Praying Past the Ceiling
by Joseph Franks
There may be numerous reasons for the stagnancy of your prayer life. Perhaps the lack of communion and perceived distance between you and God is the result of your failure to pray. You have been commanded to pray without ceasing. You have been promised that if you draw near to God, he will draw near to you. Scripture tells you that you have not because you ask not. Spiritual vibrancy is found as one stays close to the vine. Yes, perhaps your prayer life seems futile and empty because you pray less than you text.
Perhaps the experiential static between you and God is the result of idolatry in prayer. Scripture commands you to love God and his kingdom more than yourself. Jesus taught his disciples to pray with God’s will, kingdom and glory first and foremost in mind. However, do you pray primarily to coax God into giving you what you want? Do you find yourself more consumed with your kingdom than his? Surely you would never say this aloud, but in reality, do you view God as your magic genie who exists to grant you your three daily wishes? And when he fails to perform according to your expectations, do you become irritated at his lack of customer service?
Or, perhaps the distance between you and God is the result of relational sin. Perhaps you have not loved your neighbor as yourself, and the consequences have been a lack-luster prayer life. This reality is presented in the third chapter of 1 Peter:
1 Peter 3:1-12 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” ….
In this passage, Peter addresses three groups of people. He reminds wives to worship God by respecting the leadership of their husbands and by living life with humble, stately beauty. Peter commands husbands to honor their wives as fine china. These ladies are to be treated as delicate woman of incredible value and worth. Then, Peter transitions to address the Christian community at large. Believers are to strive for humility, compassion, forgiveness and unity. Christians are to be known by their pure conduct and conversation. Then comes the warning. One must be cognizant of his or her relationships so that:
“One’s prayers may not be hindered” (vs. 7)
“One may obtain a blessing” (vs. 9)
“The eyes of the Lord might be on him who is righteous” (vs. 12)
“The ears of God might be open to his prayers” (vs. 12)
“The face of the Lord might not be against them.” (vs. 12)
Putting these thoughts together we see the following principle: A sweet hour of prayer is somewhat conditioned upon sweet and godly relationships with our neighbors. Either Peter is mistaken, our God does not respond well to the prayers of those who ignore their relational responsibilities.
Therefore, what ought we to do? First, we ought to talk with God about his law. We need to remind ourselves of his priorities in seeing us love him and our neighbors properly. After all, these are the greatest commandments. Then we should meditate on Scripture, recognizing God has given us specific principles to guide us in our worship of him and love of others. In the Bible, God describes the ideal husband, wife, parent, child, elder, employer, employee, citizen, etc … We need to begin with the proper standard in view.
Second, we ought to run to the gospel of grace. We should recognize there is not a righteous wife, husband or disciple out there; we are not the exception. We need to see ourselves as sinners in need of God’s daily grace and follow up by running to the cross. Confession precedes communion.
Thirdly, following our confession before God, we might need to send an email or make a phone call to someone we have offended. It is my contention that as we do this, we will find ourselves worshiping God and being warmed by the Holy Spirit. We, who have formerly grieved the Spirit, will now find ourselves being nourished and restored by his grace.
Finally, we should then find ourselves longing to continue our worship by conversing more with God. His presence will be more enjoyable, and our prayers will be sweeter, less self-centered, less sporadic.
Once again, here is the main point of application: A sweet hour of prayer is somewhat conditioned upon sweet and godly relationships with our neighbors. When we love God with all our heart, and love our neighbors as we ought, we should experience our prayers going much further than the ceiling.