Third daily pillar: Prayer
We have dealt with repentance separately only for clarity in teaching, but you cannot separate prayer from repentance. For that matter, in a healthy spiritual life, Bible reading is also inseparable from prayer and repentance. In many ways prayer is a mystery, nevertheless, it is a massive blunder to underestimate its importance and significance in the working of God’s Kingdom. Actually, it is impossible to explain just how necessary and profitable prayer is in our lives and how integral it is in the way the Kingdom has been ordained to work. In a very real sense we are absolute spiritual paupers and everything of value resides in Christ alone (Col.1:19; 2:3,9). It is only through grace that we come to realise that whatever we need is found in Christ and so everything we desire and want to be, is to be sought for from our Lord, Jesus Christ—through prayer and faith. It was the Father’s wisdom and good pleasure that made all the fullness dwell in Jesus (Col.1:19) and it’s His purpose that we make our requests for all we need through Christ. It is nothing but slothfulness, pride and stubborn rebellion that refuses to take advantage of the bounty God has freely made available to us. God’s children have been given free access to a treasure beyond measure, and everything we need can be obtained just by asking (Matt.7:7-11). Yet, we so often ignore this resource and go it alone, thinking that we have adequate resources in ourselves for the task of serving and glorifying Christ. It is through prayer that we take hold of the riches that God has laid up for us.
Prayer Is For Our Benefit
Prayer was not ordained for God’s benefit, as though He needed reminding of what needs to be done, rather, in His wisdom, God designed it for our benefit. It is vital for our spiritual wellbeing to realize that everything beneficial for us resides in our relationship and communion with the Lord. Through prayer our hearts are raised up to and united with God’s heart, which is the essence of communion; they are strengthened and instructed how to serve Him; and taught to rely upon Him for all we need and do. Prayer keeps us mindful of how dependent we are upon the Lord and that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Prayer exalts and keeps God’s providence before our eyes, for prayer acknowledges that He is in complete control of all things and that nothing comes to pass except what He ordains. It is through prayer that we learn to care for the things that God cares about, which includes caring about people and praying for them and their circumstances. Moreover, when our hearts, through prayer, are regularly open before the Lord, there is much less chance of us entertaining or covering up things that are offensive to Him. For it’s when we still ourselves in God’s presence, meditate on His holiness and allow the light of the Spirit to search us, that what is really going on in our hearts is brought to the light and thus we are made to deal with our sin. It is by repenting of our sin and seeking God’s help that we are strengthened to war against those things in our lives that offend Him. Prayer is a mysterious, powerful, and glorious privilege which provides strength and vitality to our lives and is inseparable from effective service in the Kingdom (the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, Jam.5:16).Yet we often think there is no need to pray—an idea that comes from the devil himself, for he hates the prayers of the saints and wars against us praying.
Devotion and prayer are inseparable from truly glorifying the Lord, yet God doesn’t need our prayers in order to be able to do anything—His hands aren’t tied if we don’t pray. God needs no one in order to fulfil His will, yet He has ordained that our prayers have a part to play in the outworking of His Kingdom plans. What a privilege it is for us to be able to intercede, and pray for the manifestation of God’s will in all areas of life. We should not only obey the command of God to pray, but we should be amazed at being allowed to pray and greatly encouraged to pray by the fact that we can come boldly into God’s throne-room to make our requests known. May the Spirit make us fully aware of our great need to pray and conscious of the wonderful privilege we have of being able to pray and be involved in God’s eternal Kingdom work. We have been made joint heirs with Christ to the throne of God (Rom.8:17).
A Unique Relationship
In a real sense, each person’s relationship with the Lord is unique and therefore our prayer life ought to reflect this uniqueness. The way we communicate with God must not be according to a ritual or words that might have been meaningful to someone else. The prayers of others can be used as a guide to help us shape our own prayers, but they should not be slavishly used all the time by us. The Psalmist revealed real honesty in his prayers, often telling the Lord exactly how he was feeling. He spoke to God about his fears, failures, frustrations, deep longings and hopes. Such things do not all necessarily need to be covered in the same prayer—the Lord wants us to commune with Him not go through some kind of ritual. While the Lord desires us to be open with Him, we must never become disrespectful in our communication. We should seek to avoid both frivolous talk as well as rigid, formal dialogue. We need to think our own thoughts and speak our own words, while relying upon the Spirit to enable us to do this. All this must flow from a heart of deep love and communion with the Lord.
