Persisting in Prayer
About the Guest
Is prayer often the first thing to go when life gets busy? Prayer warrior Paul Miller explains how praying to God should be just like having dinner with an old friend; you love being with Him, you don't have an agenda, and you can talk about anything. Paul tells how the birth of his autistic daughter, Kim, has taught him to value and persist in prayer.
Paul MillerPaul E. Miller (MDiv, Biblical Seminary) is executive director of seeJesus, a global discipling mission, and best-selling author of books and interactive Bible studies including A Praying Life and J-Curve. He and his wife, Jill, live in the Philadelphia area and have six children and a growing number of grandchildren. Follow @_PaulEMiller on Twitter, listen to the Seeing Jesus with Paul Miller podcast, or learn more at seeJesus.net.
Prayer warrior Paul Miller explains how praying to God should be just like having dinner with an old friend; you love being with Him, you don’t have an agenda, and you can talk about anything.
Persisting in Prayer
Bob: Are you one of those people who would say, “You know, my prayer life could be better than it is.” Paul Miller has a spiritual diagnosis for you.
Paul: The problem with prayerlessness is not self-discipline—which most people think, “If I were more spiritual.” The key to having a praying life is having a permanent sense of a poverty of spirit—that: “I can’t do life on my own.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We will hear today how you can cultivate a deeper relationship with God through prayer.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know how many people you have challenged over the years—several hundred thousand if you count the radio program—but I am talking about face to face, hand to hand, [and] eye to eye. You have challenged a lot of men, over the years, to pray daily with their wives—a discipline that you and Barbara have practiced in your own marriage; right?
Dennis: Right; right.
Bob: If I read the statistics right—I think, among Christians, it is about 2 percent who do something like that.
Dennis: We surveyed about 100,000 people in the church—we are not talking about those who do not go to church and don’t claim any kind of relationship with God. We found that about 70 percent of us pray for our children, 35 percent of us pray with our children, 10 percent of couples pray together outside of a meal, and less than 2 percent—probably closer to 1 percent or less, as a couple, pray together every day.
Bob: I wonder—maybe our guest knows—I wonder if there is any data on how many followers of Christ just pray on their own, on a daily basis, or more than that.
Dennis: Let me introduce our guest then and let him answer the question. Paul Miller joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Paul, welcome back.
Paul: It is great to be here.
Dennis: Paul is a prayer warrior, and he trains prayer warriors. Actually, he trains—what did you call it, “badly-praying Christians”?
Paul: That is right. We prefer the ones who have given up on prayer.
Bob: That is your target audience.
Paul: Yes. That is our target audience. [Laughter] It is the broad middle of the market. [Laughter]
Dennis: He has written a book called A Praying Life. Back to Bob’s question, how would you answer that?
Paul: I would say, from our prayer seminars—we have probably done about 70 of them. There are questions—we do them very interactively. We’ve done about 70/80 seminars. I would say about 10 percent of Christians, who actively go to church, have a regular, consistent prayer life.
Bob: Are you defining that—I mean, I do the “arrow” prayers / the “bullet” prayers—you know.
Paul: I’m not talking about that. People who have some kind of written form of praying—they are following up on. They are thinking about their prayers. They are not just sort of—these people are also meandering their way, through the day, praying—but the people who are really thoughtful about praying.
Bob: And that would not be me; okay. I would be in that camp of 90 percent, who are not like that. Should I be like that?
Paul: You mean thoughtfully praying? Yes. We would love for you to be there. [Laughter]
Bob: I mean, I would say—
Dennis: Bob thoughtfully prays. He is just saying he is not going to have that regimented journal approach—that is what it sounds like.
Bob: I don’t have a prayer list. I don’t have a prayer closet. I don’t have a prayer chair. I don’t have a time, every day, that is my “prayer time.”
Paul: Let me give you a quick story on that from Jesus’ life.
