Gather a sister or two, your journal and pen, it’s time to talk about being devoted to prayer.
Father God, open our hearts to Your teaching on prayer.
Prayer is one of the essential faith actions of Christianity. After we believe, we begin to pray.
All prayer is responding to God. In all cases God is the initiator — “hearing” always precedes asking. God comes to us first or we would never reach out to him.
—Timothy Keller, Prayer
Do you agree with Keller’s statement regarding prayer? Why or why not? What has your experience been?
God initiates our relationship with Him. He was before creation. He created. He created each of us with purpose. We love because He first loved us (1John 4:19).
Scripture tells us He calls out to us through creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God… —Psalm 19:1 ESV
His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
—Romans 1:20 ESV
Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses. All heard God speak first.
I like to say, “I’m a Christian worshipping in the Methodist church.” This is the place God has called me to serve. Over the last twenty years I’ve come to a new understanding of grace through the teachings of John Wesley. He calls the grace God has for us before we understand it, before we even know Him, prevenient grace. This is the grace God pours out to bring us to Him, to draw us into His love. He loves us first. It just makes sense He speaks to us from the very beginning and at some point we learn to speak back.
In response to His call, He desires us to devote ourselves to prayer. The conversation He began.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. —Colossians 4:2 NIV
Let’s look at the definition of devote to see exactly what God is calling us to do with prayer.
devote 1: to commit by a solemn act 2: to give over or direct (as time, money, or effort) to a cause, enterprise, or activity
—Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition
Merriam-Webster’s definition of devote tells us we are devoted to whatever or wherever we commit to spending our time, energy, and money.
Looking at those parameters, what are you currently devoted to?
Still, after 22 years, I clearly remember the commitment I made to God to pray every day. The commitment included prayerful time in His Word.
Before He captured my heart, I can say I was devoted to exercise. At the time I was a stay at home mom of three children under 6 years of age. The first thing I would do each morning was spend time on my stair stepper. I have a ridiculous image of myself burned in my head: nightgown and running shoes on pumping away with a book in hand, my children and their toys on the floor around me. Before I could do anything else in my day, I had to exercise. Now that’s devotion!
Everything changed after He worked His way into my life. My number one effort each day was to spend time with Him in the Word and in prayer. I wouldn’t allow myself to take a shower or do anything I might want to do, until I spent time getting to know Him. My devotion to exercise dropped down my list of priorities. It was no longer #1. He was. Getting to know Him through Scripture and prayer was my new devotion.
Devotion to prayer changes our lives. It is through prayer we actually take time to connect with our heavenly Father: talk to Him, listen to Him, get to know Him, and allow Him to transform our lives.
Prayer and His Word are inextricably linked. Prayer is a conversation. Conversations require common words and language where we can meet with one another. We discovered last week, the Bible is God’s Word to us. His language. The language through which He wants to engage us.
If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak. This does not mean, of course, that we must literally read the Bible before each individual prayer. A sponge needs to be saturated in water only periodically in order to do its work. We can cry out to God all during the day as long as we regularly spend time with his Word.
—Timothy Keller, Prayer
Does your familiarity with Scripture affect your prayer life? How?
When I came across the Timothy Keller quote above, I was blown away. Describing the Bible as God’s native language and our need to learn it to communicate more effectively with Him was something which spoke directly to my personal experience.
About a year and a half into my walk with God, my marriage came to a very difficult place. I cried out to God, literally in anguish. I was in dire need of His intervention. My outcry was interrupted by the Holy Spirit. A book and chapter of the Bible came to mind. It startled me out of my distress. I grabbed my Bible, which was near, and I searched for the Book and chapter. It was not one I was familiar with. What I read was unbelievable. It spoke directly to what I had been praying. It was His Word to me in that moment. He heard. He answered.
