Most often, it's only when we fail an exam that we are honest with ourselves about just how little work we've been doing. No matter how much steam we vent over the stupid exam style and difficult MCQs – we know deep down that it was because we didn't stick to our study plan.
It is during times of stress, heartache and disaster that we can be found on our knees crying out to God. The value and privilege of prayer suddenly come into focus again; we wish we had been talking to God a whole lot more. Perhaps it is at these times that we realise how we've been approaching prayer as an emergency bleep rather than a constant stream of conversation.
I'm sure we all long to go beyond mediocrity in our Christian lives, but are we – today's generation of Christian medics – prepared to seek the face of God in prayer? As we look at our medical schools and CMF groups, we may not diagnose a state of emergency. But is it only then that we begin to ask God to demonstrate his power? These questions may seem out of this world – but we must ask ourselves radical questions if we desire radical change. And in truth, prayer is the beginning of an eternal relationship, the joy of a life devoted to our Saviour, the struggle of living in a sin-dominated world, and the commitment of a lifetime. With this in mind let us think about how we pray, when we pray and where we pray.
how do we pray?
God's heart for this world is revealed to us through the Bible, so it's good to pray with an open Bible if we can. In this way we can be sure we are praying in accordance with his will. Let's take a quick look at Jesus' master class on prayer (Mt 6:5-15) to remind ourselves of the correct approach:
- You have an approachable Father. The Spirit works within us to enable us to cry out to him, 'Abba, Father.' 
- He is in Heaven. Remember, you are coming to the exalted and glorious king of the universe, so bring big requests. Who knows how he will change the lives of our classmates or the laws of our country?
- Remember that our Father is holy; pray that all men and women would respect and revere him. Recall this in your daily living and practice of medicine.
- Pray for his kingdom to come. Does your heart call out 'Amen' at the thought of Jesus' return? Pray that God would place his heart in us so that his will would be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Pray that we would take part in the work to build his kingdom as we learn in lecture theatres and clinical placements.
- Ask for the simple things in life. Trust that God will provide for our daily needs if we ask for them. Student debt can loom large, but don't become consumed with the love of money.
- Don't forget your sin in God's presence. We need to have our sins washed away daily. These are serious in God's eyes. But before he forgives us our huge debts, we must forgive the tiny ones that we hold against our friends or enemies. Even if our consultant humiliates us; or our friends let us down – we ought to forgive. How else can we respond, when we understand what Jesus did for us on the cross?
- When we know the joy of forgiveness and the beauty of Christ's robes of righteousness that cover us, we should have a renewed desire to avoid temptation and ask for deliverance from the evil one. We can be tempted at university as never before. Pride, drunkenness, sexual immorality, impurity, envy, idolatry, anger, hatred, slander, crude jokes, bad language, gluttony, laziness – the list goes on. We want to get as far away from these danger zones as possible.
To this we can agree wholeheartedly, saying amen! Another succinct lesson on prayer that I love comes from the Westminster Catechism:
We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and a deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.
when do we pray?
We should not be legalistic about when to pray, but I'm increasingly convinced that we need to be disciplined to rid our hearts of sin and pursue holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, as an example, rose early in the morning to pray while it was still dark.  It is a good practice to go to bed at a reasonable time so that we can get up early. We also know that Daniel set aside three slots each day to pray to God,  as did the psalmist. 
If you want to put this into practice, it's helpful to plan. Dig out your diary and set time aside for prayer. Don't be too ambitious at the start, but try your best to keep to your promises. Why not try setting aside a full 15 minutes for God, where you remove yourself from all distractions to give him your full attention? It's worth it! And who knows, the Holy Spirit might lead you to pray for longer. But don't be limited to set times, for we are instructed to pray without ceasing.  Grasp each free moment to walk with God through the day. However, remember God doesn't hear you because of your many words;  an earnest heart is far more important. For those of you who have difficulty concentrating, it may be helpful to write your prayers down in your journal; I do this to direct my train of thought.
