If we were honest, most of us would admit we struggle in our prayer life. In Thessalonians 5:17, Paul writes that we are to pray continually. Yet work, friends, school, recreation and sleep seem to crowd out time that could be spent praying.
In the midst of our busyness, God not only wants us to come to him through prayer, but to recognize that we were born for this communion with him. Through prayer, God gives us the opportunity to hear from him in the stillness, and to share with him the fears, joys, longings and desires that we have.
Growth through Answered Prayer
Over the years, as I have grown in my commitment to prayer, God has responded by showing himself to be the God who answers prayers. While I need to continue growing in this area, I have been encouraged—and sometimes amazed—by how he works through prayer, even my prayers.
In early 2009, God laid it on my heart to prayerfully move into a high-density, low-income neighbourhood and live amongst the unreached from around the globe. This was part of a vision God had given me for teams of regular people to move in and pray in countless neighbourhoods of need: not just here in Canada, but around the world.
Before even moving in, our budding team needed a place to pray for our first weekly prayer meeting. We didn't have a place to pray, so we thought we would start by simply praying on a park bench in the neighbourhood and trusting God to provide the next step.
Just before we left to do this, in God's amazing timing, a friend gave me the phone number of someone who lived in the neighbourhood, a lady I had never met named Mama Hanan. I called Mama Hanan and, with no notice at all, she invited us to come and pray in her living room.
For the next year, our team prayed every week with Mama Hanan and her teenage daughter in this same living room. Those meetings became a time of breaking bread over supper, building community, and praying together for the neighbourhood, one another, and the world. In those early days, we would often pray until 1:00 a.m.!
Community in Prayer
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in pursuing prayer is the importance of community. If you want to grow in your commitment to prayer, pray with others. Jesus tells us that, “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18, verses 19-20).
Praying together provides accountability, as you are less likely to skip a prayer meeting if you know others are waiting for you. Praying together also provides fellowship, when prayers have miraculous answers you can rejoice together; when answers seem slow in coming, you can press in together in continued prayer.
As you pray together, be encouraged to pray big, ambitious prayers fueled by faith. In the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples that if they believe, they will receive whatever they ask for in prayer—even the moving of mountains (Matthew 21, verse 21).
A Shooting in the Building
Early on in our prayer meetings with Mama Hanan, she shared with us about a teenage Sudanese boy in her building. Sahil (name changed to protect privacy) was troubled and mixing with the wrong crowd. We began to pray for God’s grace on Sahil. A few months later, there was a shooting in the building and Sahil was one of the two victims. Miraculously, the bullet missed his brain by a few millimetres. Our prayer team praised God for his protection of Sahil.
Spending more time in prayer means I have the opportunity to pray for people and situations I had ignored before. This growing awareness exposes me to what breaks God’s heart. God has changed my life through prayer by causing me to care about things I hadn’t cared about before.
One way that I have grown in awareness is through Operation World, a reference book that is described as the definitive global prayer and mission handbook. Our team believes that God hears our prayers when we pray for wealthy and progressive nations like Norway, as well as war-torn and impoverished countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As we pray through the struggles and triumphs of countries of the world, something shifts; slowly, we begin to see the world with God’s eyes.
As God calls you to delve deeper into prayer, the following tips may be helpful for you:
- Confess your lack of prayer to God
- Ask Him to give you a heart for prayer
- Seek a prayer team or accountability in regular prayer
- Pray missionally: using Operation World, Joshua Project or other resources, pray for mission workers, the unreached, the unengaged and the forgotten
- Keep a prayer journal or record of prayers, making special note of when and how they are answered
As I have learned to pray more, I have been privileged to witness God answering my prayers. Through prayer, God brought our team together with Mama Hanan, and he redirected a bullet. Today, he continues to transform lives through prayer–including mine.
Nigel Paul is the founder and Director of MoveIn, a vision to see thousands of Christians prayerfully moving in amongst the unreached, urban poor. Today, there are 35 teams living in 13 cities in three countries who are part of this movement. Nigel and his wife Jessie are part of a MoveIn team in Toronto and enjoy visiting neighbours and learning about other cultures.