Some of my earliest memories are of prayers I offered as a very young boy. “Now I lay me down to sleep….” Following my mother’s lead phrase by phrase, as I was tucked into bed each night, we would then go through the list of family members one by one. “Bless Grandpa and Grandma Brown, bless Grandpa Patten,” and so on. From a very early age my mother laid a foundation of prayer in my life that today continues to serve me well.
Sadly, however, as is often the case in our culture, the foundation that was laid in my youth was not built upon until well into my adult life. Even after serving in ministry for years, prayer was a weakness in my walk with God. As I have looked back to discover why, and how this weakness was turned into a strength, it became apparent to me that two things had been missing. First and foremost was priority, and right alongside that was discipline.
At some point I decided that my highest achievement in life would be to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Aware that a disciple is a disciplined follower, I had to honestly assess my life and make adjustments. As I considered the five basics of Christian life (study of Scripture, fellowship, giving, witnessing, and prayer), it occurred to me that a healthy prayer life would be beneficial in the other four areas as well.
I would like to be able to say that establishing prayer as a priority in my life came easily and quickly. However, that would be fiction. There have been scores of individuals over the years who elevated the importance of prayer for me. One such person was Bill Hybels, who, in his book Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God, provided some structure whereby I began to discipline my prayer life.
At about the same time, I organized a group of friends who were committed to praying for others, and they held me accountable as a prayer partner. For several years Covenant Circle was a group that I had the privilege to be a part of as we interceded for one another.
Like many young people, I rebelled against discipline, but thankfully, years later I came to understand its value.
Hebrews 12:10 and 11
(10) Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
(11) No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
In Hebrews 12 the Greek word paidia, translated “discipline,” has to do with the instruction of a child. As any good parent knows, instructing children well requires devotion. It is a matter of dedication and focus over time.
God disciplines us for our good so that we might share in His holiness, righteousness, and peace. I find it interesting that while the first half of Hebrews 12 is largely focused upon discipline, there are also three images present that are important to consider in this discussion. I am referring to the athlete (v.1), soldier (v. 4), and farmer (v. 11). While gumnazo, translated “training” in Hebrews 12:11, from which we derive the word “gymnasium,” is an athletic term, it is also pertinent to the farmer and the soldier.
2 Timothy 2:3-6
(3) Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
(4) No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer.
(5) Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.
(6) The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
In our culture there are many examples of athletes who excelled due to their devotion in training. Recently I read Quiet Strength: A Memoir, by Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy was recounting a story he had heard about Joe Montana and his approach to training:
“Joe had been with the San Francisco 49ers for a number of years, helping them win several Super Bowls. Year after year, the team ran head coach Bill Walsh’s same offense. At the beginning of each season, Bill installed the offense the exact same way, with the plays installed in the same order. The first play he installed—every year— was “22-Z In.” Joe Montana could run “22-Z In” in his sleep.
When Paul Hackett became offensive coordinator for the 49ers, he installed “22-Z In” just as Bill Walsh instructed him. Paul realized that Joe knew more about “22-Z In” than he did, but when the meeting was over, Paul saw that Joe had taken three pages of notes. He’d documented exactly how Paul wanted to run the play, as well as all the basics of “22-Z In” and its details. That’s what a professional does.” 
When I think of the training required for farmers, I have the memory of my Uncle Jay Patten with whom I spent many summer days as a boy. For Jay, his training was like that of farmers in Bible times. His father Wayland taught him, as his father William, and his father James, and his father Samuel before them taught their sons. The lasting impression I have of a dairy farmer is faithfulness. Every day, at least twice a day, cows must be milked. The family farm, which once was the backbone of this nation, was a team effort that required endurance, faithfulness, and trust in God.
Examples of athletes and farmers are helpful in the life of a disciple. An athlete must play by the rules. The farmer must be faithful. Both must endure. However, the image of a warrior is critical for the disciplined follower of Jesus Christ because it is a matter of life and death.
I am amazed at the vast number of Americans who apparently are unaware that we are a nation at war with radical Islamic Terrorists. Since the 1980’s, our Embassies, ships, and military barracks have been attacked. The World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993 and then brought down on September 11th, 2001, when we were also attacked in Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. The leaders who perpetrated these attacks have declared war on our country, and maintain that position to this day. Yet many citizens seem oblivious.
Ironically, a similar blindness which is even more pronounced, if that is possible, resides in much of the Christian Church. We have an Enemy that is at war with all that is holy.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
One of the first and most basic tenets of training for war is being clear about who the enemy is. The history of the Church is littered with examples of brother fighting brother or unbeliever. This should not be!