In Mark 1, the gospel writer described Jesus’ first day of public ministry. He begins the day in the synagogue—it is in all the Jesus films—and the demon-possessed man cries out in the synagogue. Jesus casts out the demon, and then He goes home to Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law there.
Word spreads through the whole town of Capernaum on this—the casting out of the demon and the healing—but it is Sabbath so no one can do anything. They can’t be healed on the Sabbath, and you can only walk so far. Mark describes this beautiful scene outside Peter’s door that night. As soon as the sun sets, the whole town gathers at the door. Jesus heals far into the night.
Then, the next morning, Jesus is up before the sun is up; and He is off praying.
He is praying long enough that the crowd re-gathers. Peter discovers Him—probably a couple of hours later. One of the things I love to ask people is: “If the Son of God has to have a prayer”—because Luke tells us Jesus does this a lot.
Paul: “So, if the Son of God has to have a regular prayer time”—
Paul: I’m sorry, Bob. I’m sorry to compare you to Jesus. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, I think—again, you are talking to most of us; right?
Paul: Oh, I am! It’s 90—I am talking of people going to church regularly. Actually, it would be a cut above because people are coming to our prayer seminars who are someone who really wants to learn how to pray—it’s a cut above the pew-sitter.
Bob: I have to tell you that I think one of the reasons why I gravitate away from that—instead of toward that—is because, somewhere in the back of my mind, I think that acting and doing is more important or more effective than praying.
Now, I know as soon as I say it—
Dennis: You are talking about the task.
Bob: I am talking about getting after it and getting something done.
Paul: I am convinced that America is the hardest place in the world to pray because of that active—I mean, when you sit down to pray, you aren’t getting anything done that you can see. Every bone in your body—and your mind is wandering—you are doing it badly. There is nothing like a prayer time to make you realize how unspiritual you are. So, why should you have an activity that tells you that you’re a spiritual idiot?
Paul: You know?
Bob: Yes! So the answer to that is—
Paul: Stop it!—that is what most people do.
Let me go back to Jesus and His prayer time. The difference between us and Jesus is that Jesus is the most dependent human being who ever lived—He can’t do life on His own.
Dennis: Right; right.
Paul: How do we know that? He says it all through John—
—He says, “I do nothing on My own.” This is John 5:19. “I do just what I see My Father doing.” John 12: “My Father tells Me what to say, how to say it...” His brothers come to him in John 7 and say, “Hey!” They give a Marketing 101 lesson and say, “Let’s go up to Jerusalem.” Jesus says, “You can do whatever you want, but I can’t.” Here is someone, who is the most dependent human being. Prayer for Him is life! Does that help?
Bob: It does—keep talking. I just need the regular reinforcement of what we’re talking about.
Dennis: Yes; yes, I do. I think something you talk about in the book would be helpful, at this point. You describe prayer as something similar to having dinner.
Dennis: Explain what you mean by a dinner party.
Bob: Yes, because I understand that—dinner—I do that regularly. [Laughter]
Paul: What I am trying to do there is to try to describe the end game.
I am not trying to frustrate people by telling them that prayer is like a feast. What I do is—say: “Think about a couple of old friends or new friends—people you just love being with.” For Jill and [me], it is really our—probably more than anything—our grown kids. We have been through so much together—we love one another. You don’t need any agenda—we can sit around a campfire for two to three hours and not repeat ourselves. We love it.
That’s what good prayer feels like—it feels like a dinner with old friends. I say that, not to frustrate people, but just to let people have a goal out there that this really can be one of the most delightful things you do.
Dennis: It is an intimate invitation—
Paul: Yes. It is.
Dennis: —to really—I don’t mean this irreverently—to sup—have fellowship, beverage, food—and feast with the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of the universe.
Paul: Yes. Let me join you, Bob, in this prayerlessness; okay?—so you don’t feel like you are alone—
Bob: Thank you.
Paul: —and make a difference. This was two-and-a-half years ago. One of Kim’s struggles is she would get up about 4 or 4:30 in the morning.
