Richard Exley Ministries

Prayer Is A Privilege
Posted on May 19, 2008

While I am truly thankful for the privilege of prayer I must confess that I’ve never been very good at it. My mind wanders. I get distracted or I put off praying until the demands of the day crowd it out. Over the years I’ve tried any number of things to improve my prayer life – joining a prayer group, writing out my prayers, keeping a prayer journal – and while they work for a time I soon find myself slipping back into my haphazard way of praying. It embarrasses me to tell you this but I don’t feel I can write about the privilege of prayer without coming clean about my own inaptitude.
I know all the things I should do – reserve a special place to meet with God, have a set time for prayer, make myself accountable to another person, preferably someone who has mastered the discipline of prayer, and most of all pray whether I feel like it or not. After all we learn to pray the same way we learn to ride a bike – by doing it. I know the importance of praying the Scriptures and of praying God-centered prayers rather than need-centered prayers. My problem isn’t knowledge but discipline. I know all I need to know about praying I just don’t pray as faithfully as I should.

Although I’ve received many remarkable answers to prayer, which we will get to in a minute, I still grow weary of praying when my prayers seem to be making no apparent difference. I mean, why pray if nothing changes. Reminding myself that when one fills a pond the first hundred truckloads of rock disappear under the surface of the water without leaving a trace helps some but I still have to struggle with discouragement. Reminding myself that the primary purpose of prayer is not petition but relationship, about spending time with the Lord, helps some. Unfortunately it is often as hard for me to sense His presence as it is for me to see His answers.

If prayer is so frustrating, you may be wondering, why do I continue praying? I’m sure a sense of duty has something to do with it but it is more than that.  At the core of my being I have a heart hunger for God, a yearning to know Him and be known by Him. It is an “itch” that only prayer can scratch. I may not be very good at prayer, I may even stray from it from time to time, but always I am drawn back. What breath is to my body prayer is to my spirit. Without prayer I simply cannot survive.

Of course prayer is not all discipline and frustration. In fact there are times when prayer seems as easy as breathing and just as natural. The Holy Spirit comes upon us and we are moved into a spiritual realm where prayer has an energy of its own, a strength that seems to literally carry us. Now prayer takes on a life of its own. With absolutely no effort we spend extended time in His presence without once being conscious of the clock. When the Spirit of prayer lifts we are amazed to realize that two or three hours have passed, maybe longer.

While I wish every moment spent in prayer could be like that I have to acknowledge that such times are the exception and not the rule. It is also interesting to note that there seems to be no correlation between the spiritual and emotional intensity of my prayers and their effectiveness. If the truth be told my fumbling, half-hearted prayers seem to produce as many answers as those holy moments when prayer takes on a life of its own. I can only conclude that the power of prayer rests in the God to whom I pray and in nothing else.

Once, I and two companions were caught in a blinding rain storm while fishing in the Gulf of Alaska. When the pounding rain finally subsided a thick fog settled in reducing our visibility to just a few feet. Unable to see any landmarks and without a compass to guide us we became disoriented and lost our way, although we refused to admit it. Blindly we forged ahead for three hours or more. From time to time I could hear the pounding of the heavy surf as it crashed on the rocky shoreline of an island rendered invisible by the fog and a disconcerting sound it was. If we miscalculated our course, and ran aground on one of the hundreds of uninhabited islands that make up the Alexander Archipelago, those jagged rocks would shred our rubber craft in seconds, plunging us into the frigid waters and pounding surf. Belatedly I decided to pray.

Hardly had I finished praying before a fishing trawler emerged from a fog bank on a course that would intersect ours. Frantically we began waving to attract the captain’s attention.  Instantly the throb of the fishing boat’s powerful engine fell off and the captain brought her along side our rubber raft. We explained our situation and asked him if he could direct us to Sitka. To our chagrin he told us that we were heading directly away from our destination. Nodding toward the horizon, where mountains draped in gray mist could now be seen against the sky he told us, “Keep those mountains to starboard and you should reach Sitka in about thirty minutes.”

A half hour later we were tying up at the dock. Once more the sea was calm and the sun was shining brightly. As peaceful as it now was, it hardly seemed possible that we were ever in any real danger, but I know we were. In fact, had it not been for God’s faithfulness to answer prayer we might well have been lost somewhere along the Inside Passage that links Alaska with the lower forty-eight states.

Some may scoff at the thought that the sudden appearance of that fishing trawler was an answer to prayer but I am convinced it was. God, who is beyond time, as we know it, has promised “that before [we] call [He] will answer; / And while [we] are still speaking, [He] will hear.”   Knowing where we would be at that precise moment, and knowing that I was going to pray for help, God had already arranged to have that fishing trawler in position.

That’s just one of countless times God has intervened on my behalf in response to my desperate prayers. Of course He is no respecter of persons and I am sure He has done the same for you. Why don’t you take a minute right now and remember a specific time that God answered prayer on your behalf. You may have prayed for wisdom to make a decision and suddenly after weeks of indecision the way seemed so clear. Or perhaps you prayed for financial provision and God supplied in the most unexpected way. Or maybe you prayed for a physical healing and God intervened.

Initially it is easy to see the hand of God at work in your life but as time goes by you will be tempted to doubt the power of prayer.  The enemy will suggest that what you are calling an answer to prayer is really nothing more than a coincidence, that things would have worked out the same way whether you prayed or not. Perhaps, but experience has taught me that these “remarkable coincidences” occur with significantly greater frequency when I pray.

Are you facing a huge challenge in your life right now, some situation or circumstance that feels overwhelming to you?  Don’t despair! Every time you breathe a pray in Jesus’ name Almighty God gives you His undivided attention and there is nothing too hard for Him. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 

One final thought:  Prayer is a privilege.  When I was just a young man preparing for the ministry prayer was greatly emphasized.  I was left with the distinct impression that it was an obligation.  As I matured in the Lord I came to realize that it was more a discipline than an obligation, a discipline that would one day turn into a delight.  Now, after more than forty-one years in active ministry, I am finally coming to understand that prayer is, first and foremost, a privilege.  Try to get an audience with some earthly dignitary and what do you think your chances are?  Probably not every good.  But every time we whisper a prayer in Jesus’ name God promises to meet us there.  Think of it.  The infinite, almighty, sovereign God promises to meet with us every time we come to prayer.  Now that’s a privilege!

This is Richard Exley straight from the heart.

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Category: Dealing with Crisis