Persevering in Prayer
In Acts 1:14 we are told of a group of Christians who knew the Lord’s will and were constantly praying for it to come to pass. These disciples didn’t only pray, but they persevered in prayer. The whole Christian life is to be one of perseverance. We must not become weary in doing good (2 Thes.3:13) and we must not become wearied by prayer (Lk.18:1; 1 Thes.5:17). Perseverance does not mean vain mumbling and mindless repetition (Eccl.5:2; Matt.6:7). It is fools who think that by their much speaking they can “twist” God’s arm to do what they want. Rather, to persevere in prayer means that once we know the will of the Lord we must not give up praying and working for it (Phil.3:12; 1 Cor.9:24-27; 1 Tim.6:12; 2 Tim.4:7; Acts 20:24; Heb.12:1,3). Prayer is an act of worship whereby our heart’s desire to serve and intimately communicate with God is increased and strengthened.
Prayer is a humbling of ourselves before the Father, having full confidence that He not only hears our petitions, but is ready to use His almighty power on our behalf as we stand by faith in Christ and for His cause. Yet, too often our prayers bear more resemblance to a parrot speaking than to the actions of Christ’s warriors. Many times our requests are made with little awareness of the One whom we are addressing and without faith and assurance that He will even hear us, let alone that He might do what we ask. We need to remember that without faith it is impossible to please God: for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those that diligently seek Him (Heb.11:6). We must believe that it is the Lord of the universe that we come to in prayer and that it was He who made it possible for us to approach Him with boldness. It is God who takes the initiative in reconciling us to Himself (John 6:44) and He does this because of His great love for us (John 3:16; Rom.5:8). However, we must never forget that the only basis for coming before the Lord of heaven and earth, is the name of Jesus Christ. While we can come into the presence of the Almighty with boldness and are fully accepted by Him as His children (Heb.10:19), it is not because of anything in ourselves that makes us worthy in His eyes. If we do not come ‘in Christ’ we will never gain access to the Father’s throne.
In the Name of Jesus
We are to make our requests in the name of Jesus, which doesn’t merely mean adding a magical formula to the end of our prayers, i.e., saying, “In Jesus name”. To ask in Christ’s name means being aware of how unworthy we are in ourselves and how totally dependent we are upon Him for everything. It means being in intimate relationship with Christ, through faith in His atoning work upon the cross (see the article Justification and God’s Law). It also means that our requests are made in submission to the whole revelation Christ has given to us (John 15:7). Praying in Jesus name is the only basis for having our prayers answered (John 16:24; 2 Cor.1:20). It is extremely foolish to think that prayer is something that God has given us so that we can fulfil our selfish ambitions and lusts and serve our own agenda and conception of what life should be like (James 4:3). To pray in Jesus’ name is to know the will of the Lord and to pray in line with it for His glory. The limits of what we should pray for are not to be determined by our understanding, but by God’s revelation, a summary of which is found in the prayer Christ taught His disciples (Matt.6:9-13). This doesn’t mean we are bound to only repeat the words exactly as they appear in these verses, but it does mean that everything we can and should seek from the Lord, has been included in Christ’s distilled prayer. We don’t need to pray for everything included there every time we prayer, but we should never pray for things that cannot be included in that summary, as Calvin says about Christ’s prayer, “Truly, no other can ever be found that equals this in perfection, much less surpasses it. Here nothing is left out that ought to be thought of in the praises of God, nothing that ought to come into man’s mind for his own welfare” (Institutes 3:20:49).
We were made to glorify the Lord (Col.1:16; Rev.4:11) and it is only in glorifying the Lord that we can know the true meaning of life and experience satisfaction and contentment. Joy in life does not come from getting our prayers answered, but comes from being in intimate relationship with Christ. Being in intimate relationship with Jesus means being one with Him which includes desiring what He desires, living in the way that He expects (see the article Kingdom Living and God’s Law) and finding our satisfaction and peace in who He is. This is the only kind of life-focus where true joy is attained, but how can we know about and do all that God wants us to do? Everything we need to know and do has been revealed and supplied to us in and through Christ and this complete revelation is preserved for us in the Scriptures (2 Tim.3:16,17) and the power to do what Christ has commanded was supplied in abundance at Pentecost. Joy is a product of obedience and obedience is inseparable from prayer. We see the clear relationship between rejoicing and prayer, in 1 Thes.5 where Paul says, “Rejoice evermore” (vs.16) and then immediately adds, “Pray without ceasing” (vs.17). But remember, our prayers are always to be in the name of Christ, which means in accordance with the revelation that He gave, both in His Person and through His Life. Thus we see how vital it is to read the Scriptures together with the enlightening of the Holy Spirit in order to know Christ and His will in an ever deeper way. The wonderful gift of prayer is like having a cell phone, with unlimited usage, direct into the throne room of heaven—instant access from anywhere, at anytime and for anything relating to our service of the King.
