This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Pastor Mike Sandberg shares some reflections on Chapter 7 and 8. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.
Overcoming the Inertia of Prayerlessness
As I read chapters seven and eight on the discipline of prayer in David Mathis' Habits of Grace, I was pointedly reminded that my bookshelves are full of books on prayer. In fact I have one shelf that is two rows deep on the subject. I have all the best writers speaking to me on all the secrets to prayer – books by E.M. Bounds, Samuel Chadwick, R.A. Torrey, Rufus Jones, F.B. Meyer, George Mueller, J. Oswald Sanders, and the list goes on. And honestly, I have read nearly all of them. I know more about prayer than is probably good for me. I am captivated by the wonder and mystery of prayer as I read the accounts of answered prayer in the lives of Mueller, Sanders, Torrey and others. I am energized to pray when I read the accounts of men like John Hyde whose passion for prayer and his devotion to it, earned him the nickname, 'Praying Hyde'.1 Or Edward Payson, of whom it was said, "He prayed without ceasing and felt safe nowhere but at the throne of grace” and whose knees wore deep grooves in the hardwood floors next to his bed where he prayed.2
Yet, like most of you I suspect, actually praying is altogether another story. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, “The act of praying is the highest energy of which the human mind is capable...The great mass of worldly men and of the learned men are absolutely incapable of prayer.” However, it is not that I feel incapable of prayer. It is rather that I find myself trapped in the inertia of prayerlessness so much of the time. And I continually find myself needing to fight the daily battle against that inertia. I know that on the other side of prayerlessness lies a country of great liberty and joy and power in communion with Jesus. I know too, that my progress in the faith will never grow beyond my progress in this discipline of prayer. On the one hand, prayer is this incredible privilege we've been granted to have the ear of the Almighty. On the other hand, our natural disposition and character work to keep us from that privilege. And if you have struggled as I have with this inertia, you've come to the realization that we need to discipline ourselves for the purpose of prayer. To that end, let me share with you three little thoughts that have greatly helped me in this battle.
Start the day with prayer.
John Bunyan wrote,“He who runs from God in the morning, will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”3 The prayerbook of the Bible, the Psalms, are full of references to coming to the place of prayer first thing in the day. Psalm 5 says, “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” Psalm 63 records the heart cry of King David as he says, 'O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you...' And the earnestly here carries the sense of 'diligently and early'. In other words, David was serious about finding God first thing in the morning. The habit of Jesus was to rise early in the day, while it was still dark, to go out to the place of prayer.4 The best way to break out of the inertia of prayerlessness is to start the day with prayer. “If in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door back and let God in, every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God”.5
Linger longer in the place of prayer.
E.M. Bounds encourages us: “Much time spent with God is the secret of all successful praying…God does not bestow His gifts upon the casual or hasty comers and goers.”6 In Exodus 33, Moses prayed, ‘Lord show me Your glory.” His one great ambition was to see the glory of the Lord. And so he spent time with the Lord on the mountain.7 The Bible says he lingered on the mountain. And when he came down he was shining with the light of God’s presence. It took time for Moses to soak in the glory of God and return transformed. It takes time for us as well. Satan will communicate frantically with us in order to convince us we don’t need to pray much. He will even make us feel good about just praying a little. But it is time spent in God's presence that transforms us. That I think was the thought on Paul's heart as he wrote, “But we all with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18 NASB) It is time spent in prayer that unveils our face to the transforming glory of the Lord.
Overcome the tyranny of the urgent.
The enemy of our soul hates prayer and one of his strategies is to flood our mind with all the things we need to do the moment we go to our knees. More times than I would like to admit my prayer time has been ambushed by endless lists of urgent tasks that otherwise would have gone unnoticed and undone. But the simple act of kneeling down in prayer brings them all rushing in like a whirlwind. If we are to pray effectively, we need to stand against the tyranny of the urgent, and refuse to be derailed. Samuel Chadwick once observed: “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”8
If we are to break out of the inertia of prayerlessness, we need to be constantly encouraged to pray, both through the word of God, and through the words of men. And I was greatly encouraged this week as I read in chapter seven of Habits of Grace, these words: “The speaking God not only has spoken, but he also listens – he stops, he stoops, he wants to hear from you. He stands ready to hear your voice. Christian, you have the ear of God. We call it prayer."9 What a high and awesome privilege! We have God's ear. Christian, be encouraged to pray. Start with prayer. Linger longer. Refuse to be derailed.
4 Mark 1:35 ESV
5 Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, August 23
6 E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer, (Whitaker House, 1982), 43.
7 Deuteronomy 10:10 NASB
9 David Mathis, Habits of Grace, Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, (Crossway, Wheaton, Ill., 2016) 94.