‘Winning the battle for a better prayer life’
Most of us would agree that we need to lift our prayer life to a higher level, but how? Retired Baptist minister Don Attenborough commends those who have inspired him in the Christian discipline of prayer
I have no doubt that like me you have all struggled with the Christian discipline of prayer. You have probably tried rising early in the morning and giving yourself to spending time with the Lord; you may have attempted an hour or more of prayer and Bible reading, before getting into the ‘nitty gritty’ of everyday life, but over and over again throughout my Christian life I have mostly failed miserably! How about you?
There are many ways in which Satan scuppers our best plans to spend time with Jesus, and that subject alone would make a lengthy article, but I found when I was in the ministry, that administrative duties and responsibilities made my plans for a better prayer life produce a major battle area, which often or not brought defeat. My time for prayer was crowded out and periods of study with the Bible would get less and less.
Yet I would read of people like Basilea Schlink, the 20th century German Protestant nun and Christian writer, who found as she spent more and more time alone with Jesus, somehow she got all her responsibilities done and then much more! One day the Lord said to Basilea, ‘Give me more of your time. Give me more room in your heart. I want you completely.’
“What did he want?” she asked herself, “...he wanted more than my normal times of prayer.”
When Basilea Schlink had entered into this new level if intimacy with Christ, more was done than ever before and more fruit came of those endeavours; in her renewed and increased prayer life there also came a greater sense of the love of Christ. She writes: “I felt his love, burning like a fire and far more intense than any human love, coming straight from the heart of him whose love sustains the universe. I felt his love, fervent yet gentle, as no human love could be. His love was irresistible, drawing me closer and closer, calling me to be completely available for him.”
Is this greater knowledge of Jesus love something you seek? I know I do!
When Baptist minister and Christian author Sidlow Baxter, now in glory, was writing about his prayer life struggle, he said that he began to excuse himself. He writes:
“My prayer life became a case of sinning and repenting. Every time I got down to pray I had to start weeping and asking the Lord’s forgiveness. I had to repent that I hadn’t prayed more and ask Him to help me to do better in the future. All such things really take the pleasure out of praying!”
Then it all came to crisis. At a certain time one morning I looked at my watch. According to my plan, for I was still bravely persevering, I was to withdraw for an hour of prayer. I looked at my watch and it said: “Time for prayer, Sid.”
But I looked at my desk and there was a miniature mountain of correspondence. And conscience said, “You ought to answer those letters.” So, as we say in Scotland, I swithered. I vacillated. Shall it be prayer? Shall it be letters? Yes, no. Yes, no. Yes, no. And while I was swithering a velvety little voice began to speak in my inner consciousness: “Look here, Sid, what’s all this bother? You know very well what you should do. The practical thing is to get those letters answered. You can’t afford the time for prayer this morning. Get those letters answered.”
But I still swithered, and the voice began to reinforce what it had said. It said, “Look here, Sid, don’t you think the Lord knows all the busy occupations which are taking your time? You’re converted, you’re born again and you’re in the ministry. People are crowding in; you’re having conversions. Doesn’t that show that God is pleased with you? And even if you can’t pray, don’t worry too much about it. Look, Sid, you’d better face up to it. You’re not one of the spiritual ones!” Ouch! I don’t want to use extravagant phrases, but if you had plunged a dagger into my bosom it couldn’t have hurt me more. “Sid, you are not one of the spiritual ones.” As I read this I too said ‘Ouch!’ On many occasions these words had been whispered in my ear by the enemy of our souls!
When Basilea Schlink had entered into this new level if intimacy with Christ, more was done than ever before and more fruit came of those endeavours
That morning Sidlow Baxter took a good look at himself and he found that there was a part of him that did not want to pray, but he looked more closely and found that there was a part of him that did. For him the part that didn’t was the emotions and the part that did was the intellect and the will. Suddenly he found himself asking “Are you going to let your will be dragged about by your changeful emotions?”
It was then that this conversation took place between him and his Will:
“I said to my will: “Will, are you ready for prayer?” And Will said, “Here I am, I’m ready.”
So Will and I set off to pray. But the minute we turned our footsteps to go and pray all my emotions began to talk: “We’re not coming, we’re not coming.” And I said to Will, “Will, can you stick it?” And Will said, “Yes, if you can.” So Will and I, we dragged off those wretched emotions and we went to pray and stayed an hour in prayer.
