Gaining a Passionate Prayer Life

Gaining a Passionate Prayer Life

adapted from Wrestling Prayer

by Leslie Ludy | July 1, 2012

“My life is one long daily, hourly record of answered prayer. For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvelously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor service, I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that God answers prayer.”

– Mary Slessor, missionary in West Africa in 1876

My mom bakes great homemade bread. Each loaf has that luscious, bulbous, golden-brown sort of look, smells of heaven, and glistens with buttery scrumptiousness. But no matter how hard I try to imitate my mother in this culinary arena, my version of her hand-me-down recipe never seems to turn out as good as hers.

Let’s see...flour? Check. Water? Check. Yeast? Check. Baking soda? Check. Salt? Check. Dough conditioner? Check. I whip the whole collection of ingredients together, kneed it in my Bosch, let it rise, stick it in the bread pan, bake it at 325 degrees for 40 minutes, and what do I get? Holes in my bread. Aargh!

A lot of us feel this way in our spiritual life. Commitment? Check. Ten minutes of uninterrupted time? Check. Hands folded? Check. Sweet angelic prayer voice? Check. Desire to see prayers answered? Check. “Amen” placed at the conclusion of a long list of smart-sounding requests? Check.

We jam all of these ingredients together a couple of times a week, mutter our long list of smart-sounding requests for ten minutes, stare up at the ceiling in hopes of seeing manna fall from the crawl space, and what do we get? Holes shot in our expectations. Aargh!

So many of us are defeated in our prayer life before we ever even get started. “I tried praying like that,” people say, “but it just didn’t work for me.” “Prayer is a bit overrated,” others mutter. “God knows how much I love Him – I don’t think He needs me to tell Him a whole bunch of things He already knows.”

Most of us have tried whipping up a quick batch of bread somewhere along the line in our Christian life, and it didn’t turn out very well. Our souls said, Aargh! and the pain of the disappointment we felt still lingers inside of us. And as a result, we have thrown the whole concept out so we don’t end up with unmet expectations or our hopes once again dashed against the rocks of disappointment.

But we need to start again. And this time, with a different recipe – one that was handcrafted by God Himself. Many of us have had spiritual leaders who have given us faulty recipes for prayer, recipes that lead to precisely this sense of defeat and discouragement that so many of us feel. We need to throw out the tepid and tame renditions of prayer and inject the fight and the fervor back into the whole operation.

When I bake bread and forget the salt, it does not mean that what I remove from the oven is not bread. It is bread. But it is bread that does not taste quite right.

In many ways, that is precisely what has happened to the majority of our modern-day recipes for prayer. They are missing some key ingredients and they have had counterfeit filler materials thrown in to compensate for those ingredients.

A Recipe for Wrestling Prayer

Let me give you a quick peek at the recipe for prayer God has introduced Eric and me to over the past few years. I think you will find that it only vaguely resembles much of what many of us have been surrounded by throughout our lives.

The recipe for true wrestling prayer mixes an ample supply of faith with absolute abandon to the Spirit. It combines a healthy dose of spiritual swagger with a truckload of tenacity. Then it blends together several generous servings of focus, holy aggression, and heavenly audacity.

That’s one confusing list for those of us who grew up in the domesticated and unenthusiastic modern Church. In some ways, it is like exchanging the water and the salt in the bread recipe for Tabasco sauce and horseradish. It is adding some serious heat to the experience.

These are the ingredients that, when combined rightly by the blazing Spirit of God, change the world and alter history. Most of the items on the list above are somewhat foreign to many of us, but the lead ingredient sounds a bit familiar: faith.

Faith is confidence, assurance, all-out trust that someone who said he would do something will in fact do it.

My little boy, Hudson, does not squirm with doubt when his daddy promises him that we will go to the zoo when he awakens in the morning. He trusts Daddy’s promise, without question, without hesitation, and lays his head on the pillow with delight and unmitigated enthusiasm squealing within his heart.

Scripture says that those who want to engage God and truly live as He has called them to live must first believe He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. This is where it starts. We must first believe, and then everything else begins to come into alignment.

But therein lies our modern dilemma: we do not actually believe what the Bible says. Oh, we believe bits and pieces of it, but we do not truly believe that the living substance of the life of Jesus, (not to mention Job, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Daniel, Elijah, Elisha, Peter, James, John, and Paul) is intended to be planted squarely in the midst of our bodies and animate us to live lives likened unto His. We just don’t buy it. We wriggle beneath a hovering doubt when notions of being victorious over our addictions, being freed from our lusts, or conquering our fears comes up in conversation. And we have no grid whatsoever for notions of walking on water, calming storms, giving sight to the blind, or seeing the dead raised back to life.

Why is it that we can believe the Bible and believe God can do anything He wants, but become sheepish and hesitant whenever the idea of God doing something huge is applied to our personal situations or circumstances?

What we call “faith” these days is, in fact, what Jesus referred to as oligopistos, or “little faith.” It is not that we don’t have confidence in our God to save us from hell; we just don’t have confidence in Him to do everything else He promised to do while we are still on earth. But this is where the mighty prayer life begins. The recipe calls for faith. And this is the real sort of faith – not the doubting, never sure rendition that is served up with a chorus and an offering basket these days at your local church; rather, it is the kind of faith that moves mountains and changes the direction and flow of history.

You may find that when you open the pantry of your soul to see if there is any faith there to stir into this grand recipe for prayer, that you are running seriously low.

