In the mercy of God a new year, 2012, has  commenced. It brings new opportunities for  service and spiritual growth. Have you ever  looked at prayer in the context of new year’s  resolutions? Few if any of us would feel that our prayers are adequate; life for many of us is so cluttered and regulated that little time or thought  might be given to this most important aspect of our  lives and worship.

It is true that in Christ we have an exalted and  wonderful relationship with our heavenly Father,  but like all relationships it must be two-way, God  speaking to us through His Word, and we to Him  in prayer.

An unequal relationship

Our heavenly Father loves us and has exalted us to heavenly places in Christ Jesus, but the relationship is unequal for He is so great. As His creatures we  must show Him respect, and at times even fear. Because He is immortal, eternal and incomparable  in wisdom and power, we listen to Him and obey.  Pride is fatal; humility is essential; “to this man  will I look, even to him that is poor [lowly] and  of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa  66:2; 57:15). Because we are frail and mortal we are  all in need of our heavenly Father’s kindness and  gifts. Recognising our smallness in His sight it is  appropriate that we address Him as “Our Father  which art in heaven”. This at once acknowledges  His greatness and His care.

There is love in this relationship which draws  us together. We have so much to be thankful for  and which should elicit from us praise. We are so  thankful that He has opened up a way of salvation  for us in giving His dear Son for the life of the  world. Our love, our praises and our prayers are a  response to this love that was first shown by Him  (1 John 4:7–10). We cannot treat prayer lightly; it  is an integral part of our lives. It has been said that  our lives must be a prayer, that prayer is not a series  of visits to God but a relationship, and that prayer  is to our spiritual life what air is to our natural  body. That is why our Lord was so frequently found  in prayer; why he said that “men ought always to  pray” (Luke 18:1); and why Paul said, “Pray without  ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

Distractions

We find it hard to focus, and are susceptible to  distractions. Even in the most sacred of moments  quietness and privacy are desirable. That is why our  Lord said, “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet,  and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father.”  The moment our thoughts deviate from what we are  ‘saying’ our prayer is invalidated. Words we may utter  but if the heart is not in tune, they avail nothing.  And remember – our Father knows the things that  come into our hearts, “every one of them”! (Ezek  11:5). “God is a Spirit [an intelligent Being, unlike  an idol]: and they that worship him, must worship  him in spirit [sincerity] and in truth” (John 4:24).

Persistence

In the parable of the Unjust Judge, Jesus points out  that even one who fears not God or men can be  prevailed upon by persistence. If that is true with  one unprincipled, how much more it is true in the  case of a loving God Who is longsuffering and Who  pities us, knowing our frame to be but dust (Luke  18:2–8; Psa 103:13–17). For this reason we should  not give up praying, remembering that sometimes  He answers prayers by not answering them in the  way we might wish, but according to His will and  for our eternal well-being (Jas 4:3; 1 John 5:14–15).

Persistence evidences real faith in God, that we  believe in His power to answer and provide. If we  do not pray when in need, or at all, it may mean the  opposite, that our faith is faltering, and we need to  spend more time at the well from whence faith comes,  the Word of God, and study and meditate upon it.

There have probably been times when we have  earnestly prayed for someone in need, but have not  persisted. Perhaps we have even forgotten their  plight! This is part of our human frailty, but if we  were more aware of our Father’s care and power it  would be less likely to happen.

James tells us that the “effectual fervent prayer  of a righteous man availeth much” (5:16). If we  really believed this I am sure we would live more  prayerful lives.

Enoch

He “walked with God”, we are told (Gen 5:24).  What does this mean? He was in harmony with  Him, was at all times aware and conscious of His  presence and sustained a close relationship with  Him. We know that two cannot walk together  unless they be agreed (Amos 3:3). There must have  been unity and constant communion between  Enoch and God for this phrase to have been a  summary of his life.

Effectiveness

David’s psalms are outpourings of his mind to God.  We might well marvel at how he developed such a  close relationship with God. How did it happen?  For him to be described by God as a man after  His own heart is salutary praise. But what about  you and me?

David’s mind was the product of a godly  upbringing, of instruction from early days in the  Word of God by remarkable parents and forebears  in the notably faithful small town of Bethlehem.  In the secluded fields he tended his father’s sheep  under the starry host of his heavenly Father (Psa  19:1–6). There he meditated, learned to trust in  and love Yahweh (Psa 18:1–2); there a character  was forged that was fearless before the enemy  (1 Sam 17) and that would guide the people of  God “by the skilfulness of his hands” (Psa 78:72).  These are ingredients that we cannot ignore in our  spiritual growth. David’s life was punctuated by  prayers to God, the Psalms, and mankind has been  the beneficiary ever since. And most significantly,  there is revealed the mind of great David’s greater  Son, our Lord.

Two important elements

Double-mindedness invalidates prayer: we must  ask in faith nothing wavering (Jas 1:6). Jesus taught  the same lesson when the disciples marvelled  that the fig tree had withered so soon after being  cursed. He called upon his disciples to have faith in  God: “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray,  believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them”  (Mark 11:20–24). The same need to believe is also  highlighted in Hebrews 11:6, “he that cometh to  God must believe that he is [exists].”

It is noteworthy that our Lord added another  element. Our attitude towards each other can  influence God’s response to us. Significantly he  added, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye  have ought against any: that your Father also which  is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses”; and  so as to underline how crucially important this is he  adds the corollary, “But if ye do not forgive, neither  will your Father …” (Mark 11:25–26, cp Matt  6:12,14,15). God is not disposed to forgiveness if  we have a harsh and unforgiving attitude towards  our fellow servants. Our relationships with our  brethren and sisters are very important and if they  are not harmonious we should do all in our power  to bring this about (Matt 5:23,24).

Prayers of husbands, too, can be “hindered” if they  are inconsiderate and forget that they and their wives  are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet 3:7).

Prayer and family

Parents must bring up children in “the discipline  and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4 rsv). This  involves commitment, wisdom, self-sacrifice, tender  affection and consistency. Children need also to  observe good role models: our example in word  and deed is paramount. Our values and ways will  greatly influence them.

As heads of the household fathers must take the  lead, and seeing the evening meal is probably the  time when families are together it is an opportune  time for prayer and the ‘daily readings’. This is not  going to happen as a matter of course! It requires  determination and foresight in order to meet the  ‘objections’ and interruptions that may occur until it  becomes accepted practice. And it should be made  a happy time in which children can participate in  reading and when the questions of their day can  be asked. The fruits of this valuable activity will be  reaped in due course.

Our children, “the heritage of the Lord”, are  going to need a strong faith and a viable relationship  with the Father and His Son in order to overcome,  to fight against the evil that will beset them. This  relationship commences when children hear God  speak in His Word and respond in their prayers  to Him. This is a responsibility we cannot leave  to others. There is much truth in the words, “The  family that prays together stays together”, and the  Lord Jesus said that men “ought always to pray, and  not lose heart.”

What better new year’s resolution can we make  than this?