I recently came across a blog post about prayer written by Tim Keller. I found it to be very helpful; in it, he describes the discipline of prayer and the three types of prayer that he does everyday: meditation, petition, and repentance. My initial reaction to it was that it seemed a bit odd, but the more I thought about his routine, it seemed like a healthy routine to go through.
Prayer never seemed to me to be something regimented or that should be seen as a spiritual discipline. The more I thought about the association between prayer and discipline, the more I started to see what Keller was getting at with his routine. He makes a habit of praying because he wants it to become something that is natural and frequent. Its not a discipline in the sense that it becomes legalistic, but in the sense that it takes discipline to form a new pattern of doing things.
Forming a habit of remembering to pray leads to a disciplined lifestyle of prayer. This is so important to have because it creates in us a continual dependency on God and recenters our lives around what He is doing.
The more I began to see intentionally forming patterns of prayer in my life as a necessity, the more I began to recall examples of this throughout Scripture.
Besides Jesus, who often sought time to be alone with God in prayer (Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12), here are couple examples of men from the Bible who had disciplined lifestyles of prayer:
Daniel was a man God used to influence several of the kings of Babylon. God didn't just choose to use Daniel because He felt like it (although He is God and can do whatever He wants). God used a man whose heart was dependent on Him and whose conviction to serve God led him to be martyred (before God stepped in and saved him). Daniel 6:10 provides some insight into how Daniel developed a heart that was humble and relied on God. He made time to pray three times a day, and it was often in these times that God chose to give Daniel the secrets of His kingdom to come and encouragement in the midst of his unfolding trials.
Paul is a good example of a man with a rocky past being used by God to bear good fruit. Paul encouraged the church in 1 Thessalonians and several other places to continually be in prayer (1 Thess 5:16-18, 1 Tim 1:1-2; 1:8, Phil 4:6). To pray for each other, for those in authority, and to constantly be giving thanks to God. Paul saw God do incredible things for and through the church, and it would seem like one of the many encouragements he constantly gave was to value prayer and do it often.
Now, I'm not saying that the longer we spend in prayer the better results we will get. However, if our time regularly spent in prayer with our Heavenly Father truly leads us to become more dependent upon Him, then our tendency should gradually shift toward wanting to spend more time in His presence. Naturally, if we cling to Him and seek the type of breakthrough only God can provide, we will see fruit from our prayers.
If we see prayer as a discipline in itself, ultimately, we'll fail. We'll never grow enough through prayerful contemplation of Scripture alone. We won't be able to intercede enough for the people and situations God has burdened our heart with. We won't be able to thank God enough for all the things he has done in our lives. And we'll never be able to repent enough to earn grace. If we trust the efforts of our prayers, we will fail.
However, if we understand who we're talking to when we pray (and it seemed like these men from the Bible did) then we'll see that God, who loves us enough to send His son to take our place, is sovereign and can redeem any situation. We'll begin to understand that it's He who changes us, works wonders, forgives us, and is more than worthy of our praise.
Why not form a pattern of depending on Him?