(10) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
(11) Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
(12) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The enemy we are to fight is the Devil and his forces of evil. It is the fallen nature of man that focuses on the flesh. Our fight is a spiritual one. The next thing a warrior must be clear about is his mission. It is a mistake to think we can defeat the Devil and his cohorts. That is the mission of Jesus Christ. In the meantime our mission is to stand our ground. To do so requires the correct equipment.
(13) Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
(14) Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
(15) and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
(16) In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
(17) Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
When a soldier is clear about who his enemy is, knows his mission, and is outfitted for battle, there still remains much training as to how the armor is used most effectively. In addition, strategies and tactics of battle must be perfected.
(18) And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
(19) Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
(20) for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Many times when this section of Ephesians 6 is considered regarding the spiritual conflict, verses 10-17 predominate. Often verses 18-20 are used as an exit mechanism or they are ignored altogether. This is most unfortunate, because a warrior who is untrained, even though fully armed can be a detriment rather than a benefit on the field of battle. Notice that verses 10-17 only refer to terms of outfitting the warrior and not of his training. Phrases such as; “put on” (10 and 13), “around your waist” and “in place” (14), “feet fitted” (15), “take up” (16), and “take” (17) say nothing about the use of this equipment or the strategies of warfare.
The connection between the warrior and prayer is well illustrated in the life of David, the great king, upon whose throne Jesus Christ will one day sit (Luke 1:32). Much of David’s life was defined by war, from the time he stepped up to confront Goliath until the land had been conquered and peace came to Israel (1 Kings 5:3-5). Even though there was much blood on David’s hands, it is clear there was even more prayer in his heart. You will be hard pressed to find one person in the Bible who has more prayers recorded than David (2 Sam.7; 1 Chron. 17, 21; Ps.3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 29, 31, 38, 39, 41, 51, 62, 63, 64, 65, 86, 108, 140, 141 and 143 [and there are more]).
‘…I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
1 Kings 11:4
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.
David is a sterling example of the prayerful warrior. Jesus Christ surely learned many lessons pertaining to combat with the evil one from the life of David. One lesson must have been that of trust.
Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of a life devoted to God, and he was clearly devoted to prayer.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
This verse has long been a model for prayer in my life. God could have had Mark say, “Jesus went outside in the morning and prayed.” But no, the verse stresses the effort and discipline Jesus invested in prayer. We could expect the abbreviated version of verse 35 that I just offered, because Mark’s style of writing is abrupt and terse. He is generally very economical with his words. Yet in verse 35 he goes into extreme detail. Very early, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, went off to a solitary place, and finally, prayed there. When we see this record against the backdrop of his previous day it speaks very loudly of Jesus’ devotion to prayer.
After recruiting Apostles to follow him (Mark 1:20), Jesus entered Capernaum (v. 21) and went to the synagogue and taught the people (vv. 21 and 22). While he is there a man with a demon upsets the presentation, crying out loudly (vv. 23 and 24). Jesus ministers to the man and casts out the demon (vv. 25 and 26). Again, the crowd responds with amazement to Jesus (v. 27). The entire region was all abuzz over the news (v. 28). Jesus heads over to Peter and Andrew’s house, where they find out that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever (vv. 29 and 30). Jesus goes in and heals the woman, and she gets right up and serves them (v. 31), but the night is just getting started. The entire town shows up at their door with sick and demon-possessed individuals and who knows what time he got to sleep, if at all. So much information is crammed into these 11 verses that there is a sharp contrast to the detail in just one verse (v. 35) regarding Jesus and prayer.
God has made it very clear that we can never pray too much. We are to be faithful in prayer (Rom. 12:12). We should pray on all occasions, with all kinds of prayer, and always keep on praying for the saints (Eph. 6:18), as well as pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17). It has been my experience that as one pays the price and becomes disciplined to pray, the Lord is then able to discipline him in prayer. Prayer is where our relationship with God the Father and Jesus His son becomes living and real. Jesus has left us a wonderful pattern of a conversational relationship with God.
As workers together with God (1 Cor. 3:9) we need open lines of communication to effectively fight the forces of evil that are arrayed against us. It is my belief that it is never too early or too late in one’s life to become devoted to prayer. The Creator of the heavens and the earth longs for dialogue with us. Being in the presence of God is a truly awesome thing. Jesus has gone into the throne room of God and beckons us there.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
 Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength: A Memoir (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL, 2007), p. 271.