I am going to begin a series of short blog posts on various subjects of the Christian Life. My goal is to give you some short, concise answers to basic, and often forgotten, questions to these various subjects. Lord willing, this will help us come back to a basic understanding of why we do certain things, to what end, and simply how to do them. In this first post on “Quick Thoughts”, I want to address the topic of Prayer. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, here we go:
What is prayer? Prayer is the breath of a soul that is alive to God; if we are alive unto we pray. Prayer is overflow of the heart to the God who cares for you. Prayer is the cry of a dependent child for a powerful and sufficient Father who desires to provide abundantly for His children. Prayer is when we bow, not simply in posture but in the heart, to the one true God who hears us when we call out to Him in the name of Jesus. Prayer is the burden that the Holy Spirit places in the Christian in order that they might live unto God. Simply put, prayer is voicing adoration, confession of sin, thanksgivings, and needs of all kind to the Almighty God. Prayer is not speaking to the open sky or talking to ourselves in hope that someone somewhere with some omnipotence might hear us. Prayer is addressing God in faith that He hears, responds, and gives us what we need. Prayer is the response of the heart of faith to the promises given to us in Christ. Prayer happens after we read the Scriptures. It is when we read the Word of God that we then respond to Him. True prayer happens after reading the Word. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Matthew 6:6 tells us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Again we see in Luke 11:9, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Why pray? Prayer is the heart of dependence on God. We see the curse of sin manifest itself in our pursuit for independence. In our pursuit of independence, we are like a flower trying to live without roots. We are like a newborn baby refusing her mother. We pray when we realize that we need help. God created man in order to live in dependence upon Him and this dependence was part of what was good in the Garden of Eden when there was no sin. Prayer brings us back to who we were meant to be—creatures living in dependence upon their Creator. Prayer brings joy to the saddened soul. Prayer brings hope in the face of despair. Prayer brings intimacy when loneliness prevails in the world. Why pray? Because in prayer we draw near to God. Maybe the question could be restated this way: Why draw near to God? Prayer, at its core, is the sinner drawing near to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit with the confidence that this Triune God will satisfy my deepest longings. Prayer is not calling out to a genie in order to be satisfied merely in what he gives me. The goal of prayer is to have God Himself as my chief joy. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 also says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
To whom do we pray? Primarily, the model that Jesus gives us is to pray to the Father but certainly the entire Trinity is always involved. Matthew 6:9 begins, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” Jesus came to reveal the Father to us and to bring us to the Father by His person and work. We certainly pray, and should pray, to Jesus Himself and to the Holy Spirit. All persons of the Trinity are equal yet distinct—nevertheless, they are One God, not three. It is a helpful reminder that Jesus tells us to primarily address the person of the Father.
In what manner should we pray? We should pray with reverence and awe. Let us beware of beginning prayer flippantly with, “Hey God!” Let us also, even, think more of beginning prayer more so with the thought of our Father being Holy. It is the knowledge that we have of God that drives how we pray. Let us not forget that our God is a consuming fire and that He is Holy, Holy, Holy. If the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the LORD (Prov 1:7) then let us not abandon the beginning of knowledge with that activity which we should attend to most in the Christian life. We must have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace but that throne of grace never extinguishes the attribute of God’s Holiness. The throne of grace should give the weakest child boldness and joy to approach his heavenly Father in prayer but that child must still remember that God is God. Confidence in Christ and Fear of the LORD are not butting heads in prayer like two brothers fighting over the last chocolate chip cookie. Neither one is competing against the other but rather they work together like how salt can enhance the taste of the sugar on a chocolate chip cookie (can you tell what I’m craving for a snack right now?). Prayer should be in dependent fear and love for God. Whenever God showed people His glory in a more manifest way they fell down. Even when Peter recognized who Jesus was in the boat he fell down and asked to be away from His presence. Yes, they loved God and God loved them but this love of God is so holy that it should bring us redeemed sinners to our knees in humility and fear of the heart. God is the One who runs towards us and we should run towards Him but this never negates His Holiness and Majesty.
What should we pray for? Let us take an inventory of our prayers individually and corporately. What percentage of our prayer requests primarily focus on the bodily and physical needs and how much focus on the needs of the soul? To be clear, we are made up of body AND soul. The needs of the body are real and constant. We must pray for the physical needs around us but we must not ONLY pray for the physical needs around us. It does not make someone “extra spiritual” if they never pray for physical needs. Rather, one might question that person’s understanding of the image of God. Nevertheless, we can say the same for those who neglect the matters of the soul.
