This is part three of a five part series on prioritizing Jesus. We started this series off talking about how being successful at marriage (and life) requires that God be the priority of your life. And then we talked about how meditating on God's Word evokes positive change in our lives. If you haven't caught up on these posts yet, do so now:
Putting God first starts with consistent Biblical meditation and acting on the truths you learn. Hopefully you’ve begun to practice a lifestyle of meditation since then. (If not, I hope you’ll start today.) As you center your life more on meditating on God’s word, hopefully you’ll find that prayer comes more naturally. Prayer is a natural response from a heart that has been meditating on God.
Devotion to Prayer
Prayer is natural for the disciple who has been meditating on truth. Think about it like this, when you’ve been most enamored with your spouse, did you bottle up that emotion and hide it away or did you express it through words and deeds? I bet you expressed it. If you hadn’t, you’d still be single. We express our love and admiration to our lover because their good qualities overwhelm us. Given that truth, why do we sometimes think it is possible to meditate on God and not pray to Him? If we are incapable of bottling up our emotions when we meditate on our imperfect spouse, it follows that we should be even more incapable of bottling up our emotions about an infinitely perfect God. It is pure laziness and fear that creates this kind of blasé attitude toward prayer. Our prayer life should be vibrant and powerful, because our heart ought to be stirred up by the truths we meditate on.
The Bible tells us that prayer should be a priority. We are to pray continually, giving thanks for all things (1 Thes. 5:16-18). Is that something you do? Do you thank God that your co-workers are difficult, knowing that in this difficulty you are being purified? Do you praise God when your kids are disobedient and needy because it gives you a chance to demonstrate the love and patience of God? Do you thank God for the fights you have with your spouse, knowing that they are revealing your heart idols and allowing you to clear out the temple of your heart?
Prayer is our means of communication with God; it is one of the ways we get to dwell in the presence of God where we can experience the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). We need to recognize that God brings difficulty into our lives because he wishes to grow us into spiritual heroes. He desires for us to put Him first in our lives so that we can laugh at the days to come (Prov. 31:25). When we diligently meditate on God’s word and make changes to our lives, we begin to develop the fruits of the spirit. We learn to love others and our heart becomes full of joy. We learn patience as we wait for God to reveal truth; kindness becomes our ally and gentleness our friend. When we pray to God to make us more like Him, he brings calamity and hardship. He brings difficult neighbors, heart revealing fights, and situations that force us to grow in the fruits of the Spirit. If we are willing to take the opportunities He gives us, we can grow quickly into the person He wants us to be. In all of these situations, we’re called to pray and thank God for the gifts He’s bestowed upon us.
Praying continually is our duty, but there are many reasons we don’t pray. We find it boring, we don’t see our prayer answered in the way we want, we’re trapped in sin, or we’re lazy. I get it, we all at one point or another find prayer to be a challenge. I’ve tried to kick start my prayer life a million times during my short life, and it never works. Not long after I start a routine of praying I get busy, bored, or I lose my passion. Those are hard things to admit, but they are true. There are times in my life where prayer has felt like a burden more than it has felt like a help. I know you’ve felt it too. It’s hard to keep prayer in proper focus. But whatever it is that holds us back from prayer, if we’re honest about it, is sin. When we’re in sin, we need truth preached to us (either through meditating on it or from a loving friend calling us out), and we need prayer.
This year, I’ve been spending a lot more time in meditation. And I’ve found that my heart naturally desires to talk to God about all the wonderful things I’m learning. As I meditate on Jonah and how he made a shipwreck of his life trying to run from God, my heart cries out “God don’t let me be so hard hearted and foolish.” When I see the pure, genuine example of repentance the Ninevites display toward God, my heart screams “God, let me be that vulnerable to Your words!” And when I see the Wonderful Counselor, counsel an angry, racist Jonah who didn’t get his way, my heart weeps, “Let me be as wise with my words as You are Lord.” My heart is bursting at the seams with short prayers to a Divine God. The very pores of my being seep with tiny prayers of gratitude to a Gracious God. There isn’t a single attribute of our Holy God, that when meditated upon won’t break our stone hearts and have our new hearts of flesh dancing before the throne. There isn’t a single attribute of God that doesn’t require us to shed our selfish nature and put God and others ahead of ourselves. Meditating on the purity of God will mend our brokenness and comfort us in our loneliness.