After taking in what He said, I was struck by the reality of what happened. I thought, This stuff is real! The experience scared me. Awe would be an appropriate word for what I felt. I actually stopped praying for several weeks as a result of this holy fear and the realization of the weight of what happened.
But what I’ve discovered, and what continues to be my experience, when God answers my prayer it primarily comes from Scripture. The more I know of His Word, the less He has to send me to chapter and verse. He speaks to me phrases from Scripture which I already know. We share more of the same language. Sometimes a whole Bible story will come to mind which speaks to a particular circumstance. It’s not like I’m remembering it, it’s more like He’s laying it on my heart.
He speaks to me through His Word.
We don’t need to know the Bible to begin talking to God or for Him to understand us. He understands our hearts better than we do. Through our Devoted to Prayer study this past week, we learned He already knows what we need before we ask. Being in the Word, having a greater knowledge of Scripture, helps us connect more readily with His heart.
Knowing His Word also helps us to hear Him and recognize His voice when He does speak to us. Devotion includes a commitment to know someone better, including their voice. Perhaps you can think of someone you were devoted to in your teens, an actor or singer. You may no longer be devoted to the person, but I bet you still recognize their voice when you hear it.
I recently had dinner with two of my children. A John Denver song came on in the restaurant. A singer who I was once devoted to. My children were familiar with the song, Take Me Home Country Roads, but I recognized the singer’s voice. They didn’t.
I knew someone who often said, “God told me…” When I heard the words my mind would move to question overload. How do you know God told you? Did He speak audibly? What makes you so sure it was Him? The questions often turn inward. Am I missing something? God are you speaking to me?
Just last week I told a loved one, “Communication is about 70% listening and another 10% listening past the words into the heart of the matter.” The same is true for prayer. I spend most of my time listening and much less time speaking now. When I feel God leading, or in the words of my friend, when “God tells me…” the first thing I do is line it up with God’s Word. Is there Scripture to back up what I’m hearing?
When it comes to specifics I’ve learned to wait. If God says it, it will come to pass. I don’t have to manufacture or try to conjure up a way to make it happen. When He reveals the direction I should take, I move step by step, little by little. Always asking, “If this is your way open the next door, if not, slam it shut.”
So many have asked me, How do you hear God? My response is always the same. It takes practice, practice, practice. Yes, you’ll mess up at times, but it’s the only way to learn to hear His voice among the others.
Read John 10:1-10
What do Jesus’s sheep do?
Listen to Him. Follow Him.
Because they know His voice.
Who else tries to enter the sheep pen?
What is the thief’s purpose?
Kill. Steal. Destroy.
What is Jesus’s purpose?
Give abundant life. Give freedom to move in and out to find pasture.
What does this tell us about the importance of recognizing Jesus’s voice?
If we do not know His voice, we will be led astray on a path of destruction.
How are you at recognizing Jesus’s voice?
Last week’s spiritual discipline of Silence was an exercise in listening for His voice. Did anyone get an opportunity to practice a time of silence? What was your experience?
Devotion to Jesus includes finding out who He is through His Word, talking to Him through prayer, and listening.
Let’s read more about who He is.
Read John 10:11-18
What does this passage tell us about Jesus?
- He is the good Shepherd.
- He lays down His life for His sheep.
- He has one flock.
- He is loved by the Father.
- He lays down His life willingly for the sheep.
- He has authority to take up His life again, a charge He received from the Father.
What is significant about Jesus laying down His life for His sheep?
He will die in order to protect and save the lives of His sheep. He will not abandon them to the wolves.
Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd, but the Lamb of God.
Read Hebrews 10:1-22
What significance does Jesus’s sacrifice have for His sheep?
- Forgiveness of sins, once for all.
- Perfection for those who are being sanctified.
- Confidence to enter the holy place by a new and living way: Jesus.
Before Jesus, those who wanted to draw near to God had to go through a priest and bring a sacrifice to be slaughtered in order to approach God. Jesus changed all that, He fulfilled the Law. He is the complete and perfect sacrifice for all sin. Through the way He made we can approach God in prayer anytime, anywhere.
