There are some verses I’ve had a very difficult time with. One of them is “Pray continually.”1 That verse is often on my mind, and I’ve learned how important it is to pray. I pray a lot, but I don’t pray continually, so I’ve often felt guilty about not praying enough.
I’ve often struggled to make time to pray. Though my wife and I pray together each morning and before bed, I find myself neglecting that regular “talking with Jesus” throughout the day, especially when sudden things come up. I know I need to pray, but it’s hard, really hard, to set aside “prayer time.”
Prayer often works like baking a loaf of bread: You’ve got to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, proof the dough, then bake the finished loaf.
Step one: mix the ingredients. When baking bread, you can’t just throw a bunch of random stuff in a bowl and expect to get a loaf of bread. If you expect to get something edible, you have to use specific ingredients.
Matthew chapter 7, the last chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, contains a number of succinct statements, which make important points for believers. The focus is on prayer, continued from earlier in the Sermon: not praying like the hypocrites who want to be seen by others1 or like the pagans who babble on, thinking their prayers will be answered if they repeat them over and over;2 but rather praying with the understanding that our Father loves and cares for us.3
The Bible tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”1But most of us have probably wondered if our prayers really make a difference, especially if we’ve been praying long and hard for a certain situation but haven’t seen the desired result.
When putting together this issue, I came across the following illustration:
When I was in the second semester of my first year in college, some Christian classmates and I started to feel concerned that our faith was getting buried amidst our assignments, friends, clubs, and hobbies. We didn’t want it to be something that we briefly attended to during the weekends, and then set aside as we bounced back to the exciting and busy pace of college life on Monday.
My day invariably begins with taking my jet-black poodle for her morning walk, an activity which is high on her list of priorities. We have a regular route which takes us about 10 minutes to complete.
Just as we’re setting out on this warm July morning, I remember that we’re out of oranges, so I decide to alter our regular route and instead head for the Carmelite mission that sits relatively secluded atop a small hill. The mission sells oranges for a couple of dollars a bag.
In my turn-of-the year cleanup, I found an old yearbook. I smiled as I read down the very long list of my resolutions for that year. I guess I had high expectations of myself!
This past year, I decided to make only three resolutions: Be more loving and encouraging, finish a major writing project I was working on and start a new one, and keep a prayer list.