by Mark G. Holbrook

We don’t know how to pray. The Bible is clear about that (Romans 8:26). But God, in his goodness, not only gives his Spirit to intercede for us, but also provides us with precepts on prayer in his Word.

Ecclesiastes 5: 1–2 tells us:

Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.

In just two verses, God reveals several disciplines of prayer:

Prayer is purposeful. If you were invited to give a sermon or devotional at your church, and you felt qualified to do it, how much time would you spend preparing? An hour? A day? You would likely spend as much time as necessary to appropriately prepare your heart and mind.

In the same way, we are to prepare our hearts for prayer. Ecclesiastes 5:1 in The Message reads, “Watch your step when you enter God’s house.” We are to enter into prayer with purpose and care.  

Prayer is prioritized.  “…draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.” We all know it—the uncomfortable silence that can follow after someone is asked to pray. Heads bow, yet no words are spoken. A pause likely used to prepare a heart, incline an ear to listen. Remember young Samuel in 1 Samuel 3? Eli trained him to say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Listen first, then speak.

Prayer is premeditated. Verse 2 in The Message says, “Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think. Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear. God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better.”

Sort of puts us in our place, doesn’t it? Writing out your prayers is a great way to discourage hasty and impulsive conversations with God. Many of Paul’s prayers were written out… that’s why we have record of them.

Prayer is patient, persistent, and simple.  “…therefore let your words be few.”   

This verse reminds me of the prayers I heard visiting Templo Biblico in Monte Plata, Dominican Republic, like, “Lord, thank you for healing Maria,” and, “Lord, thank you for bringing a husband to Rebekah.”

Or my granddaughter’s simple yet faith-filled prayer for her soon-to-be-born baby sister, “Thank you that the baby is safe when it comes out of Mommy’s tummy.” She thanks God in advance, fully trusting that he has things under control.

Even our Lord Jesus kept his prayer simple–what we call The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 is just 59 words.

Yet even with direction on how to pray, we struggle. Our propensity is to be impulsive and hasty; we tend to babble and over-complicate and carry on. So God does not leave us to our own devices as we pray. He gives us his Spirit, who prays on our behalf and turns our utterances into a sweet sound to our Lord. Isn’t God gracious to give us all we need to communicate intimately with him?

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