Bob: This is your daughter who is—she is mute?
Paul: She is autistic. One of the things autistic kids will do—sometimes they will—the big word they use is perseverate—she will do something again and again. She would run down the hallway—like at 4:30 at night, up on the third floor. Jill and I sleep on the second floor. She would flip the light on, run back to bed, stay in bed for five minutes, then run back to the hallway and flip it off. She would do that for like an hour.
Jill would tell her to get back in bed. Because there were three doors separating us from Kim and one floor, she had to tell her loudly, which sounds a lot like yelling. [Laughter]
Jill would yell at Kim. It wouldn’t do much good; but it was simple—like, “Kid, get back in bed.” We call it the “yelling approach” to life.
To get more exciting, Jill and I would pray separately in the morning. She would go downstairs and have her devotions on the first floor, and I’d be on the second floor. Kim would be pacing on the third floor. Jill would have to yell at me so I would yell at Kim. So, this is—Bob, two-and-a-half years ago, I’d probably done about 50 prayer seminars, at that point. So, I’m doing prayer seminars—yelling at Kim while I’m praying. Okay? Does that make you feel better?
Bob: That helps a little bit.
Paul: Two years ago, last December, like a quarter to 5 in the morning, Kim starts pacing. I started to get up out of bed because I had been convicted that I should pray with Kim. Jill says to me: “Paul, what are you going to do? Are you going to go yell at Kim?” I said: “No. I am going to go pray with her because yelling hasn’t worked for ten years.”
She started laughing—she says: “What do you mean 10 years? It has been 20 years.”
I went up and I put my hands on Kim—just sat down next to her on the bed. She was kind of trembling, sort of with nervous energy, under the covers. I just prayed for her that God would quiet her. As soon as I started praying for her, I knew something that I hadn’t known before. It was so clear—I knew that I had underestimated Kim’s ability to pray on her own and to own her own behavior. Interesting—that thought—in two years and four months, I have not forgotten that. It is kind of neat to see what God has done with that.
On the other track—about four months after I started praying for Kim in the morning, dragging myself out of bed and going up to the third floor—her running completely stopped.
It just completely stopped. She has never done it again.
Dennis: Now, were you praying that she would stop running?
Paul: Yes. I went upstairs and I prayed with her. I should have been clearer—I prayed: “God, calm her. Help her not to run,”—not very complicated—just praying what I wanted. It has completely stopped. It stopped because we moved. What we had not known was that there was a factory across the street, and the diesel trucks would start up and awaken her.
Here is the mystery of prayer—and this is where you have to watch cynicism. We were already planning that move. We already had an agreement of sale on our house already, prior to that prayer. The cynical person would say: “You didn’t need to pray. It would have happened anyway.” I would say, “I have to be like a little child, and I just have to go to my Father with what I see.” You can’t reverse engineered prayer. You just have to be like a little child.
Bob: As I first came across a copy of your book and started reading it, it was right about the same time in the cycle of teaching at church I was teaching through Luke 11—the very beginning of the chapter, where we see the abbreviated version of Jesus’ pattern for prayer. The thing that struck me over and over again, as I was meditating on that and preaching through it, every line of that prayer is an acknowledgement of our dependence in every area of our life.
Paul: Right; right.
Bob: So what [does] Jesus [want] us to do in prayer? It was just clear: “Continue to acknowledge your dependence;” because, on a daily basis, we forget how dependent we are. We think we are self-sufficient: “I can handle this. I can absorb the weight instead of God doing it.”
Paul: Here is a quick story. This is—I mean, it is not a big deal. Kim—because of her problems with motor planning and it is just hard for her to do things physically—about five years ago, we started in the morning—Kim pouring milk into her glass.
It gets really scary because the milk goes all over the table. But we just had to get—so I am sitting there, praying, while she is pouring. Kim’s weakness forces me to pray.
