New Podcast: Introducing Torchbearers with Jake Kail!March 13, 2023
Biblical Declarations for Walking in FreedomApril 2, 2023
In reading Scripture, we can see clearly that believers are called to devote themselves to prayer. It is a spiritual discipline that Jesus both taught on and modeled throughout His time on earth. Even now He reigns as our high priest and intercessor in heaven (see Hebrews 7:24-25.) The New Testament also includes many commands and calls for believers to make prayer a priority.
However, when we look at the church today, prayer is often a spiritual practice that many struggle to engage in. Often, prayer meetings are only attended by a fraction of the members of the church. Personal prayer closets are visited infrequently, perhaps only when a crisis arises. People are quick to tell others they will pray for them, but often this is used as a platitude with no follow through. This begs the question: why is there such a drastic difference between the call to prayer in Scripture and the lack of fervent prayer in the church today?
In Matthew 13, Jesus teaches the well- known parable of the Sower where He speaks of seeds that are sown into four different soils. Jesus explains to His disciples the spiritual meaning behind the parable and reveals the various factors that cause many to not receive the message of the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 13:19-23.) However, the Holy Spirit recently highlighted to me that the conditions of the soils in this parable are also representative of factors that inhibit believers from growing in their personal prayer lives.
It is important to note that in this parable, the seeds were not the issue that prevented growth. It was the condition of the soil. The call to prayer as a disciple of Jesus isn’t the issue. It is often the soil of our heart that hinders us from engaging and growing in prayer.
Three Factors That Inhibit Prayer
1. Lack of Understanding
In Matthew 13:19, Jesus reveals that the first seeds fell along the path and were eaten by the birds. They were able to be snatched away by the enemy, because there was a lack of understanding. Although prayer is commonly talked about in church today, many believers may be lacking a true understanding of the purpose and power of prayer. Without this understanding, it becomes difficult to sustain a lifestyle of prayer. I believe that prayer has two primary purposes.
- Intimacy with God: Throughout Jesus’s time on earth, Scripture makes it clear that He often withdrew from the crowds to devote Himself to prayer (see Luke 5:16.) There is an undeniable intimacy that Jesus had with the Father, much of which was cultivated in the times that He spent alone with Him. Likewise, it is in a place of prayer that the Lord often begins to reveal His heart, His burdens, His plans, and His thoughts to us. As He reveals Himself in this way to His children, intimacy is cultivated.
- Our Words Matter: The words we speak hold more power than we are often aware of. The Bible is filled with prayers that dramatically shifted circumstances and radically changed lives. Through Elijah’s prayer, a widow’s son was raised from the dead (see 1 Kings 17:17-22.) Through Hezikiah’s intercession, 15 years were added to his life after being told he would die (see 2 Kings 20 1-6.) Through Joshua’s petition, the sun stood still for 24 hours straight (see Joshua 10:12-14.) Through Job’s prayers, the judgment of God was withheld from his friends (see Job 42:7-9.) While it may remain in part a mystery to us as to why God has chosen to operate this way through our prayers, there is no denying the fact that He is moved by our words! Our prayers matter, because they move Him to action when we pray according to His will (see 1 John 5:14-15.)
It is important to note that the order of these purposes of prayer is crucial! Intimacy with the Father must always be our highest aim. To seek to move God with our words without first knowing His heart is unlikely to produce fruit. Our motivation for intimacy with God should not be answered prayers. Rather, answered prayers are simply the byproduct of intimacy with Him.
2. Lack of Intimacy
The second group of seeds in the parable fell on rocky ground but quickly fell away, because they had no root. A lack of intimacy with God will lead to a disengagement in prayer. In John 17, we see a powerful, intimate prayer being prayed by Jesus on behalf of those who will believe in Him. These were some of Jesus’s last words on earth, so it is important to understand that He isn’t asking the Father for His believers to perform mighty miracles or to dispel the powers of darkness. While these are tasks we are called to as believers, it wasn’t Jesus’s final ask of the Father. Instead, He asks God that His followers would experience intimacy with Him. In verse 21, Jesus asks ‘that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.’ The primary means through which we cultivate this intimacy with the Father is through prayer. If we do not have our roots deep in God, we will quickly be swayed and fall away from prayer when difficult and trying circumstances arise.
3. Lack of Eternal Perspective
Jesus reveals that the third seeds fell among thorns which grew up and choked them out. Matthew 13:22 notes that it was ‘the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches’ that prevented the seeds from being fruitful. Often in prayer, there is a lack of eternal perspective that inhibits believers from persisting in prayer. When we are caught up in earthly thinking, we can quickly discredit the reality of eternity which in turn discredits the need for prayer. Instead of fixing our minds on things above, we can be caught up in ways of thinking that actually lead to death. We live in a culture that constantly promotes an ideology that will mean absolutely nothing when we stand before the throne of God which is why we must be diligent in standing guard against a worldly mindset. Earthly thinking will lead to prayerless lives.
Let’s Continue to Grow in Prayer
It was the fourth soil in this parable that yielded great fruit. Jesus notes in Matthew 13:23 that ‘As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundred fold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’ When we understand the power and purpose of prayer, it produces fruit in both our lives and the lives of others. It draws us into intimacy with the Father and causes the circumstances around us to shift as we partner in prayer with Jesus to see His kingdom come and will be done in the earth.
There is a notion in the church today that some people are called to be intercessors and others simply are not, that some people are given a natural desire to pray and others are not. It is worth noting however, that Scripture never alludes to the idea of intercession being for a select group of people. Intercession is not a gift of the Spirit. Intercession is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is a call and responsibility of every follower of Jesus Christ.
The truth is, every believer has room to grow in their prayer life. Whether you find yourself in a place of having little desire to engage in prayer or already have a healthy, well- established prayer life, there is always more. There is wisdom in each of us examining ourselves to see if there is a lack of understanding, lack of intimacy, or lack of eternal perspective that is inhibiting us from growing in our prayer life. Jesus is calling His bride back to the secret place of prayer and unity with Him. And there truly is no sweeter thing than to walk in intimacy and fellowship with our Creator!