When we don’t Pray
When we don’t meditate on Scripture and we don’t act rightly as we are commanded to do, our prayer goes unanswered (Psalm 66:18) and becomes an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 28:9). God wants us to act righteously so deeply that he turns away his ears when we act unfaithfully to him. What does it look like to not act rightly? To harbor sin in your heart, to lack self control (1 Pet. 4:7), and to act in sin (1 Pet. 3:12). Each of these are ways in which we prevent ourselves from having true communion with God. When we forsake God for the things of this world by breaking one of God’s commandments we neglect the high calling God as put on our lives and put up a barrier between us and Him. God makes this even more personal for us as married men and women. He tells us that treating our spouses with the respect and love they deserve is a key factor if our prayers are heard by God (1 Pet. 3:7).
If our goal is to improve our marriage by becoming the spiritual heroes we’re called to be, then we need to be making daily decisions to follow God’s call to pray. It’s important to realize that prayer is meant to be a benefit of an obedient life, and it’s a privilege (what other religion allow you to speak directly to God?). As we just discussed, the Bible tells us that God disciplines those whose actions are not godly by hindering the effectiveness of their prayer. If this is how God replies to us when we have turned away from His counsel, then we know He puts a high value on it. He wants prayer to be a priority.
God desires prayer to be a means for Him to pour out blessings on our lives and for us to grow and improve as His children. When we ignore the spiritual discipline of prayer, we invite His Fatherly discipline on our lives and we hurt those around us by slowly becoming more and more like the world. Paul Tripp, in his book What did you Expect? explains that our marriages do not blow up overnight. “Marriages don’t typically change with an explosion. Marriages typically change by the process of erosion” (pg. 254). The process of erosion, he goes on to explain, happens as we give up on prayer and continue to make small decisions to be more selfish. Does this process sound familiar? It’s the exact same process that we are aiming to use to become the spiritual heroes God wants us to be, but in reverse. It is the process that turns us into self-centered, sinful people.
If we want our marriages to grow and be fruitful or if we want to save our marriages from the brink of disaster, we must pray. Paul Tripp again: “If it is true that all the horizontal skirmishes a husband and wife have are rooted in a deeper war for the heart, and if it is true that a marriage must be fixed vertically before it is ever fixed horizontally, then the place where you win the war for marriage is on your knees” (pg. 249). When we don’t pray, we set our feet on a path that leads us away from God.
Prayer is not some optional thing we can choose to add to our lives when it suits us; prayer is critical to our spiritual health. It’s the process of communication between us and our triune God. It’s the process by which God fixes the biggest problem in our lives and in our marriages, us. God fixes you through your prayers. God fixes me through my prayer. And that is vital.
When we do Pray
No matter what is said about it, prayer often feels like an insurmountable hurdle in our lives. To help bulldoze that mountain into an ant hill, here are a few things that prayer reminds us of as God works our hearts over.
- Prayer reminds us that we need God. We are not self sufficient. We are broken people living in a broken world with a broken spouse in a broken marriage. It is impossible for fallen man to repair the brokenness in and around us. Thankfully God is here, whole and complete, able to help us in our neediness. We need God in the big moments and in the big issues of life. We also need God in the every day small things of life. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The implication of this famous line of the Lord’s prayer is that we cannot receive our daily food unless God has apportioned it for us. We need Him to fix us and to fix our marriages, but more than that we need prayer to remind us that we need Him everyday in everything.
- Prayer reminds us that we need forgiveness. We cannot come into contact with our perfect God without being reminded that we fail to live up to His standard. We have broken His commandments. We do not love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind and we do not love our spouse as ourselves. Not a day goes by that I don’t, at some point, prioritize my wants and needs above my spouse’s. I try to remember to serve her with the same thoughtfulness I serve myself, but serving myself is easy. It’s innate. I’m in tune with my body and what it wants and needs. I have not learned that same level of care and attentiveness when it comes to my spouse, and so I naturally and sinfully neglect her wants and needs. To interact with God in prayer, we are reminded that we are selfish. We are reminded that we are broken and need forgiveness.
- Prayer keeps us humble. When we are reminded that we need God to provide for us our daily needs and that we are so wicked we killed Jesus, it is impossible to become prideful. And so we call out: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:2)
- Prayers reminds us that this is not our home. This world will beat you up and leave you to die. If you don’t have Jesus, there is no hope for anything better. But for those that know Jesus as their intimate friend, there is infinite hope. Our God, the Carpenter, is in the business of building us a home perfectly suited to our needs. We have eternal hope in the world to come and life everlasting!
All of these things serve to affix our hearts and minds on God, perfecting us that we might testify by our actions to our spouse, friends, co-workers, and family that God is good and God is real. By making prayer a priority in our lives, we begin to become the prayer warriors we so admire. When we make prayer a priority, we prepare our hearts for how we should respond when difficulty comes our way.
It is my hope that you would put God first in your mind. That your thoughts would be so enraptured by who He is that you can’t help but to be constantly praying “Thank you Lord! Make me more like you!”
Next week we’ll talk about the importance of prioritizing worship in our lives.