Bob: You are praying, “Lord, help her hit the glass”?—is that what—[Laughter]
Paul: It is not really complicated: “Lord, help her get it into the glass.” [Laughter] For the last four years, when this would happen—Jill, who loves things pretty neat and has a great sense of humor—but she would leave the kitchen. It was just too scary—milk would be all over the place. We would have to—as we would pray before it / we prayed during it. The gift of this weakness, right at the heart of our home, forced us into a praying life. You really either get angry and cynical or you become praying.
Dennis: I have to ask you about that because that visual—that milk coming out of the carton into the glass—
Paul: Well, it was more on the table that first year.
Dennis: Okay—more on the table—and you praying. Help me understand how you processed this when Kim completely missed the glass and splattered it all over the table, after you had been praying, for six months, for her to hit the glass. How did you process that? At that point, did you have the thought: “Lord, I am a child. Did you not hear what I asked You?”
Paul: How do your children, when they are younger, Dennis—because that is what Jesus says we are to be like in the Kingdom—how do they process you saying, “No,” to something when they want something? Do they go quietly and say, “Oh.” Don’t they come back like 500 times?
Bob: “Dad?! Dad!”
Paul: They just pester you. Jesus says, “Become like a little child—keep pestering.”
Bob: Even if it’s the wrong thing to pester God for?
Dennis: Well wait—how do you know it’s wrong?
Bob: I mean, some things you know they’re wrong—just because you can see that they’re unrighteous; right?
Dennis: Oh yes. But I mean—pouring milk has to be a moral neutral. [Laughter]
Bob: It’s an amoral activity. That’s a good point; yes. You don’t know that that’s right or wrong; right?
Dennis: Yes. So, answer the question, Paul.
Paul: Let me make sure—I’m not sure I got the question.
Dennis: He’s basically saying, “It hasn’t worked in 400 times.”
Bob: And pestering just feels like a lack of maturity. I mean, when my kids do it, I’m saying, “Grow up and quit pestering me.”
Paul: Oh, Jesus tells us to pester all the time! He has two whole stories on it. There is the story of the unjust judge with the widow.
Dennis: Oh, yes—I like that story.
Paul: I mean, it’s a great—I mean, finally—this judge is awful! The only reason he does it—he looks at, “I can fix this problem or this woman is going to torture me for the rest of my life.” He says: “You know what? Let’s stop the torturing,”—so he does it.
And the other one—of the friend, at midnight. Jesus tells stories/parables—about adults who act like pestering kids in order to encourage us to pray.
Paul: So, pester, Bob.
Dennis: —tell the truth: “When you have to clean up the milk—you are going to be late for an appointment—do you ever get a little ticked at God?—
Paul: Oh, yes.
Dennis: —for not answering your prayer like you wish it would have been answered?
Paul: Yes, but that is part of the whole thing of the story of what God is doing in the story. He is drawing—His best gift to me is drawing me into the life of His Son Jesus. He wants my life—I am just paraphrasing Philippians 2—He wants my life to look like His Son: “Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus.” Permitting suffering in my life continues to expose my pride and my self-will.
Bob: We talked earlier about how your daughter, Ashley, had prayed for years for her sister, Kim, to speak.
Paul: Right; yes—yes.
Bob: God didn’t grant that request to Ashley. Has—
Paul: —at that time.
I mean, Kim, since then—let me give you one way that God answered that prayer request. He is still doing it in different ways now. We had gotten a speech computer for Kim. They are wicked hard-to-learn. We tried a little bit—it sat on the shelf for three years.
I wanted to write a book about Jesus. The thought came to me is: “How can you speak about Me when Kim doesn’t speak?” I was immediately convicted of that. In other words, “How can you write, Paul, a book about love when there is an area of love in your life that is missing?” I put aside plans to write a book on Jesus, which never would have worked out anyway at that time, and I prayed, “God, how do I teach Kim how to do this?”
