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Can He Hear You Now?

I often wonder how we can put a man on the moon, send an email around the world in a matter of seconds, store thousands of songs on something smaller than a deck of cards, yet we cannot perfect cell phones? Every one of us has felt like the man in the commercial who asks the now-famous question: “Can you hear me now?”

Do you ever feel that way about prayer? Do you ever wonder if God can hear you? Do you ever wonder if your prayers get dropped? Even worse, do you ever feel as if you haven’t even perfected the art of making one truly “successful” call, where the connection and the conversation was all you (and God) wanted it to be?

Cell phones have not only become a basic necessity, for most people, they have fully replaced the landline. But despite its unarguable advantages, there are certain annoyances about the cell phone that somehow can’t seem to get fixed. One is the dropped call. Nothing causes my blood pressure to shoot 
through the roof like 
a dropped call at a critical moment.

I often wonder how we can put a man on the moon, send an email around the world in a matter of seconds, store thousands of songs on something smaller than a deck of cards, yet we cannot perfect cell phones? Every one of us has felt like the man in the commercial who asks the now-famous question: “Can you hear me now?”

Dropping calls with the divine

Do you ever feel that way about prayer? Do you ever wonder if God can hear you? Do you ever wonder if your prayers get dropped? Even worse, do you ever feel as if you haven’t even perfected the art of making one truly “successful” call, where the connection and the conversation was all you (and God) wanted it to be?

This can be a difficult place for a minister to be. After all, we are the ones who instruct everyone else on the importance of prayer. We teach people how to pray. To admit that we struggle to make the connection puts us in a bit of a predicament.

Truth be told, prayer is one of, if not the, most difficult parts of ministry. In fact, only 2 percent of pastors claim to possess the gift of intercession/prayer. Prayer is hard work, and it becomes especially difficult when we have relentlessly given ourselves to our church, our children, our wives and our staff, only to realize we have only crumbs left for God.

R. Kent Hughes, pastor of the College Church of Wheaton, noticed that many of the books on preaching said little, if anything, about prayer. This led him to comment, “This, and what experience God so far has given me in preaching and prayer, has brought a conviction. Should I ever write a book on essentials for preaching, I know now that I would devote at least a third of it to spiritual preparation in matters such as prayer. This would be the first third.”

We must always make time for prayer because if God is as real, personal and powerful as we believe He is, then prayer is the most powerful weapon in our ministerial arsenal. Not only will it renew us, it will breathe life into our ministry.

Making the connection

Perhaps the greatest lesson on prayer comes in the very first words of the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus began to teach how we must pray and what we must pray about.

Interestingly, the reason Jesus taught on prayer was that the disciples asked Him to. Ministers themselves, they wanted to find out how to make their own connection. This is the only time in the Bible where one person ever teaches another person how to pray, and it all came out of a request from Christianity’s first church leaders.

These men were thoroughly Jewish, having grown up in Jewish homes, attended synagogue and practiced the religion all of their lives. After hearing and watching Jesus do something repeatedly, they were so impressed that they said something to Him about it: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Luke 11:1, TNIV).

The disciples were absolutely fascinated with Jesus’ prayer life. They could have asked Him to teach them anything, but they chose prayer. Peter could have gone to Jesus and said, “I want You to teach me that walking-on-water trick.” James and John could have come to Jesus and said, “We are having this big family reunion over the weekend. Could You show us that thing You did the other day with the loaves and fish when You fed the crowd?” They never asked Jesus how to heal the sick or raise the dead. They asked Him to teach them how to pray.

Jesus did exactly that, acknowledging that prayer is something we can all learn to do effectively. First, Jesus told them to pray in their own private, secret place. Then He said not to wear God out with the same old meaningless repetitions that all ministers tend to use, as if God is impressed by our drawn-out prayers (Matthew 6:5–8). Finally, in verse 9, He tells them how to pray: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name …’”

Immediately, Jesus clues us in on how to get into prayer—how to “make the call”—so that we know we have made a successful connection that will stick. The secret is found in one word: focus. When you read how Jesus says prayer should begin, you then understand the great truth He is teaching: The purpose of prayer is to focus on God and what He wants—not us and what we want.

