The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (Jas 5:16b)
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is to life.” Breathing is something we do not have to work ourselves up to do or to consider if we have time to do it. Breathing is natural to us. It is part of living. Without it, we die. Our physical life will expire if we cease to breath. Now, it may seem to be a great embellishment to compare prayer to breathing, but if we consider the importance of prayer, then we can see how our spiritual lives will stagnate and cease to flourish without it.
Perhaps some Christians do not pray as they should because there may be a misunderstanding of what prayer is. Do we think of prayer as us simply asking God for this or that? When we pray are we merely giving God information about what is going on in our lives? There are many reasons to pray and, truly, it is vital to our spiritual lives in Christ. How often we see prayer in the Scriptures. It is throughout all the pages of God’s Word, and it’s as common to the biblical worshiper as breathing. Many times we see the prophets, the priests, the kings, the apostles, and even Christ Jesus Himself emphasizing the importance of prayer. Many come in prayer before the Lord to honor and praise Him, others express their thanks to Him, and still yet others pray on behalf of others and for their own circumstances. There is no shortage of Scriptures on prayer, whether teaching to pray or recording many prayers by God’s people.
But what is prayer and why do we pray? Prayer may be defined as our “personal communication with God.”1Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 376. It is talking, communing, and fellowshipping with the Lord. This is the means that we express our love to Him, our devotion, dependence, praise, thanksgiving, and this is the means that we confess our sins to the Most High and seek His forgiveness and restoration. The puritan Thomas Brooks writes, “Prayer is nothing but the breathing that out before the Lord that was first breathed into us by the Spirit of the Lord.”2Dale Smith, Ore From The Puritans’ Mine (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020) 392. The Lord breathed into us life and by the Spirit of God spiritual life, and this results in our hearts longing to honor and praise Him through our words that are spoken back to God. MacArthur and Mayhue write, “God-honoring prayer is motivated by a number of factors, including a yearning to fellowship with the Lord and bring glory to Him, a dependence on God for His provision, a need for heavenly wisdom in the midst of trials, a plea for deliverance in the face of trouble, a longing to find relief from anxiety and fear, a desire to express thanksgiving to God for His goodness, a need to confess sin, a yearning to see the salvation of unbelievers, and a desire for spiritual growth both for oneself and for other Christians.”3John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017) 790. There are numerous facets of prayer, and through all of them, the heart’s desire should be that God would be honored.
Many saints in the Scriptures have come to the Lord in prayer pleading with the Lord to be merciful either to the individual praying or on behalf of others. There is the expectation that the Lord will hear and act. This isn’t to say that prayer is all about asking the Lord for this or that, rather much of prayer is praising God for who He is and adoring Him. But, there is that facet of prayer where we are invited to ask the Lord for things, whether provisions, help, for saving others, asking for wisdom, etc. The Apostle Paul writes those familiar words in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Jesus invites us to ask, seek, and knock (Mt 7:7). He tells His disciples, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn 15:7). The question is, though, how does prayer correspond to a sovereign God who has decreed all things? We will take time to explore this in another blog. For now, let us consider some of the reasons why we ought to pray to our gracious and sovereign King.
First, prayer is not for God to find out what is going on in our lives. He is the all-knowing, all-powerful God, or as Hagar said, “You are a God who sees all” (Gen 16:13), and as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6:8). There is nothing that our Lord doesn’t know, so what is occurring when we express to the Lord what is happening in our lives? Wayne Grudem writes, “God wants us to pray because prayer expresses our trust in God and is a means whereby our trust in Him can increase.”4Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 376. Have we considered this beforehand? Prayer is an expression of our trust and dependence upon the Lord. We come to Him “casting our care upon Him” (1 Pet 5:7). We see this very often in the Scripture with many of the saints. Moses came before the Lord on numerous occasions asking for the Lord’s help with his struggles with leading the children of Israel (e.g., Ex 15:25; 17:4).
We see Daniel and his companions calling upon the Lord for His protection against the decree of Nebuchadnezzar that would result in their deaths (Dan 2:17–18). There are a number instances throughout the Scripture that could be cited. Even the time of our Lord in the garden, the Lord Jesus was demonstrating His trust and dependence upon His Father in His time of praying. Why pray when difficulty or danger comes? Because the Lord is the only One who can hear, act, and give what is necessary that we may endure.
A second reason to pray is for worship. In prayer, we express our love, adoration, and praise to the Lord. Many of the Psalms are psalms of praise to the Most High. Psalm 145, for example, states, “I will extol You, my God, O King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever” (Ps 145:1–2). Truly, we as God’s people are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15). Nehemiah’s prayer when the people repented and the law was read before the congregation is indeed a prayer of praise to the Lord: “O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise! You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You” (Neh 9:5b–6).
Do you pray simply to express the greatness of God to Him? Much of prayer is praising and honoring the Lord. Sometimes we may not know what to say, and for this reason, I like to pray through the Scriptures. Perhaps this will help you too. In my prayer time, I will read a chapter of God’s Word and then I will pen my prayer based on what I read. It is then that my prayer has substance and often emphasizes a certain aspect of God’s character that I may reflect upon and rejoice in. Pray because it is a time to give the Lord the praise of your lips.
