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Our Problem with Prayer

Photo of John CaldwellJohn Caldwell | Bio

John Caldwell

Dr. John Caldwell served Kingsway Christian Church of Avon, Indiana, as senior pastor for 36 years, retiring in 2010. During those years, KCC progressed from a small, infant congregation to a thriving megachurch. John has authored five books, has written dozens of published articles, and served as president of both North American Christian Convention and the International Conference on Missions. He has traveled in over 100 countries and ministered alongside missionaries in more than 25. John has been married to Jan since 1965, and they are parents to Shan and Jennifer. John presently leads John Caldwell Ministries, preaching, teaching, and holding seminars, with an emphasis on ministry on the mission field.

We can understand everything there is to be understood about the purpose of prayer, but it is only as we practice prayer that those purposes are fulfilled. And when it comes to the practice of prayer, no one set a better example for us than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

In Mark the first chapter, we read of a day in which Jesus called His first apostles, healed many sick people, cast out demons, caused such a sensation that crowds of people pressed in on Him, taught people about the Kingdom of God and ministered late into the evening. It must have been an exhausting day. Yet Mark observes in verse thirty-five,

“And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.”

Repeatedly we find such references in the Gospel accounts. Again and again Jesus withdrew to pray. Before He chose His disciples, Jesus needed to be alone at prayer. On the Mount of Transfiguration, where He had to make a very important decision about His ministry, Jesus needed to be alone at prayer. In the upper room with His disciples, Jesus spent much time in prayer.

In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, from the first day of His ministry to the last, Jesus needed to be at prayer.

Please note that while prayer was important at those momentous milestones of Christ’s life, it also permeated every facet of everyday life.

We read of Jesus praying when He healed people, when He ate a meal, when He took a trip, before He taught, when in the temple and on and on. It appears that it was His regular practice to spend the early morning hours in prayer to His heavenly Father.

But what of us? What of modern day man’s practice of prayer?

According to the response to the Spiritual Disciplines Survey, only 4.4 percent of the people in our church (Kingsway) prayed thirty or more minutes per day. Only 16.5 percent of the area preachers did. Meanwhile, 54 percent of our people prayed less than five minutes per day as did 13.5 percent of the preachers. The survey revealed that 70 percent of our people didn’t even keep a prayer list.

Something was frightfully wrong.

There are more books on prayer than on any other Christian discipline. Sermons are preached, seminars held, programs organized, but the people of God do not pray.

Dr. W.F. Lown wrote: “Somewhere there must come a cessation of reading and preaching about prayer, and let there be an initiating of a vibrant prayer lifestyle. People, I suspect, are more likely to eagerly go to seminars on prayer than they are to engage in the laborious and tiring task of praying itself. Prayer is hard work. It is also dangerous. We need to be sure that we want God to answer the prayers we are offering to Him. Do we really want to pray for God to make us more like Jesus in a world which spat upon Him, scorned Him and finally crucified Him? Do we?”[1]

Dr. Lown shared an experience which again underscores the pathetic state of the church in regard to the practice of prayer.

He was to lead the devotional periods of the planning meeting for the North American Christian Convention. He was assigned the theme of prayer. He decided it would be more profitable to spend time praying rather than talking about it. So they spent the thirty minutes allotted for each day in prayer.

One day, however, he asked each man (over 100 Christian leaders) to jot down on a piece of paper the approximate number of minutes they spent each day in prayer. The shocking average which he reported back the next day was three minutes per day.

Lest you think that was a fluke, the workbook, Christian Disciplines, from InterVarsity Press reports: “A lack of time or quality in prayer seems to be an almost universal frustration among Christians. One survey of American pastors reveals that the average pastor spends only three minutes a day in personal prayer.”[2]

Let us take no comfort in the fact that others may be even worse off than ourselves. Spiritual growth and power will not be experienced with such prayerlessness.

The great giant of prayer, E.M. Bounds, wrote:

“Non-praying is lawless, discord, anarchy. The whole force of Bible statement is to increase our faith in the doctrine that prayer affects God, secures favor from God, which can be secured in no other way, and which will not be bestowed if we do not pray.”[3]

Spiritual growth and power will not be experienced with such prayerlessness.

[1] W.F. Lown, personal correspondence, Joplin, MO, Dec. 31, 1987.

[2] Andrea Sterk and Peter Scazzaro, Christian Disciplines (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1985), 13.

[3] Jack Taylor, Prayer: Life’s Limitless Reach (Nashville: Broadman, 1977), 34.

(Excerpted from John Caldwell, Intimacy with God: Christian Disciplines for Spiritual Growth [Xulon Press, 2009], 35-37. Used with permission.)