Aside from the Lord's Prayer and our personal concerns, there is still much that we can pray for specifically. Our friends and family will have prayer requests and it's good to devote time to praying for your medical studies. Do remember the work of CMF, as well as what's going on in the wider world. A prayer diary is useful for helping you to pray regularly for all these things. For example, you could allocate a slot on Tuesday to pray for your unsaved friends and a slot on Wednesday for your church.
where do we pray?
Much of what is considered prayer today seems mystical and distracting. Adjuncts are promoted, claiming to make our prayers more effective. For example, music, candles, meditative methods, and incense – none of which are biblical. Instead, Jesus commands us, 'But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.'  It's simple heart to heart communication with our Father in Heaven.
We close our eyes to remove distractions; we bow our heads in humility and reverence before our holy God. In the Bible we read of various postures that serve to reflect the attitude of the heart – standing, kneeling, and prostrating.
praying with others
Solitary prayer is important but Jesus also expected us to pray together; he taught us to say, 'Our Father'.  It's important to pray regularly with our churches. You may be able to encourage your church to pray for God's hand on the medical profession; they might even be willing to pray for the work of CMF.
Do you pray together with CMF members for God to work in your medical school or hospital? Members of the CMF group in Glasgow meet every morning before class to pray together. Students lead a weekly prayer group for first year medics at Imperial College, London. Others meet at lunchtimes in their hospitals once or twice a week; some groups pray together once a month as part of the regular CMF meeting. During the National Students' Week of prayer in February 2007 we found it a great blessing to meet for prayer every morning, even though it sounded like a big commitment at the time. Why not talk about the possibilities the next time your group meets; and I pray that your discussion leads to action!
We know our weaknesses in prayer, but don't let them grind us to a halt. Jesus was frustrated with his disciples when he found them fast asleep during his most stressful time on earth.  He had asked them to watch and pray. Instead, they were content to fall asleep, even after he rebuked them twice. But this wasn't the end for the disciples; they became the pillars of the New Testament church. They were human just like us, but God eventually used their prayers to turn the world upside down. It isn't easy work; Isaiah 62 gives us a picture of watchmen tirelessly looking over Jerusalem:
On your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance,
take no rest,and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it a praise in the earth. 
Just as the watchmen were spurred on by the promise to restore Jerusalem, so we can be spurred on by Jesus' return and the restoration of all things.  When we follow the example of the persistent widow,  or Jacob wrestling with God,  we trust that we will see unimaginable blessings according to the will of God and for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Let us not be silent: take no rest, give him no rest. Let us pray faithfully for a day when all Christian medical students are active in fellowship with one another and in evangelism to the world. A day when the nation will look at the church and see, without a shadow of doubt, that there is a living God who reigns.
We look for the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. [14,15] Then, we can get up from our knees and take our rest, for the kingdom will have fully come.
I recommend these books on prayer…
- Ryken PG. When You Pray: Making the Lord's Prayer Your Own. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006
My top pick for a simple and succinct book on the Lord's Prayer. It's not just theological, but practical too!
- Mack W. Reaching the Ear of God. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004
Based on the Lord's Prayer and the issues it raises, this is a longer, more thorough book.
- Thomas D. Praying the Saviour's Way. Fearn: Christian Focus, 2003
A cheap and concise book on the Lord's Prayer that is sound and helpful.
- Chapell B. Praying Backwards. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005
The spotlight is turned from ourselves to God, whilst not belittling the hurts and desires of our hearts.
- Carson DA. A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Leicester: IVP, 1992
A refreshing look at the powerful prayers of Paul – a great book for your quiet time or group discussion.
…and some free audio sermons for your mp3 player!!
- Mark Loughridge - www.newlifefellowship.ie
/Sermons /files /category-6.html
- Warren Peal - www.ballyclabber.org
/sermons; www.ballyclabber.org /lordsprayer.html /sermons /prayer.html