A third reason to pray is to lift up others before the Lord. This is intercessory prayer. Sometimes we pray, not for ourselves, but for those whom we love whether friends or family. We pray for our leaders, and we pray for our nation. Do you understand the importance of intercessory prayer? Consider Job and his friends for a moment. At the end of the Book of Job, the Lord speaks to Eliphaz and says to him, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7–8). The Lord accepted Job’s friends because Job prayed for them!
I think of Moses when he is leading the children of Israel in the wilderness, and we read in chapter 32 that the people commit idolatry. It was because of Moses interceding on behalf of the people that they were not consumed and that the Lord’s presence would continue to go with them. Therefore, we pray on behalf of others. We pray for those who also have not asked us to pray for them. What I mean is that we pray for those who may not even know us and who are unregenerate. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1–2 that we are to pray on behalf of all kinds of men, “for kings and all who are in authority.” This implies that we are to pray for those governing us whether we agree with their politics or not. We pray for their salvation and pray that they will lead accordingly.
With intercessory prayer, we also pray for each other with the various things that go on in our lives. The Apostle Paul asked for the Ephesians to pray for him that he would be bold in his proclamation of the gospel (Eph 6:19). When you pray, do not pray for yourself only, but pray for others and lift them up to the throne of grace. This is where we pray for our unbelieving friends and family also. Prayer accomplishes much, beloved. Ask others to pray for you also in your times of need. Do not neglect to pray for others and do not think little of intercessory prayer either for others or when they pray for you.
The last reason that I will mention here is that you pray for the desires of your heart. Pray for what you are passionate about. Pray for the Lord to open doors for you in whatever vocation you are in. Pray for blessing on your ministry. Dear friends, pray, pray, and pray some more! I am not advocating to pray as the prosperity gospel teachers would say, but rather to be fervent in your prayers, and ask for the desires of your heart. The Scripture tells us to delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give us the desires of our hearts (Ps 37:4). I think we are afraid at times to pray this way or emphasize this passage for fear of falling into the word of faith heresies or being identified in that camp. The key is the first part of the text, “Delight yourselves in the Lord.” This is what guards our hearts from falling into worldly desires. Let your delight be in Him, not in the desire for worldly possessions or even His benefits. Delight in Him personally. Rejoice in knowing the Living God. Rejoice in His salvation He has brought about in Christ. Delight to serve Him and please Him. Make His desires that He has expressed in His Word your desires.
What would this look like then? Our privilege as Christians is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. How can we glorify Him? We glorify Him by our obedience to Him, by our desire to see others saved, therefore we continually pray for them. We glorify Him in our work and ask the Lord to give us opportunities to advance in whatever we are doing that we may glorify Him more. We glorify Him in our homes and among our children, therefore, we pray that God would continue to bless our families. We glorify God through ministry, and so we ask the Lord to bless the ministry so that it will magnify His name even more. There are other things to speak of but these are a few examples to consider. You may think of more, but our desires must line up with Scripture, and when they do, ask, seek, and knock down the doors of heaven. One of my favorite passages is Luke 11:1–13. It is in this passage that Luke gives His account of Jesus teaching His disciples to pray. After He teaches His disciples what is commonly called the Lord’s prayer, Jesus then gives an example of how to pray. He speaks of a man who goes to his friend’s house at midnight to ask for food. This man has another friend who has returned from a long journey and is hungry. The man from the inside of the house says to his neighbor, “Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything” (Lk 11:7). Jesus then says, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Lk 11:8–9).
This word that is translated, “persistence,” means “shamelessness.” It was because of the man’s shamelessness in continuing to knock that his friend got up and gave him what he needed. This is the example Jesus gave to His disciples of the persistence in prayer that we ought to have. Therefore, pray in agreement with the Spirit for what is on your heart and continue to pray for it or them. God delights to hear from His people and for them to ask. James says that “you do not have because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2). How do we reconcile praying this way with the sovereignty of God? Friends, it is not our responsibility to try and figure out God’s sovereign decrees in the lives of others or in our own life. We are guided by Scripture and therefore we pray in agreement with God’s Word. We know that God will grant all that is according to His will (1 John 5:14); however, there often isn’t any indication of what God’s sovereign decree is concerning a particular matter. Do not let this hinder you, dear friends. Some in Scripture asked for some extraordinary things such as Moses asking the Lord to see His glory (Ex 33:18). This was a very bold request but the Lord granted it because it was according to His decreed will. Perhaps in the next blog post we will discuss further how the Lord has sovereignly ordained our prayers to be the means whereby He brings to pass His will. For now, however, do not cease to pray, and to pray for those things that are on your hearts.
|1||Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 376.|
|2||Dale Smith, Ore From The Puritans’ Mine (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020) 392.|
|3||John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017) 790.|
|4||Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 376.|
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