About three weeks later, we got a flyer in the mail. There was a speech computer camp in New Jersey—where I knew the woman who was doing it. I thought: “Hey. We can do this.” We went to that speech computer camp.
It was a hard place to be—all these kids with all these disabilities—kind of a shock to me. I was used to Kim but not all these other kids.
I learned all kinds of things about how to help Kim. We opened up what they call, in the Special Ed world, her IEP in the fall. She began to have a daily lesson. Slowly, over a period of about eight years, Kim learned how to be fluent. Kim speaks really well—she is very articulate. You guys heard her at lunchtime, with the help of this speech computer.
Bob: So, does Ashley look at that today and say, “God did answer my prayer”?
Paul: I would have to ask Ashley.
The neat thing is— she [Kim] is also starting to use her voice. God led us to a speech therapist in Manhattan, who helped train Kim with what they call motor planning. Kim couldn’t breathe a straight breath for ten seconds, which you need for a sentence—she couldn’t hold her jaw steady.
She still does speech therapy every day with Kim. She is really getting so you can start hearing her. We call it her God-voice. In fact, probably—maybe two years ago, she said her first words, which were, “Shut up!”—which now, she has gotten really good at. [Laughter]
Dennis: Kim is how old?
Dennis: I am just looking at your book here. I am thinking of the 90 percent who really do not practice a vital prayer life. I am thinking this would make a great gift for any follower of Christ to begin to go through—and maybe for a husband and a wife, who are just starting out their marriage together.
Bob: Or really for a couple at any stage in their marriage—whether they’re in the middle of raising kids or in the empty nest—wherever you are.
The book is called A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. You’ll find copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource center. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Look in the upper left-hand corner of the screen where you see a link that says, “GO DEEPER.” When you click on that link, there’ll be information available there about Paul’s book, A Praying Life. You can order it from us, online, if you’d like—again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order by phone. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
One of the reasons we’re talking about prayer this week is because—well, really, two things—first, because of the movie that’s coming out this weekend called War Room by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. It’s the latest movie from the guys who did Courageous and Fireproof. This new movie is about prayer in marriage.
And then, in the month of September, we are challenging FamilyLife Today listeners to join us on a 30-Day Oneness Prayer Challenge, where you pray together, as a couple, for a couple of minutes every day for 30 days. We’re going to make it as easy as possible for listeners to do that. All you have to do is go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” and you’ll see a link there for the Oneness Prayer Challenge.
You can sign up and say: “We’re in. We’re taking the challenge.” We will send you a prayer prompt each day. It will give you something to pray about and just an additional reminder that, “Oh yes, we’re praying together every day this month.”
We’ve already had a bunch of people sign up—we’d love to see your name added to that list. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner that says, “GO DEEPER,” and sign up for the Oneness Prayer Challenge for the month of September.
And, if you are able to help FamilyLife Today with a donation today, we’ll send you an additional incentive—a resource to help you pray together.
It’s a book by Dennis and Barbara Rainey called Two Hearts Praying as One. It’s our gift to you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Here, in the last days of August—this is a particularly strategic time for you to consider making an investment in this ministry. We are closing out the books on our fiscal year at the end of this month and starting a new fiscal year in September. We’re hoping to end the fiscal year in as strong a position as possible—your donation today would help us do that.
So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I care,” to make an online donation. Let us know that you’d like a copy of Dennis’ and Barbara’s book, Two Hearts Praying as One. We’ll send it out to you as a thank-you gift. You can also donate by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can mail your donation, along with your request for the book, to FamilyLife Today at PO
Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
By the way, after you’re done making your donation, there’s an opportunity to sign up for the prayer challenge, at that point, as well. We hope you’ll do that.
And we hope you’ll join us again tomorrow when we’re going to talk about what Jesus meant when He said that we should have the faith of a child and should pray with child-like faith. We’ll explore that with Paul Miller tomorrow. Hope you can be there for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with help today from Mark Ramey. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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