If you were to describe your prayer life with three words, which of the following three words would you use? Here are a few that you can choose from:
Brief, dusty, faithless, abiding, fresh, faith-filled, duty, boring, lacking, privilege, courageous, fulfilling, me-centered, depressing, fickle, others-centered, joyful, persevering.
It’s interesting how differently we all view prayer, isn’t it?
In the church I grew up in, prayer was dependence, it was surrender, it was pleading, it was passionate, and it was a duty. Daily, there were early morning prayer gatherings at the church. Weekly, the congregation would come early before the service started to pray and prepare their hearts. And annually, at youth retreats, the prayer time went for hours.
In fact, when Christina and I first moved to Seoul, Korea, to pastor there, we were staying in a guest room at the church until we found an apartment. The next morning, I remember being awoken to what sounded like thousands of people talking…which I later discovered was actually the case because thousands of people were talking to God at the early morning prayer service!
The congregation we served in Korea understood that spending time with God was the essence of prayer, as David Benner describes:
Spending time with God ought to be the essence of prayer. However, as it is usually practiced, prayer is more like a series of e-mail or instant messages than hanging out together…It should not be a surprise that the result is a superficial relationship.
As it is usually practiced, prayer is more like a series of e-mail or instant messages than hanging out together…It should not be a surprise that the result is a superficial relationship.
They understood the importance of spending time with God together with others. They didn’t see prayer as a duty that must be performed. They saw prayer as a privilege to be enjoyed. And, as E.M. Bounds so aptly put it, “a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty.”
How about you? How do you currently view prayer? And how do you want to?
In Philippians, Paul presents a pattern for prayer: to pray with thanksgiving, joy, and perseverance.
I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Indeed, it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-8 CSB)
This pattern for prayer isn’t a rigid structure for prayer, nor is it comprehensive. Rather, it’s more of a pattern that describes Paul’s prayer life—and I believe that this pattern is one that we should reflect on and measure our prayer life against.
1. Pray with thanksgiving
Instead of grumbling, Paul chose to give thanks. He didn’t allow his circumstances to lead his response. Instead, he saw his circumstances through the lens of who he knew God to be, as revealed through the Scriptures.
He knew that God was in control, even if his circumstances felt out of control. He knew that God was faithful, even if things felt uncertain. He knew that God was always present, even if he felt abandoned. And he knew that God saw him and was always with him. In other words, instead of looking around, Paul looked up, and he gave thanks.
2. Pray with joy
The interesting thing about joy is that you can’t choose it. You can make yourself laugh, and you might even be able to make yourself feel happy, but you can’t choose joy. This is because joy is a fruit of the Spirit and evidence that you have a personal relationship with God and are filled with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17).
In other words, joy isn’t circumstantial. Joy is a result of the gospel. You don’t experience more joy when everything feels certain. Joy is not a result of a better job, a better relationship, better health, or a better address. Joy is a result of having and cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus.
This is why you can grieve and still rejoice, why you can have joy in the midst of sorrow, and why you can have nothing yet possess everything.
3. Pray with perseverance
Perseverance is something that was cultivated in Paul’s heart and prayer life because he did life together with the Philippians. As Paul regularly practiced gathering, growing, giving, and going together with the Philippians, he grew in perseverance with them. And as their bond strengthened with one another, they went from being acquaintances to co-workers.
We see evidence of this because the Philippians never turned their backs on him. While he was in prison, they supported him in prayer and with financial support. They weren’t ashamed of him—even though imprisonment would’ve brought great shame at that time. Instead, they supported him as he shared the gospel with his captors, fellow prisoners, and judges over him.
So, what needs to happen for your prayer life to be marked with thanksgiving, joy, and perseverance? My dear friends, let us “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 CSB).