have to say, “Could you be a little more specific? What do you mean, ‘Bless Pastor Dave’? Do you want me to let him die so he can come to heaven and be with Me? That would be a great blessing. Do you want me to make him a millionaire? Do you want me to run him through some terrible trials, in order to spur him on to greater spiritual maturity? Do you want me to lead him out of his current occupation? He might consider that a blessing. What is it you want?”
16. Wait expectantly; take time to listen.
Communication is a two-way street. You talk to your Father, and He talks to you. You can expect God to speak to you in many ways: through the Bible, through the wise and inspired words of other people, through nature, through the different circumstances you encounter—but also, from time-to-time, through direct impressions to your mind. This is quite a dramatic occurrence, and you shouldn’t expect to experience these types of communiqués too frequently (remember the fact-faith-feeling train diagram?) but they do happen, and you should be prepared for them.
During your times of prayer, you don’t have to be talking all of the time. Take an occasional break and just listen. You might even first ask God if there is anything in particular He’d like to say to you, and then sit silently, expectantly, head bowed and eyes closed, straining to be aware of any impression He might want to send your way. This is also a discipline—sometimes you will have to fight to keep your mind from wandering. Many times He will have something to say, and it would behoove you to listen. He may communicate His message through an image that appears in your mind, a memory, a song, perhaps even a “spoken” sentence or two. Sometimes His message might be so vivid that you think He has spoken audibly! Perhaps He has! We talk to Him, why is it unthinkable that He should talk to us? If you take the time to listen, you may be amazed at what He’s got to say!
P.S. FOR THE DISCIPLEMAKER
Some of the verses listed in the foregoing sixteen statements can fit several categories, so you might want to pick out key verses and present the material backwards. In other words, instead of sharing the principle and then its corresponding verse, share the verse first, and then glean from it the two or three basic principles of prayer found in it.
Once again, this is a lot of material to try to go through in one session. If you only need to skim over these concepts with your disciple, you might make it in one session, but I doubt it would be possible to adequately cover the ground if you’re working with a new Christian. Take as many sessions as necessary to cover the subject, and don’t be concerned if it takes longer than you had first anticipated. The objective is not to “get him through the material,” but to get the material into him. Time is not of the essence, here—absorption is!
If your disciple already has had some input about prayer and you are planning to skim over these concepts just to be sure he understands them, you might want to write out each of the sixteen statements, along with a verse or two for each, and just ask him, “What do you think of this? Do you agree with it?”
Or, to put a little spice in it, reword some of the statements, making them false, and use it as an “Agree/Disagree” test. For instance, you could make statement #6 read: “The physical posture we assume as we pray plays a crucial role in whether or not God will hear our prayers.” Then ask your disciple, “Do you agree or disagree with that? Why or why not? Let’s look up some verses that might shed some light on that question.” Or statement #8 could be changed to read: “As long as we have enough faith that God will answer our prayers, disobeying Him will have no effect on the outcome of our requests. Agree or disagree? Why?
ENDING THE SESSION
Quiet Time. Since you’ve spent a lot of time during this training objective talking with your disciple about how important communication is to his relationship with God, now would be a great time to introduce him to the notion of a daily quiet time, if he doesn’t already know about it.
There are two very important aspects to a quiet time: (1) education and (2) communication. They each have several facets. You could look at them as the development of the head and of the heart; as an act of self discipline and an act of love; as growth-focusing and God-focusing; as Bible study and prayer. Both are needed. If a person’s daily devotions are all just education, with no communication, he ends up theologically sound but without heart or fire, no real relationship. If it’s all communication and no education, the result is a compassionate, on-fire “baby,” no substance or depth to his walk with Christ. As with so many things in the Christian life, it’s balance we’re after. Share this concept with your disciple.
Here are a few other vital aspects to discuss with your disciple:
What Content? In keeping with the education/communication idea, suggest he spend about half of his time reading the Bible and the other half praying.
Bible reading. Go back to chapter 15 (Training Objective #7) on the Word and read over the section titled “Next, Tell Him Where to Start Reading” in the Suggestions for Growth. You could decide on a book of the Bible for him to begin reading, or you could rely on the weekly assignments you keep giving him, or you could combine the two. If he’s going to start reading a book, recommend that he read only a chapter at a time so he can absorb it properly.
Prayer. Help him to start a prayer list. His list could contain not only supplications, but also things to thank God about, and things to worship and praise God about. In fact, you could encourage him to begin a prayer diary, where he actually writes out the things that come to his mind that he wants to praise and thank God for. Teach him how to “pray through” a psalm. On the supplications part of it, help him brainstorm about things he would like to see God do in his life, in the lives of his friends and family, and in the world.
