Summary: The practice of prayer helps us grow spiritually to know God better and become more like him.

[Background Image: Fresco of Michael Angelo on the Sistine Chapel, Imago Dei]

Last week we looked at our need to grow spiritually, the Apostle Paul tells us in Col. 2:6-7, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to live in obedience to him. Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught.”

Paul uses the illustration of a tree. In order for a tree to be full, healthy, and growing it must send its roots down deeper in the earth. The size of the tree will be determined by how much the roots grow down and out. The same is true with us in a spiritual sense. The observable parts of our lives, our behavior (what we say and do) and our character (integrity), are all directly related to the invisible part, our roots, our spiritual life, our relationship with the Lord. I cannot emphasize this enough; as long as our spiritual roots in Christ are shallow we will continue to struggle with our behavior and our character because they are directly linked to our spiritual life. If we are going to experience the abundant life God has in store for us we need to grow spiritually. Growing spiritually means we receive God’s grace to know him better (in other words it’s relational) and mature to be more like him (we reflect Jesus’ character and actions, doing what he would do). As our roots go down in Christ, God does a work in our life, he changes us so our behavior and our character reflect him.

Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we are growing spiritually. To get to the heart of determining whether we are growing spiritually we can look back over the years and ask ourselves, do we have a closer relationship with Christ more and reflect him more than we did a year ago, five years ago, ten? Are we more loving, kind, patient? Do we have more joy and peace? Or do we have a shorter temper and get angry easier, do we worry more, struggle more with materialism? If we are not changing to be more like Christ, we are not growing spiritually. We have stagnated, we are root bound. A plant that is root bound may look good, but it will now grow, and eventually it will start to suffer. Fortunately, God loves us too much to leave us that way. God wants us to know him more, to grow to be more like him. God wants us to have an abundant fruitful life. God nudges us forward.

To help nudge us along God has given us practices, or disciplines, as they are sometimes called, to help us grow spiritually, these are the same practices Jesus did when he walked this earth. These practices are not magical, doing them won’t change anything in your life, rather they make us available to God to be changed by him. Imagine we are out in a sailboat but rather than rely on the sail we start paddling (“I’m going to change my ways, change my life, be a better person”). We move forward, but very slowly. When we practice these spiritual disciplines what we are doing is making the decision to stop paddling on our own, and adjust our sail to catch the wind of God’s Spirit and allow His Spirit to move us. As we catch God’s Spirit he in turn helps make the spiritual growth happen in us. Sometimes we may need to make slight course corrections by turning the rudder (there are some things we have to do or change on our own, which we will look at today) but it is still the Spirit who makes the difference.

The first practice we are looking at today is prayer. The reason we are starting with prayer is because prayer is the most essential way God uses to relate to us and to help us grow. We talk a lot about prayer in the church. We know it’s important. We know we should pray for other people, particularly for those who are sick because we believe God will bring healing, and we know we should pray for those who need to come to faith in Christ, because we believe God will change their situation. But what we don’t often understand is that prayer changes us too. Richard Foster writes in his book Prayer, “The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son (Prayer, 57).” Did you catch that? In prayer we become so close to the Father that His Spirit works in us to conform us to be more like his Son, Jesus. Prayer is a primary means of spiritual growth.

Prayer is our Primary Means of Relating to God

Remember what I said about spiritual growth, it is knowing God better, it is about our relationship with God, or as Richard Foster said it, prayer is communion with God. When we use the word communion in reference to God you might be thinking of what we do when we share the bread and cup every month in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But the word communion means having a close association or relationship with another person. Prayer is meant to be the primary way we commune or relate to God. The beauty of prayer is that we can be in communion with God at any place, any time because God is everywhere, and he promises to be with us always. God also knows our thoughts as well as the word from our lips.

In Psalm 139, David wrote,

NIV Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

God knows everything about us, he even knows our thoughts, before we get a word out he knows it. That might make some of us very nervous, but it also means we can communicate with God no matter where we are, whether it is in our thoughts, or if we speak out loud to God. God is attentive to us, and he wants to be in communion with us because he loves us, as believers we are his adopted children.

How can we have a deeper relationship with a person without actually spending time with them? Communication is the key in any relationship. It’s why many relationships fall apart, like marriages, because there is a lack of communication or an unhealthy way to communicate. Prayer is God’s means of communicating with him, sharing our heart and listening to his heart. Through prayer God reveals himself and his purposes.

The Bible tells us that because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin we are able to go right to the throne room of God (Heb. 4:16). In fact it says we can come with bold assurance, humbly but not timidly, to “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We don’t need to pray through anyone else, if we are a believer in Christ we can go directly to God’s throne of grace. What an honor and privilege God has given us that we can have communion with him.

Jesus says:

NIV Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus stands there waiting for our invitation to commune with him.

Deepening The Prayer Life

Prayer Requires Time

Obviously to be in communion with God in prayer means we have to give God some of our time. It’s not about counting the minutes though. If we are counting the minutes we’ve lost the point. It is about quality time with God. It is about being fully present with God, giving all of our attention to him.

The Scripture tell us, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16).”

Jesus frequently spent time with his Father. It says, “He often withdrew.” It was a common practice for him. The Apostle Paul takes it one step further when he writes in 1 Thess. 5:17, “pray without ceasing,” or “pray continually.” Fortunately we have classic authors on prayer that let us know that praying without ceasing isn’t just about talking with God, or having a conversation with God all day long, that would be impossible especially if your like me and can’t multitask. Rather they tell us unceasing prayer means being in communion with God, being aware of God’s continual presence with me throughout the entire day, and offering up short prayers. Thank you God for giving me a parking spot,” or “what do you want me to share at this meeting,” or “please keep the kids safe during the game.” I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t gotten to that place yet myself, but it is a goal for me. Do we spend quality time with God throughout the day?