Have you ever realized that the first part of the prayer never asks God to give you anything? In fact, the word give (along with bless, one of the two favorite words we use in talking to God) is not found until verse 11. Rather, we are told specifically to focus exclusively on two things—the Father’s worship (“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name’”) and the Father’s will (“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”).

Let’s be honest. Most of the time in prayer we go to the first-person pronoun almost immediately. “I want You to give me this.” “I want You to bless me.” “We need You to do this for us.” But Jesus’ grammar lesson tells us that prayer is not about you; it is primarily about Him.

We all have sick people who need healing, money that must be collected to keep the church’s lights on and chairs we desperately want filled on Sunday. Oswald Chambers put it this way: “We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” We must start our prayers in a vertical posture.

The more time you spend recognizing who you are talking to (your Father), where He is (in heaven and in complete control) and what He wants (His will for you, not your will for Him), the less concern you will have about your needs, and the more confident you will be that you are praying to a God who knows about and can meet those needs. When you put God into proper perspective, it puts your problems into proper perspective. That perspective begins with God not as an impersonal force, but rather a personal Father who already knows our needs and desires.

Even after years of working at it, I still struggle with prayer at times. But I have learned a little along the way. Here are a few habits that have been helpful to me in my own ministry:

1.  Meet God in the morning. Technically, there is no “holy hour” when God speaks most clearly. But a minister’s life is hectic, and as soon as the rest of the world wakes up, you’ll be needed. If you have trouble finding the time to pray, hit your knees first thing in the morning.

2.  Find a quiet time in a quiet place. Ministers have so many plates spinning at once, nearly everything can be a distraction—books, calendars, research, telephone messages. And a good distraction can cripple your time with God. Try finding a quiet place far away from anything that stimulates your ADHD.

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3.  Involve others. There is something powerful about praying with others, so bring people you love and trust into your intimate times with God. Pray with your wife, elders, children, small group leaders. You will be surprised at how much this jump-starts your prayer life and ministry with encouragement, communion and accountability. And when prayers get answered, you’ll all get to celebrate!

Expanding your network

Speaking of involving others, it is crucial, after you shore up your own prayer habits, that these habits are transmitted to your people. One of the most powerful things you can do for your community is to build a network of prayer warriors. In fact, I think you will be hard-pressed to locate a church that is having much of an impact on its community if it does not have prayer as its driving force.

But how can you do this? How can you ensure your people will make the connection?

The best way to get people passionate about prayer is to get them in touch with the power of prayer. Encourage some of your leaders to write down the top five burdens they have for others. Then, covenant together to pray regularly over the next year, keeping a running diary of how God answers these prayers. As your people begin to trace the work of God, passionate prayer will surely catch fire.

Reliable service

The famous preacher Charles Finney took Jesus at His word, often slipping away for times of intense prayer and fasting. After a particularly passionate time of prayer, he saw God bring great blessing on his ministry. Convinced about the necessity of prayer, he said, “Without this you are as weak as weakness itself. If you lose your spirit you will do nothing, or next to nothing, though you had the intellectual endowment of an angel … The blessed Lord deliver, and preserve His dead Church from the guidance and influence of men who know not what it is to pray.”

Without prayer, you may be as weak as weakness itself. But with prayer you will be as strong as the strongest cell tower. It is no surprise then that when Billy Graham was asked by a reporter what one thing he would change about his ministry if he could turn back the clock, he replied, “Pray more.”

Ministry is hard enough without connecting with God regularly, personally and successfully. Let your prayers be preoccupied with the Father, trusting Him to get to your to-do list and do what is best at the right time. Then your prayers will spew passion and power like never before, and your ministry will reap the innumerable benefits.

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This article originally appeared in Neue Quarterly Vol. 01. You can subscribe to the Quarterly or buy individual copies.

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