The Effectiveness of Prayer
Our hearts need to be challenged to realize the reality of the spiritual realm and how effective prayer is and the important part we have to play, through prayer, in the whole plan of God. We are told that our weapons (prayer is a major one) are mighty and powerful (2 Cor.10:4), thus we need to be encouraged that what we have is real. We are able to wrestle with the powers of darkness (Eph.6:12) and throw down everything that exalts itself against Christ. The powers of darkness try to resist the messengers of God when He dispatches them in response to our prayers (Dan.10:13). This is because the powers of darkness know how powerful prayer is. They realize how much destruction is wrought against the kingdom of darkness when the church knows the will of the Lord and prays in faith for it (Jam.1:6; 5:16). Praying in faith (Matt.21:22) is a vital ingredient for success in the Kingdom. Whatever we do or teach, if it is going to bear fruit in the Kingdom, it needs to be wrapped and upheld by believing prayer. Even if there is nothing we can do to help physically in some situation, we can still be in the centre of the battle through prayer and we ought to be. Prayer plays a significant part in God’s purposes and He has graciously made a way for our involvement in all the affairs of His Kingdom no matter who or where we are. May the Lord, by His Spirit, enable us to rise up and enter into the heat of the battle (Rom.12:12; 2 Cor.10:3-5; Eph.6:10-18; Col.4:2; 1 Pet.4:7).
Fervently Praying in Faith
Remembering God’s creative power when we pray, not only helps calm our fears when we are faced by a strong enemy, but it also helps us pray with confidence that God is able to help. We need to pray in faith, believing in God’s willingness to help and ability to do even above what we are able to imagine (Matt.7:7-11; Eph.3:20). We need to believe that God not only hears prayers, but answers them. Often we don’t see past the actual words we pray, thinking that the fullness of the meaning of prayer is completed when the last word is said—we don’t actually believe that anything will come of it. Faith is having sure confidence in that which we have not seen (Heb.11:1). Our sure confidence is in God’s promises—He is our rock, foundation, fortress and salvation (Ps.18:2,31; 62:2). He is a very present help in time of need (Ps.46:1), He is our shepherd and protector and nothing is able to separate us from the love of God (Ps.23; Rom.8:35). Nothing can pluck us from His hand (Joh.10:28). Our greatest desire should be to be found in Christ and nothing can be compared to this (Phil.3:8,9).
Oh, the Messiah has come, and all authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Him (Matt.28:18). We are totally accepted in God’s sight when we have faith in Christ (Eph.1:5-7; 2:8,9). We have direct access to the very throne room of God when we stand in Christ (Heb.10:19). Heaven and earth have been united and reconciled. We should come with boldness into the presence of God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. We are to bring our requests before Him, seeking His Kingdom and glory—praying for the knowledge of the glory of the Lord to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab.2:14) and doing all we can in humble service towards this end. We are to have confidence in the effectiveness of our prayers and then pray without ceasing (Eph.5:18; 1 Thes.5:17), knowing that the victory is ours in Christ. What a glorious task we have been given! Christ has won the definitive victory. The powers of darkness have been defeated and openly displayed as a defeated army. We are told that the prayer of a righteous man is very effective (James 5:16). We are now to go forth in the power and victory of Christ bringing all things into captivity to Christ. There are still small pockets of resistance, but the backbone and strength of the kingdom of darkness is forever destroyed (Col.2:15; 1 Joh.3:8; Heb.2:14).
Our minds need to be renewed in this area, so we realize that effective Kingdom living is not measured by what is around us, or by what we have or by what we can do, but is found through being in Christ and having total commitment to and reliance upon His truth and power. We are to trust, pray and faithfully serve Him even when we can’t immediately see Christ’s victory in the circumstances around us and are greatly troubled by these circumstances (Prov.3:5,6; Matt.26:39,42; Rom.8:28). The reality is that all the hosts of heaven and the full power of God are made available to us through prayer, but we can only appropriate this through faith and by actually praying. Prayer is as vital to Christian service as breathing is to life and thus to stop praying is like stopping our breathing. The power of prayer is equal to the power of God because through it we tap directly into His power: a mystery indeed, yet the greater mystery is our reluctance to utilise this resource in our Kingdom labours. Prayer is a discipline, carried out through the enabling of the Spirit and in obedience to the Lord of creation who said we should pray, asking for whatever we need in Christ’s name (John 14:13,14; 16:23,24). May the Lord help us to flourish in this discipline that is so vital to all our efforts in the service of His Kingdom.