Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “Words are not the essence but the garments of prayer.” In a similar fashion, Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, “We should not seek so much to pray but to become prayer.” I would add that if a Baptist minister and a Roman Catholic both say the same thing there may just be some truth to it. What I believe Spurgeon and St. Francis are teaching us is this: the real substance of prayer is dependence upon God. Prayer, at its most fundamental, is an inner leaning upon the Lord of Heaven and Earth, looking to, adoring, and petitioning Him for all the needs of the body and soul.
If Spurgeon and St. Francis weren’t enough, I believe the Apostle Paul communicates the same truth in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 which tells us to “pray without ceasing”. How can we possibly do this? Do we not need to pause to eat or sleep? Are we not also supposed to educate our children or work diligently at our jobs? John Bunyan, the Baptist Puritan wrote, “In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” All of these authors are helping us reset how we think about prayer.
Too often, Christians think of prayer only in terms of a daily time of prayer in which we lay out our petitions and requests to the Lord. We ought to think of prayer as both an activity of the mind and mouth, but also as a posture of the soul. Of course, we should vocalize our requests to the Lord (Phil. 4:6), but silence before the Lord is just as necessary to prayer as words. (Ps. 62:1)
You and I are to cultivate a whole life awareness of and dependence upon God. When we wake up to a busy day, we ought to depend on the Lord to strengthen us for the task. When we go to sleep and the anxieties of life threaten to keep us awake, we ought to trust our cares and souls into his Fatherly hands. When we sit down to eat and enjoy a hearty meal, our praise and gratitude for the meal ought to well up into praise and gratitude for the Lord who daily feeds us. Many Christians who struggle to have a vibrant “prayer time” heap needless guilt on themselves. There are many who are unable to persevere through an hour of prayer, yet who pray continually because they have cultivated a moment-by-moment awareness of the Lord.
How might you cultivate greater awareness and dependence upon God? A few practical suggestions:
1. Read Theology. I know this is not what you expected to hear. But, learning some theology will help give you the categories of thought that increase awareness. What do I mean? If you learn more of God’s sovereignty and providence (theology) you will recognize his purposes in places you may have overlooked. Read about his omnipotence, his omniscient (knowledge), or his omnipresence, and your awareness of his reality, power, and presence will increase. You will “see” him everywhere and in every circumstance.
2. Read Prayers. Confession time: I often find it easier to read the prayers of others than to vocalize my own prayers. If you feel the same way, begin with the Psalms. Read them as if they were your own prayers. Along with the Psalms, read a collection of prayers by saints of old. You can easily find collections of Charles Spurgeon’s prayers online for free. Reading these prayers is like having Hakeem Olajuwon teach you how to move your feet in in the post, or having Michelangelo guide your hand as you paint.
3. Make a List. Many of us keep a list of prayer needs, but how many keep a list of gratitude? Make a list of every good and perfect gift in your life that God has given. (Jas. 1:17) Slow down and make a concerted effort at gratitude. Just after Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing, he tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18) Prayer and thanksgiving are inseparable. The Psalms of greatest sorrows often contain the shouts of deepest gratitude.
One final thought: none of us live in a perpetual awareness of the Lord. This does not come easily but through attentiveness and Spirit-empowered effort. In other words, it comes by grace. Any single moment that you are aware of God and your dependence upon him, that’s a gift. So, thank him for that too.