When we have a prayer meeting, how often do we pray for the following: conversion, revival, growth in holiness, richer devotional lives, patience, love for others, understanding of the Scriptures, more of a desire to pray, zeal for evangelism, protection against false teachers, more earnestness to repent of the idols of the heart? Are we so earthly minded that we totally neglect the primary need for sinners to have faith and repentance? Our prayer requests, as an individual and as a congregation, will reflect the priorities of our hearts. Do we only pray for the physical because we want life to be comfortable? Brothers and sisters, we must pray for the things that concern the body but never at the expense of praying for souls to be saved from the eternal wrath of God, for exponential growth in holiness amidst an evil age, greater fruit of the Holy Spirit, richer community in the church, and certainly (although one of the most neglected) the need for true God-centered revival. We must pray for the preaching of the Word as much as we pray for safe travels. We must pray for the lost in our neighborhoods as much as we pray for the healing of the body. We must pray for endurance amidst persecution as much as we pray for good grades, politics, injuries, upcoming tests and meetings, healthy children, and the other often brought up items (which are NEVER too small to pray for).
Please hear me, our lack of praying for the small things shows our misunderstanding of a God so sovereign and caring that He notices the way ants work and lilies grow. We must also understand that our lack of praying for the Holy Spirit to powerfully attend the preaching of the Word every week shows our great misunderstanding that our greatest need is to hear the words of the gospel of God by the power of the Spirit and that if we do not hear then it matters not if we gain the entire world because we will lose our soul. Pray for all things, body and soul (for both are important), but what a grave danger we fall into when we never pray for the soul.
When should we pray? Maybe a better question could be: When can we pray? We can pray at all times. Paul says, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). We can pray before we eat and we can pray before surgery. We can pray in the middle of having a tough conversation with someone and we can pray while putting our children to bed. We can pray in business meetings and we can pray during a commercial break. We can and should pray at all times for that is what a praying life is. It is not literally only praying at all times but rather it is having a life of communication with God throughout the day. We should pray much spontaneously (for God does hear and loves these prayers) but we should never neglect the practice of “still” prayer. What I mean is that we must set aside some times in order to be still and know that the LORD is God. In our busy times, this might be the most neglected and the most needed spiritual discipline. We should put things to rest, turn over our phones and silence them, gather our thoughts and lift up our concerns to God. Leave the busyness of life for a period of time and come before the LORD to find rest. Find this time in the morning before the kids get up, first thing when you walk in the office, on your walks, when you put the kids down for a nap, before bed, or during lunch (don’t forget that it was in 19th Century that New York had a true Spirit-sent revival all surrounding the lunch time prayer meeting). You will not find time unless you make time. If prayer is the breathing of the soul that is alive unto God then prayerlessness is the evidence of the soul that wants to commit spiritual suicide or the evidence of the soul that is not alive in the first place. Let us not fool ourselves here: Christians pray. Some pray more than others and that makes no one more special and loved by God more than others. Beware: those who think that prayer earns their righteousness before God are in danger for their soul. But let us not fool ourselves, especially in our Southern context, that we can believe the gospel and not pray. Indeed, what is the first movement of the redeemed sinner towards God but that of prayer? The Spirit produces living water in the soul of the man or woman, and church, that is alive unto God. Water that flows into any pipe system must find its way out or the pipes will burst. If there is not water exiting the pipes and no bursting of the pipes then there is no flowing water.
What are some practical ways to develop a life of prayer? This could be an endless list but maybe some of these suggestions will help or spur on some thoughts to other ideas:
During devotions, prayer before starting and pray after finishing.
Take a car ride a day to turn off the radio in order to pray.
Pause to pray between meetings, classes, assignments, chores.
Designate a prayer “station” or a prayer “closet” so that there can be a regular place in which you pause to only pray.
Set your alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier. As you wait for the coffee to finish brewing, open your Bible and pray a certain Psalm.
Don’t neglect praying before meals. Let it remind you and those around you that greater tastes and satisfactions are in the Lord.
Pray with your spouse and/or children before bed.
Read good books on prayer. Here are some very helpful ones:
Tim Keller “Prayer”
David Mathis “Habits of Grace”
John Bunyan “Prayer”
Michael Reeves “Enjoy your prayer life”
Andrew Murray “With Christ in the School of Prayer”
Banner of Truth “Valley of Vision”
Keep a list on your phone or notebook of things to pray for.
Keep a journal that records the answers to prayer.
Read prayers (such as Valley of Vision)
Sing prayers. Remember, the greatest hymns were often first prayers.
Put reminders on your phone or calendar. Schedule your prayer time.
Pick a prayer partner.
Attend evening worship where we pray as a congregation after voicing the needs around us.
Start a prayer meeting (not a prayer request meeting or a Bible study about prayer where you only briefly pray at the end) where you actually spend the majority of the time praying.
Remember, there are no prayer professionals. This often hinders people from praying.
The Spirit is wise enough to sort out your jumbled thoughts so do not be afraid to pray for things as they come to mind.
Remind yourself of the promises of God—primarily the promise that He hears you.
Read good stories and books on revival. Revival is never separated from prayer.