How Long? Whenever you’re trying to establish a new habit—whether it be jogging, painting, piano lessons, brain surgery—it’s best to start out easy. A good first goal for most Christians is ten minutes. Most people can go along with the notion of setting aside 1/144th of their day to communicate with their Lord and Master. For some, that might not be nearly enough time. Great. Make it twenty minutes. But it’s much better to start out short and have to lengthen the time than to do it the other way around. Ten minutes will give them five minutes to read the Word and five minutes to pray. They’ll be amazed at how fast the time goes, and will be motivated to set aside more and more time.
How Often? From the very outset, you need to instill in your disciple that his quiet time is vital to his growth. We do vital things every day. We breathe every day, we eat every day, we sleep every day, we brush our teeth every day, we read the comics every day (wait a minute…) Spending time with God regularly is just as important to our spiritual health and development, and consequently to our whole lives. Therefore, help your disciple to understand that if he is serious about his new life in Christ, his quiet time should become a daily habit.
He needs to know there will be days when he just won’t feel like spending time with God. That’s OK; it happens to us all. But urge him to do it anyway. What would happen to his teeth if he decided not to brush them every time he didn’t feel like it, or whenever it wasn’t convenient?
Tell him that, when it comes down to it, our private times alone with the Lord will do us the most good when we are consistent with them. Long quiet times are great; spine-tingling, earth-moving quiet times are also quite memorable; but if we have to choose between consistency, quantity or quality as we shoot for effective quiet times, choose consistency every time. A sumptuous, well balanced, twelve-course dinner once a week, with no other nourishment, will not a healthy body make. However, three humble but adequate meals a day will see you through a lifetime.
Behaviorists tell us that if a person desires to introduce a new habit into his life, if he will perform that habit without fail every day for twenty-one days, in most cases the new behavior will be established. Challenge your disciple with this fact. Ask him if he would be willing to commit himself to this discipline just for twenty-one days, and then he can reconsider it at the end of the test period. Nine times out of ten, it will be the beginning of a lifetime of successful quiet times.
“Even Sunday? But I’ll be going to church anyway…” If your disciple asks that question, he still hasn’t grasped the function of a quiet time. It’s supposed to be a time of intimate, one-to-one communion between him and his Father. He can get lots of other very important things in church, but not that close, private, distraction-free communion. We eat on Sunday; we sleep on Sunday; where’s the precedent for not spending personal time with the Vine on Sunday?
Though you have challenged him to have a quiet time every day, don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks for him to actually be seven for seven. When you get together next week, if he’s only had two or three, don’t be negative in the least! Let him know that it’s a great start! It took most of us a while, too.
All this coming week, be sure you are diligent in praying for your disciple’s success in quiet times. Your prayers could be your most strategic contribution to this whole matter.
When? Recommend to your disciple that he have his quiet time first thing in the morning if at all possible. At that time of the day the mind is the most receptive to new input. Things are usually quieter. He’s not carrying around a day’s load of hassles like he might at the end of the day. His Q.T. won’t have a chance to get squeezed out of the schedule. He can prepare himself spiritually for any significant events coming up that day. It’s a way of “checking in with our Commander-in-Chief” for our daily marching orders. Having it first, giving the Lord the best part of his day, will set the tone for the rest of his day. A good time to tune up an instrument is before the concert.
Some people say, “But I’m not a morning person. I think much clearer at night.” Fine. Do your lengthy Bible studies and significant praying in the evening. But it’s still important to start the day spending a little time with your Father. Can you find five minutes to simply read a psalm or a short selection from a devotional book, and have a short conversation with your Master? Let the Lord know that, sleepy or not, you want Him to hold top priority in your day. If a person would start every day with even that little dab, he would be amazed at the results that occur over a long period of time.]
The whole secret to a successful morning quiet time is going to bed on time the night before. Satan will try to keep us up watching TV, reading magazines, doing cross-word puzzles—any number of things. But if we lay down an unalterable time each evening when the lights must go out, our bodies will fall into a wake/sleep rhythm that will make us fall asleep within five minutes of hitting the pillow, and wake us up at the same time each morning, refreshed and ready for the day. Varying the time you go to bed each night keeps your body confused, makes for a lot less efficient sleep, and makes it rough to get a blanket victory the next morning. You’ll become sack-religious. Quiet times will be too quiet.
Where? Someplace quiet and secluded, if at all possible. Freedom from distraction is important. Satan will be working already to make it hard to concentrate, without additional factors coming to play. Someone might say, “Impossible! You have no idea the pandemonium around my house in the morning!” C’mon, now. Think of some creative alternatives! How about out in the car? The back yard? The attic? The bathroom? The basement? The garage? How about getting up before the pandemonium begins? How about telling the pandemonium to leave you alone for ten minutes? How about teaching the pandemonium to have their own quiet times?
[viii] Campus Crusade for Christ, “Discipleship Series” Bible Study Series (San Bernardino, CA. Here’s Life Publishers, 1983).