But don’t panic. Because if you panic here, it will only get worse as we go down the rest of the recipe list. These are ingredients that are necessary for the prayer life that God has called us to enjoy, but we need to deal with first things first. We need to acknowledge that our pantry is, for the most part, barren. Before we can start wrestling in prayer, we need to seek the elements that will help us wrestle in prayer.

So here are some practical things that you can do right now, today, this week, to begin to change the condition of your pantry.

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Faith-Building Exercises for Wrestling Prayer

1. Find Faith-Building Testimonies

One of the best ways to build faith in Jesus Christ is to surround yourself with believers who are strong in faith – Christians who believe that God is as big as He claims to be, and have personally seen His power and faithfulness demonstrated in mighty ways.

During my teen years, I was deeply impacted by Krissy, Eric’s sister, when she was fresh off the mission field. Krissy was full of amazing stories about how God had miraculously provided for her, protected her, and supernaturally brought souls into His kingdom. Hearing her accounts of God’s faithfulness exposed my own low expectations of God, and as a result, I began to pray bigger prayers and see more miraculous things happen in my everyday life.

In addition to Krissy’s modern-day experiences, I was also incredibly inspired toward a life of faith by reading historical accounts of great Christians throughout the ages. History is filled with stories of mighty men and women who overcame impossible obstacles through faith in the power of their God. The problem is, in our modern day and age, we do not hear many stories that build our faith. Rather, we seem to hear the opposite. The most popular books in the Christian market are typically those in which the authors talk candidly about their disappointment with God, their difficulty finding a real experience with God, and their grappling with the reality that God just does not seem as big as Scripture makes Him out to be.

Our faith will not be built by messages like that. Our perspective on the magnitude of God’s power will not be strengthened by singing lackluster worship songs that focus on us instead of Him. One mega-church in our area is fond of using the U2 hit, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For in their Sunday services. How can such mediocre meditations possibly convince us that God is with us, ready and willing to perform mighty works in our midst?

Instead, if we want to strengthen our faith-building muscles, we must flood our hearts, minds, and souls with reminders of the faithfulness and power of our God, and disregard all messages that speak anything else.

In Ephesians 1:19, Paul wrote that he desired us to grasp “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.” God has provided mighty power for His children; He has called us to perform valiant exploits for His kingdom and His glory. But this power can be accessed only by those who believe. If you find it difficult to grasp the exceeding greatness of His power toward you, begin listening to testimonies that glorify the faithfulness of God. If you have heroic Christians in your life who have personally witnessed the power of God, meet with them and ask to hear some of their stories.

And even if you do not know any faith-filled Christians, there are plenty of inspiring books and biographies that can build your faith through the testimonies of mighty men and women of God who have gone before you.

Here are some of my and Eric’s favorites:

Tramp for the Lord by Corrie ten Boom

The Pastor’s Wife by Sabina Wurmbrand

Gold Cord by Amy Carmichael

George Muller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson

Rees Howells: Intercessor by Norman Grubb

Chasing the Dragon by Jackie Pullinger

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor

2. Keep a Prayer Journal - and Get Specific

Recently a young Christian friend of ours told Eric, “I never pray for anything specific. I’ve always been told that if you pray for something specific and God doesn’t answer it, you’ll get disillusioned with God.”

This is a typical attitude among modern Christians. We are afraid to get too specific with our prayers because we are worried that God won’t answer us. It is far easier to pray vague, general prayers so our hopes are not disappointed. But here is a crucial truth: specific praying is the key to building faith.

It is the way Christ asks us to pray. (See Matt. 18:19-20; Matt. 21:21; Mark 9:23; and John 14:12-13. James speaks similarly in James 5:15-16.) It is the pattern of Scripture. And when we are willing to go out on a limb and make a specific request of God, our faith grows as we see Him come through for us.

One of the best ways to build your faith is to keep a prayer journal and write down specific prayers that you are bringing before God. Then wrestle in prayer for them on a daily basis until the breakthrough comes. Record every answer to prayer, small or large, in your journal. Then, a few months or years later, you will be able to read back over your prayer journal and see the faithfulness of God. Whenever I have kept a prayer journal and revisited it later on, I am always amazed at how God demonstrated His power in my life – and my faith is built mighty and strong.

Eric and I have found that we didn’t really understand praying until we began to pray specifically. As Charles Spurgeon said:

There is a general kind of praying which fails for lack of precision. It is as if a regiment of soldiers should all fire off their guns anywhere. Possibly somebody would be killed, but the majority of the enemy would be missed.

Our prayer journals echo the testimony of Martin Luther, who attested:

No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.

If you keep a prayer journal and are daring enough to bring your specific requests continually before God, this will be your testimony as well.

Dr. Goulburn, Dean of Norwich, once said,

The greatest Old or New Testament saints were on a level that is quite within our grasp. The same power that was available to them is also available to us.

For Eric and me, that statement is the essence of how God has called us to live, and it is the message He has called us to proclaim to others. As Eric and I have taken wrestling prayer seriously, our lives have been completely and utterly transformed.

No matter who you are or how ordinary your life seems, if you dare to take God at His word and wrestle in prayer until the answer comes, your spiritual life will never be the same. In fact, history will never be the same! This dying world needs more people who are ready and willing to believe big things of a big God. I hope and pray that you will be among the first in this generation to answer this sacred call.*