Prayer: An Essential Spiritual Discipline

When I was a child, my family would pray at meals, and my mom would pray with us when she tucked us into bed. In church, we would all close our eyes and listen while someone prayed and thanked God for the day and asked God to be near the sick.

Prayer was a reflex. Mealtime. Pray. Bedtime. Pray. Church service. Pray. I could recite prayers like you would recite a nursery rhyme. I went through the motions out of habit like I brushed my teeth twice a day out of habit. Prayer was routine, and it had a tidy box where we kept it.

Then my dad got cancer, and the gift of a casserole and the prayers for God to be “near the sick” just didn’t reflect our desperation for God. “Didn’t he part the Red Sea and raise Lazarus from the dead?!” my teenage heart questioned. We came together in our living room, with our Bibles open on our laps, and cried out to God in prayers that deviated from our typical five-line script.

We were scared, but then we read in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (ESV). So, timidly at first, we asked God if he would take away our fear. He answered! Our faith grew as we continued reading and praying through Scripture. God did heal my dad from cancer, and we rejoiced in this miracle. But even more significant than my dad’s physical healing was how God trained us during that time to stand strong in him through prayer and the Word.

Prayer as a Discipline

God knew I would need these lessons under my belt when he led my husband and me to a majority-Muslim megacity in South Asia. I was young and completely overwhelmed by palpable darkness and my own insufficiency to accomplish mundane tasks, much less lead others to Christ. So I succumbed to the taunts of the enemy through panic attacks in those early days.

In my exhaustion and anxiety, my times of daily prayer became a shallow list of incessant complaints, leaving me completely unarmed for the battle I had just walked into. We were on the front lines of a spiritual war being waged for the people of our city and I might as well have been sleeping. I had become easy prey. I had been caught off guard by the enemy’s swift attack on our family. But that’s when God reminded me how to fight.

I went to God’s Word and read Ephesians 6, the book of Joshua, and 2 Chronicles 20, focusing on how God told his people to stand. It sounded so easy. Just stand. Yet in the midst of crashing waves of fear, anxiety, and the weight of the lies that kept millions around us in bondage, standing was not a small task. To “stand firm” like Joshua was going to require action on my part.

“Standing required discipline in my prayer life and time in his Word.”

Standing required discipline in my prayer life and time in his Word. Although I tried to survive on perfunctory prayers off and on during the day, I realized that was not, nor ever was, sufficient. I needed God—not to just bless my food or watch over us while we slept. I needed him to be able to do anything in this new place to which he had called us.

God made me acutely aware of my weakness but in a new, empowering way. God’s Word says that in our weakness he is strong (2 Cor. 12:9), and I desperately knew I needed his strength in my life. Nobody in South Asia needed me to be superwoman. They needed to see and know the Almighty God.

God Works through Prayer

God took away those panic attacks, but not until we got up and prayed his Word like we never had before. We were his children, and he was with us. Not only that, he was for us. What more did we need? We prayed on our spiritual armor believing that as we asked God to give wisdom, he would. We walked room to room in our home praying God’s Word, trusting that as we asked him to push back the darkness with his glorious light, he would.

The Lord strengthened us as we learned to never take off our armor. Many missionaries live in spiritual war zones drenched in darkness in which the enemy tangibly works to thwart their efforts. We have seen that Christians either stand armed and join the Lord in this battle, or fall defeated.

“We have seen that you either stand armed and join the Lord in this battle, or fall defeated.”

Over the years as we have walked through many challenges, God has continued to teach us the importance of prayer and how he works as his people pray. There have been seasons of chaos and crisis when I literally slept with my Bible so that I could pray through Scripture when I woke up in a sweat of anxiety. When I was out of words to pray, I prayed his Word instead.

We also invited other believers to pray for us and the unreached peoples of South Asia. Eight years ago, God led us to write short, weekly prayer updates. I had no idea what I would write, and only ten people asked to receive weekly mailings.

Yet I started writing, people started praying, and God produced the fruit. Everyone involved, including our South Asian brothers and sisters in Christ, saw God work week by week. He answered time and again—even down to the details—in ways that have changed our lives and the lives of those around us.

There is no special class to take or box to check that guarantees we will thrive on the mission field. But as we discipline ourselves to offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving in all things, God cuts away pride and self-sufficiency, making us usable in his hands. God promises to fight the battle, but that doesn’t get us off the hook. We pray in faith. And we get a front seat to watch God shine light in the darkest of places and completely transform lives for his glory.

Madison Strauder enjoys sharing stories from her travels around South Asia.