It was a fight all the way. If you had asked me afterwards, “Did you have a good time?” do think I could have said yes? A good time? No, it was a fight all the way! What I would have done without the companionship of Will, I don’t know.
The next morning came. I looked at my watch and it was time. I said to Will, “Come on, Will, it’s time for prayer.” And all the emotions began to pull the other way and I said, “Will, can you stick it?” And Will said, “Yes, in fact I think I’m stronger after the struggle yesterday morning.” So Will and I went in again.
The same thing happened. Rebellious, tumultuous, uncooperative emotions. If you had asked me, “Have you had a good time?” I would have had to tell you with tears, “No, the heavens were like brass. It was a job to concentrate. I had an awful time with the emotions.” Then the change….
This went on for about two and a half weeks. But Will and I stuck it out. Then one morning during that third week I looked at my watch and I said, “Will, it’s time for prayer. Are you ready?” And Will Said, “Yes, I’m ready.” And just as we were going in, I heard one of my chief emotions say to the others, “Come on, fellows, there’s no use wearing ourselves out: they’ll go on whatever we do.”
That morning we didn’t have any hilarious experience of wonderful visions with heavenly voices and raptures. But Will and I were able with less distraction to get on with praying. And that went on for another two or three weeks. In fact, Will and I had begun to forget the emotions. I would say, “Will, are you ready for prayer?” And Will replied, “Yes, I’m always ready.”
Suddenly one day while Will and I were pressing our case at the throne of the heavenly glory one of the chief emotions shouted, “Hallelujah!” and all the other emotions suddenly shouted, “Amen!” For the first time the whole territory of James Sidlow Baxter was happily coordinated in the exercise of prayer and God suddenly became real and heaven was wide open and Christ was there and the Holy Spirit was moving and I knew that all the time God had been listening.
We could say that in fact Sidlow Baxter was really battling with the old sinful nature. As believers we have been given a new nature in Christ that desires the things of God, but until we reach glory there will be, for the genuine believer, the constant battle between new nature in Christ and the old sinful nature. In the new we have the victory over the old that Christ won at the cross; we have become a new creation as the bible puts it and therefore our new nature is one filled with Spirit of Christ and motivated by the love of God now within us.
“Are you going to let your will be dragged about by your changeful emotions?”
Sidow Baxter’s battling through in prayer reminds me of how King David was always talking to himself and stirring up his inner man when he was low in spirit. In Psalm 42:5 he writes, “Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God”. Talking to ourselves is not necessarily a sign of madness!
Soon our Lord will return or we will pass over into his presence at our death. When we meet him and feel his arms around us and we embrace him and adore him, “...don’t you want to be able to look into that wonderful face”, writes Sidlow Baxter, “...and say, ‘Lord, at last I’m seeing face-to-face the one I have for years known heart to heart.’ Why don’t you resolve that from this time on you will be a praying Christian? You will never, never, never regret it! Never!”
I admit, to my shame, to only having known very occasionally over more than 50 years of faith in Christ, a limited number of successful prolonged intimate prayer times with the Saviour I love. Now, as youth and energy are deserting me and I approach my three score years and ten, I realise that the thing I can, and must do more, is pray! Sidlow Baxter’s words have been a great help to me to prepare for continued ministry for Jesus in my latter years through an increased prayer life, as have the writings of Basilea Schlink as she sought closer fellowship with Jesus; maybe their words used in this article can help you. I hope so!
In a time when the church prayer meeting is the least attended meeting in most churches and many confess that their private prayer life is not good, a reminder that prayer changes things if we are earnest about it and we can win through to new levels of prayer and intimacy with Jesus and find its rich reward.
Much needs changing in our world and in our Land in particular; we are in desperate need of renewal and revival and a fresh powerful move of the Spirit of God! Only greater prayer activity and closeness to Jesus will achieve this!
Don Attenborough is a reitred Baptist minister
Sidlow Baxter sermons can be heard on the web site Sermonindex.net and his books available to buy new or second-hand; the books of Basilea Schlink are also readily available.
Picture: Praying Hands/RGB Stock