Prayer Requires us to be Free from Distraction

The scripture also says Jesus went to lonely places to pray, why? He did it to get away from the crowds that followed him everywhere he went, even to get away from his disciples, he got away from distractions, to spend time with his Father. Jesus was just as busy as we are, with just as many distractions if not more, even if he didn’t have kids to drive to soccer practice, and gymnastics and whatever else they are involved in. Yet he got away from it all to be with his Father.

We have to get away from all the distractions. This means removing ourselves from other people, phones (turn off the cell phone, mute), television, radio. If you call me when I am spending time with God, I promise you I won’t answer, who is more important? For some it may mean being in a certain place in your home. Many people have a spot which is specifically designated for prayer and Scripture reading. Personally I have a chair which I only use for my devotional time. Other may prefer taking a walk, or going to the church. Where can you go to be free from distractions?

Even without many of these distractions we are still bothered by a wandering mind. We have what John Ortberg calls “Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.” Rather than getting frustrated with yourself, offer your wandering thoughts to God, “is this a thought from you God? If not could you push this thought out of my mind?” Or you could also use the technique I’ve referred to before as the Magnadoodle (those modern day Etch-A-Sketch’s) or the flushing technique as I affectionately call it, when a wandering thought comes in, imagine in your mind the thought being erased or flushed…gone.

When you spend time with God, try coming to him without an agenda, just be in communion with God. Recognize his presence, thank him, praise him, perhaps sing a song to him. Try not to bring your list of prayer concerns, at least not right away, just be present with God. Like David wrote in Psalm 37, “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (v. 7).” When we come to God with an agenda it’s like going into a conversation with someone knowing everything we are going to say and so we aren’t really listening to the other person. Prayer is a two way street, we need to be attentive to what is on God’s heart. We need to allow God to lead us in prayer and show us who and what he wants us to pray for.

In Prayer God Reveals Obstacles to Grace

As we wait on the Lord in prayer, God may also reveal to us the stumbling blocks or obstacles preventing us from being in close relationship with him and from being conformed into Christ’s image. These obstacles make us root bound, they prevent our roots from going deeper in Christ. As I spend time with God, honestly and openly, God may reveal a sin, an attitude, or a habit which I need to confess and repent of because its getting in the way of my relationship with God.

We have to understand that we cannot grow spiritually without changing. Growth implies change. We have to give something up. We cannot stay the same and be more like Christ at the same time. Perhaps God wants me to have more love and joy in my life but I have an issue with unforgiveness, there is someone I am refusing to forgive because they hurt me so deeply. That unforgiveness is poisoning my spirit and preventing God from giving me joy. As I open myself to God in prayer, God will reveal the person I have not forgiven, he will place an image of them in my mind. Perhaps God will also bring to my mind a passage of Scripture like, “if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins (Mt. 6:15)” (Assuming of course that we are familiar with that passage of Scripture, which we will cover next week).

It could be an attitude. Perhaps I have a critical spirit or a negative spirit. I criticize everything and everyone rather than encourage them and build them up as the Scripture says we are to do. Having a critical spirit will block God from helping me become more kind and experience joy.

In Psalm 139, David concludes by singing/praying to the Lord to examine his heart. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting (v. 23-24).”

David asked the Lord to reveal to him any obstacles that were in his life, “search me,” “

“test me” O God, let me know if there is “any offensive way in me,” anything which is blocking your work in my life, which is preventing me from growing spiritually and receiving your blessings.

Once God reveals these obstacles through prayer, then we have a choice to make, am I going to continue to do this, or am I going to give it over to God. Will I confess it to God and repent and turn from it (repenting means to turn away from our sin, to quit doing it)? If we do not then it will hamper our spiritual growth, we will become root bound, spiritually speaking, until we repent of it and then God will allow the growth to happen again. Has God revealed any obstacles in your life which are making you root bound? A sin, an attitude, a habit?


How deep are your roots in prayer? Are you taking time to commune with God and to allow God to speak to you and work in your life?

When we fail to spend time in prayer, we are sending a message that we are too busy for God. Our relationship with God isn’t really all that important. We are also not making ourselves available to God, to be changed by him. We do not wish to know God better, and we do not wish God to bring change in our life to grow spiritually. Let me close with a Poem by Sandy Weiss:

[Poem by Sandy Weiss]

I saw you this morning as you got out of bed.

I waited for you to talk to me.

But, I did not hear a word.

This afternoon when you came home from shopping,

I waited again to hear from you.

But, I did not hear a word.

Tonight when you came home from visiting friends,

I waited to talk to you. But, you did not say a word.

This morning, I gave you a clear and sunny day, to do your shopping.

But, you did not even say thank you.

This afternoon, I lightened your mailbox, so you could rest.

But, you did not even say thank you.

And tonight, I comforted you, when you were upset.

But, you did not even say thank you.

This morning, I rode with you to the doctor,

I made sure the news was not bad.

But, you did not know it was me.

This afternoon, I visited you, Just when you needed a friend.

But, you did not know it was me.

This evening, I went ahead of you,

when you received that letter, that upset you so.

But, you did not know it was me.

I have been with you all day...

I have helped you all day.....

I have loved you all day....

I have smoothed the path for you all day.....

When will you tell me you love me?

When will you say thank you?

When will you realize I am with you always?

When will you talk to me?

written by Sandy Weiss