Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life

 This is the second in a series of articles on devotional life.  You can read the first article "Why Pray?" here.

Like any good habit, developing a successful prayer life takes effort.  Rembrandt didn't just wake up one morning and paint the Mona Lisa.  Michael Jordan didn't decide one day to play basketball, and the next day was signed by the Chicago Bulls.  Yet, the big difference in worldly successes and  being a successful person of prayer is that it takes no special talent to pray.  IQ doesn't matter.  Physical dexterity means nothing.  But what does matter is that prayer is made and made habitually.

There are many ingredient that make up a successful prayer life, some of which I hope to share in future articles.  Yet, there is one ingredient which I believe stands out above all others.  Without it, there is no chance that your prayer life will in any way be satisfactory to you or to God.  With it, you can and should have a vibrant prayer life.  What is this all-important key?


If you think about it, you know that this has to be true.  Without gratefulness, prayer is an empty shell.  We become like the whiny little kid who is always unsatisfied with what his parents do for him.  Annoying, right?  Well, when we go to Christ with all of our little requests, but don't first incorporate gratefulness, we really can't expect to get our prayers answered in the way we would hope.

How do we become grateful people in this gimme gimme gimme generation?

Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Delight yourself in the Lord.  Psalm 37:4 states "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Want your prayers answered?  First of all, delight in the Lord and in Him alone!  If you are a Christian, no matter what bad things might be going on in your life, you have a wealth of things for which you can be thankful.  In my case, I try to start each morning just being grateful for what the Lord has done for me.  I often begin with my salvation in Christ:
  • "Thank you Jesus that You died for me, that You were willing to pay the ultimate price for my salvation."
  • "Thank you Father that You sent Your one and only Son to die in my place." (John 3:16)
  • "Thank you Holy Spirit for leading me to salvation,"
  • "My name is written in Your book." (Rev. 3:5)
  • "My name is written on Your hand." (Isa. 49:16)
  • "Because of You, I have a hope and a future!" (Jer. 29:11 NIV)
  • "Because You died for me, I have everlasting life...I'm going to live with You forever!"
Notice that none of these things have anything to do with what might be going on in my life right now.  You or I could be facing seemingly insurmountable troubles, yet if we are followers of Christ, these eternal facts are still just as true as if we were dealing with no troubles at all.  These are things that every Christian everywhere should express thankfulness for every day!

2.  Cultivate a grateful heart: Being a grateful person is to swim against the current of negativity that inflicts our sin-cursed society.  Like a gardener cultivating her plants, you and I must cultivate gratefulness.  How do we do that?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Thank Him for the people He as brought into your life.   Has the Lord blessed you with a faithful spouse?  Thank Him for him or her!  Children? Grandchildren?  Thank the Lord for each member of your family.  Do you have friends and co-workers with whom God has enriched your life?  Be thankful for them, even if they do bring challenges.  (You probably bring challenges to them too!)
  • Review the events which have happened in your life that only God could have done.  Looking back, I see so many different places in my life where God led.  He brought my wife Kathy into my life in 1982.  He led for my us to move to Indiana in 1987.  He led for us to go into foster parenting in 1990, and because of that decision, he would later bring three lovely daughters into our lives.  Our lives would have been completely different if He hadn't directed in these key events.  What about you?  What forks in the road has he brought you through, that, had you chosen a different path instead of the path He led you in, your life would have been far less rich?
  • Learn to identify the hand of God in recent events in your life.  I like to review every morning the blessings of the previous day.  Just a few hours perspective can make me realize that the Lord was leading in many ways. Maybe it's the "chance" encounter with someone I hadn't seen in years. The unexpected material blessing. The kind word from a co-worker.  Whatever it is, thank the Lord for it.  James said, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..."  If a good thing happened to you, thank Him for it!
Dennis Prager (who is Jewish, not Christian, but still has some great insights in these matters) wrote the following in his book Happiness Is A Serious Problem:
When I was looking for an apartment in Manhattan as a graduate student at Columbia University, the only one available to me was on the ground-floor, and I rented it.  When I mentioned this to New Yorkers, they winced.  I had made a big mistake, they would all tell me.  Ground-floor apartments are to be avoided-they are the most easily burglarized.  These reactions, and the fact that the area in which I rented was a high crime area, could easily have made me unhappy over my choice.
They had no such effect on me.  Instead of becoming unhappy, I developed a series of reasons to believe that a ground-floor apartment was the best choice: unlike almost everyone else in the apartment building, I would never have to wait for the elevator; I had immediate access to the superintendent, who lived in the next apartment; moving in and out was cheaper and faster; and I never had to worry about climbing flights of stairs when the elevator broke.
As a result, instead of regretting what I had done and worrying about it, I loved that apartment from the day I moved in (moreover, it was never burglarized, and I became somewhat of a big brother to the superintendent's son). 
As I have matured, I have cultivated this blessedly innate tendency to find the positive in almost all situations.  Some people accuse those of us who have this attitude of deluding ourselves in order to be happy, but these people miss the point.  There is almost always a positive element in a negative situation, just as there is almost always a negative aspect to a positive situation.  Choosing to find the positive and emphasizing it is not in any way a form of self-delusion.
Pretty good insight, don't you think?

3.   Learn to thank the Lord throughout the day.  We can't just be thankful in our morning prayer time and then forget to be thankful throughout the day. Paul gave the church at Thessalonica these timely instructions:
Be happy (in your faith) and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always);
Be unceasing in prayer (praying perseveringly);
Thank (God) in everything (no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks), for this is the will of God for you... (I Thess 5:16-18 Amp)
Pretty powerful stuff, don't you think?  To be "happy in your faith and glad-hearted continually" takes vigilance and determination.  Everything about this world wants to bring us down.  Yet, with the help of the Holy Spirit (which is available to every Christian), we can live above the downward trend of this world!  When we walk in this way, we become a "living Bible" to the people around us. People aren't used to seeing someone who refuses to be down no matter what the circumstances.  A happy Christian is like a billboard for Christ, while a grumpy Christian is a like an advertisement against Christianity!  Who would want to buy that product?

Yes, life is tough.  Sometimes very tough. And frankly, there are some things that happen to each of us that get us down.  Yet, the Lord will always provide grace for those difficult events in our lives.  The point is, we may get down, but we can't stay down.  No matter what the circumstances, we can learn to be grateful and to "Thank God in everything!"  That is why having a grateful spirit is indeed the single most important ingredient of a successful prayer life.

To read the next article in this series, "Jump Start Your Devotional Life!  Part 1", click here.

Want To Read More?  Here are links to related articles on this site:

Why Pray? 

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