Let us then with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. — Hebrews 4:16 ESV
Prayer is a privilege which Jesus paid a very high price for us to receive. He sacrificed Himself to make the Way. His body is literally the door for the sheep to enter God’s presence.
Many Believers have an active private prayer life, but when it comes to praying out loud there are few who will speak up.
How comfortable are you in praying out loud with others and for others?
If Jesus died so we could pray, how should we view praying out loud?
When I realized Jesus died so we could pray, I understood what a privilege it was. And if He bore all the pain, agony, anguish of the cross then I could endure a little personal discomfort to pray out loud for others. I’m very introverted by nature and it’s been a dying-to-self process to work toward being comfortable with praying out loud.
I committed to never miss an opportunity to pray out loud. If someone asked for a volunteer to lead a group in prayer, and no one spoke up immediately, I would offer.
God began pressing me to offer to pray with others, not just for them, but right there with them. On the phone. In the store. Wherever. Then He moved me to ask strangers I was having encounters with. The woman behind the bakery counter at Wal-Mart scheduled for surgery the next day. The woman working at the tractor parts place who had lost her hair from chemo. Wherever, whenever, God has (and will continue) to press His people to pray for others.
It is a privilege we should never miss.
Praying out loud in group situations pushes me way past my comfort zone. When I consider the reason, it’s not much reason at all. I might not have the “right” words, say the “right thing.” And, What will others think of my stumbling? All my discomfort comes from my wanting to please others. Ugh!
Now, I press through those thoughts. I simply pray. I fumble, stumble, and even have long silences listening to what He wants me to pray. It may not sound so great on the outside but I trust He knows my heart.
Being devoted to prayer, means being willing to step out at God’s call to openly pray and accept invitations to pray. Even out loud.
Pray. Pray. Pray. Jesus told a parable about being persistent in prayer.
Read Luke 18:1-8
In addition to using this parable to reveal the need for persistent prayer, He also used it as a marker of faith. Immediately after He explained how God is better and faster at bringing justice to His people who pray than the unjust judge, He says:
Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Prayer is clearly a barometer for how much faith a person has.
How is being devoted to prayer an expression of faith?
If faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, then persistent prayer expresses faith because we speak to a God whom we cannot see, hear, or touch. By faith, we believe He hears when we pray, otherwise we would not pray. When we continue to pray, even when nothing seems to be happening, we trust in His invisible work and perfect timing.
What does your prayer life reveal about your faith?
The memory verse this week revealed certain aspects of a life devoted to prayer. What are they?
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. — Colossians 4:12 NIV
Being watchful and thankful.
What does being watchful and thankful mean to you when it comes to prayer?
Watching for things to pray for and be thankful for.
What kinds of things should we be watching for when it comes to prayer?
- People in need.
- Difficult circumstances or crises.
- Sins we’ve committed.
- Blessings and grace we see in our lives.
- God at work.
Being devoted to prayer means we live our life with our eyes open to what’s going on around us and in us, and our hearts open to God. The remaining four weeks of Pray come from an attitude of devotion to prayer:
- Praise. Recognizing God’s character in the world around us and giving Him glory.
- Confession. Recognizing our sinful behavior and the conviction the Spirit brings to our lives.
- Thanksgiving. Recognizing the blessings of God’s work for our good in our lives.
- Intercession. Recognizing people and places where we need to pray for God’s power to be at work.
These are four basic areas of prayer. Ways we can talk to God. There is no right way or wrong way to pray, as long as we come before Him honestly, openly, and faithfully.
Have a great week exploring and exercising prayers of Praise.
Lord Jesus, thank You for making the way to the throne of grace. May we never miss an opportunity to come to You or bring others to You in prayer.
Here’s the link for the PDF of next week’s homework: Week 7-Going Deeper