"Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you" (James 4.8 RSV).
"Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things which you have not known." (Jer. 33.3 RSV).
"Evening and morning, and at noon, I utter my complaint and moan and he will hear my voice." (Psa. 55. 17 RSV)
If we are to grow in our prayer life, there are five things that are necessary:
The first of these is TIME. Like everything else, prayer requires time; daily time, like the other essentials, eating and sleeping. It needs to be time enough to forget how much time it is, even though duties call you away. So it must be planned for, sometimes well ahead, so no duty is slighted. One must take time. No one worth while has time for all that comes crowding to his door. Something must be left out, so time must be taken from something else, yet less important. Prayer does need time.
The second thing prayer needs is a PLACE. You can pray anywhere ‑ on a train, walking down the street, doing jobs in lounge or kitchen, buying groceries in the shop. But you are less likely to, unless you've been shut off in some quiet place with the door shut. Jesus said: "When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret;" (Matt.6.6. RSV) ‑ the world is shut out but you are shut in with some One unseen. It does not matter where the place is. The corner of a kitchen is as good as the cloistered corner of a cathedral. It is the recognised presence of our blessed Saviour that makes holy ground, whether kitchen or cathedral. And the real rare blessing of the daily quiet place is not only that you actually pray, though you will; not only that you read the Book, though you will. It is this: There is some One else there. And to sit quiet in His presence, thank Him that He is there, and that He died for you in the love of His heart; maybe to sing Him a soft hymn of praise; this is the real blessedness of that bit of quiet time in the shut-away corner. Prayer needs a place, and prayer hallows the place ‑ any place.
Third ‑ prayer needs a book. THE BOOK. The Book is the basis of prayer. Bible reading is the listening side of prayer. In the Book, God speaks to us. In prayer we speak to God. What He says to us radically affects what we say to Him. Prayer needs three organs of the head ‑ an ear, a tongue and an eye. The ear to hear what God says, the tongue to repeat His promises as our petitions, and the eye to look out expectantly until the result comes. Thoughtful Bible reading is giving God our ears. What goes in at the ear, warmed up as it goes through the heart, comes out at the tongue in simple, expectant, warm prayer, communion and petition and intercession. Give this Book a place in your prayers. What God says here will change what you say, and so wholly change the results. The Book will shape and mould your praying. Let it!
The fourth is particularly important ‑ LET THE TEACHER TEACH YOU. There is One who is peculiarly the prayer Teacher … It is He who puts the desire to pray in our hearts. He will direct all our praying (through the Holy Spirit) as a wise father directs his son.
Where is the Holy Spirit?... In every one whose heart has opened to the Lord Jesus ‑ not because we are good or deserving or saintly, but because He is faithful to His promise. Yes, let the Holy Spirit teach you... When you go into the quiet schoolroom, with the school Book open, ask this Teacher to teach you. And He will. You may be a bit slow and stupid ‑ most of us are. But He is very gentle and patient.
You will find your praying changed. It will become simpler ‑ more confident, and personal, and practical. Some things you will stop asking for ‑ they will slip out of your thoughts in that Presence. Other things will come in ‑ certain things you will pray for more boldly and confidently and expectantly.
The fifth need is to cultivate an OPENNESS OF SPIRIT ‑ the habitual openness of mind that opens up more and more as clearer light breaks in. It begins with that first surrender to Christ as Master, but must continue to be an habitual surrender in the actual practice of daily life. As clearer light comes in on this habit, that line of conduct, that problem, you yield and actually live the surrender you made in the initial act. Stubbornness, sifted down, is simply refusing to yield to the new bit of light that comes. Openness to light is the one doorway to growth. We will welcome the light by obedience, we will pore thoughtfully over the Book, to get its meaning clear. We will cultivate thoughtful meditation, to get things clear and clearer.
So these are the needs of praying ‑ prayer TIME, a prayer PLACE, a prayer BOOK, the prayer TEACHER, the Holy Spirit, the HABITUAL OPENNESS to more light. Let us all start into school fresh..
Lord Jesus teach us to pray. Help us to learn how. You know both ends of prayer, the praying down here and the answering end up yonder. We would be good students in your school, punctual in attendance, keeping the door shut, and the Book open, and the knees bent, and the will to do. Teach us ‑ in Jesus' name. Amen.
This article has been updated from one printed in a 1986 Bible Study Monthly, originally appearing in the 'Herald of 'Christ's Kingdom'