REFLECTIONS ON PRAYER
I have always been a person of prayer and have always believed in the power of prayer. More importantly, I have always believed in the one true God of heaven and earth who hears the prayers of His children. Even before my father became a Christian he taught my sister and me the childhood prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to guide my ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” At all three of our meals (always eaten, by the way, at the family table) my father led us in a prayer of thanks for our food. After he obeyed the gospel, it was the practice of our family for my father to read a chapter from the Bible (with the rest of us following along in our own Bible) and to lead us in prayer before we went to bed for the night. It was these home Bible readings, along with the study of the New Testament book by book and chapter by chapter at the little congregation we attended, as well as my own reading, that formed my first acquaintance with the contents of the New Testament. Our congregation had no divided classes (not that we were opposed to them), but we were so small that everyone (children and adults) met in one large class on Wednesday nights and we studied through the New Testament in the above fashion. I think there is much that could be said in favor of ten, eleven, and twelve year old boys sitting in a Bible class with adults, reading the scriptures with them, both asking and answering questions that arise from the text, and making appropriate comments on the text being studied. I know that I will always cherish those sweet and precious memories!
Prayer has remained a part of my life as a Christian, and as I have grown older it has become dearer and more precious to me. It, along with God’s word, the Bible, is my lifeline to God. Through His word, God communicates with me, and through prayer I communicate with Him. The apostle Paul urged Christians to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). This does not mean that one is to be constantly praying, nor does it mean (as it is sometimes said to mean) to always be in an attitude of prayer. Neither of these is actually physically and mentally possible. What the passage does mean is to not leave prayer behind, to not leave prayer out of one’s life. It means to be a person of regular and faithful and persistent prayer.
James, the half-brother of our Lord, says that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16b). A righteous man is not a sinlessly perfect man. He has his own sins to deal with and his own sins to confess, repent of, and ask forgiveness for (I John 1:8-10). A righteous man is a man who has been justified and made righteous by faith in Christ and obedience to the gospel (Romans 4:1 – 6:18). For such a person his fervent prayers avail much. How much is “much”? That is one of life’s great immeasurable values!
When I awake in the morning my first thought is to thank God for another day of life and to utter a brief prayer for Him to help me live that new day in a manner “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27), to be kind, thoughtful, patient (not one of my greatest virtues), loving, courteous, and gracious toward all with whom I will interact that day, beginning with my precious wife.
At noon when Jan and I sit down for our main meal of the day, I lead us in a prayer of thanksgiving and rotate day by day through a long list of people we keep on an on-going prayer list, including family members, friends, neighbors, fellow Christians, and an ever growing list of older gospel preachers and their wives who are battling ailments of various kinds.
One of my favorite times of the day is when I retire at night and rehearse with the Lord the events of the day, just talking informally with Him about what I have and have not done that day and how He has guided me through the day. I again pray for a large number of people, asking God to bless them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I pray for those who are hurting. I pray for the church throughout the world, for the local church where Jan and I are members, for my college alma mater, Freed-Hardeman University—its Board, administration, faculty, staff, and student body—that it may remain true to “the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16) and to the principles on which it was founded, and for those who are faithfully proclaiming the gospel throughout the world. I pray for those who have departed from the faith “that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (II Timothy 2:24-26), as well as various other matters. This nighttime prayer also includes a petition of forgiveness for my sins and failures throughout the day (known and unknown), and for continued spiritual growth and discernment on my part. In all instances I pray “not my will, but Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:39).
I do not offer these reflections on prayer to set myself up as a paragon of virtue where prayer is concerned. Far from it. In so many ways, I fall short where prayer is concerned. I offer these thoughts for whatever value they may be to others in the way of encouraging a richer, deeper, fuller prayer life, knowing how much the discipline of prayer has blessed my life. It should be noted that prayer does not demand a prescribed posture. That is why I can pray in the mornings while showering, shaving, and dressing, while lying in my bed at night, while driving, while mowing my grass, while walking at the Y, and at various other times.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Hugh Fulford, November 5, 2019