21 Sept 2021
Believers often pray more often during times of trouble and trials. The global pandemic and the various calamities recently, with suffering, catastrophes and death constitute such a time.
It is perhaps timely to reflect again on the meaning and implications of a life of Prayer.
When the Lord Jesus taught His disciples the pattern of prayer, it begins with addressing the heavenly Father (Abba – an endearing term) and it prioritises the hallowing of God’s name and the fulfilment of His will in heaven and on earth.
Intimacy with God is what characterises a life of prayer. Intimacy is the gift of God’s Spirit, who indwells believers and raises their consciousness of being children of God so that they can instinctively cry “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15-16). Is our life of Prayer a reflection of our relationship with God? God is invariably listening more closely to those of His children who are intimately close to Him.
Intimate relationship unmasks us and forces us to face the truth about ourselves. We cannot point a finger at God and claim that it is all His fault when we face silence, unanswered prayers and outcomes not to our liking – God is perfect and He cannot be at fault; hence we discover something within ourselves causing the problem and this is humbling and hard work.
Hallowing God’s name means giving Him the reverence, the honour, the holiness and glory due to Him. The young believer loves God for his or her own sake, and this is reflected in prayers that concentrate on personal concerns, even though they may be legitimate. The one who grows in prayer moves farther and farther away from self-interested prayers of petition to God-directed prayers of adoration and thanksgiving, hence hallowing His name.
Are our prayers centered on the will of God for His kingdom? Some illustrations may be helpful but may not be so easily appreciated: Sometimes we pray for healing for an individual when God desires the individual to grow deeper spiritually through his or her illness. We think of Apostle Paul praying three times for the removal of the thorn but God said ‘no’ and instead taught him that His grace is sufficient for him and that the thorn is left to keep him humble. An intimacy with God would teach us how to discern and to pray for God’s will to be done.
The highest prayers are those in which God prays in us: in Romans 8, we are taught that the Spirit teaches us to pray what we ought to rather than what we want to.
Prayer is not a lazy substitute for work. Work becomes a drudgery and even a bitterness, unless the work is done in prayer. Work then becomes the ultimate intention in creation – to serve God and to further His glory. We need honesty in prayer. The struggles we have to go through in prayer are part of progress in prayers. There must be pruning for certain qualities to develop in preparation for union with God in deeper measures.
Continuing on these reflections, the pattern for prayer given by the Lord Jesus concentrates next on requesting God for our daily needs, our forgiveness of one another in our relationship, protection from the evil one, and ending with giving God the glory and the power and the kingdom forever and ever.
In prayer, we acknowledge that we are not in control. We begin to see ourselves as God sees us and we see God as He is. We then realise that not to pray is to take destiny into our own hands, to fail to depend on God for all provisions and to fail also to worship Him who is the Sovereign One and the One who holds our lives and everything else in His hands. Praying helps us to see God as the centre of all things and that everything has a place in God’s world – prayer thus enlarges our vision.
In essence, the whole life of a Christian may be regarded as a life of prayer. The life of prayer is embodied in Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing. However, both actual and habitual prayers are necessary. Acts of prayer help develop a habit of prayer and ensure that the habit enables regular acts of prayer; both are mutually sustaining.
Certain dangers relating to prayer need to be avoided. Some so-called believers insist that if you have faith, anything you ask in prayer will be yours – prayer then becomes a technique for twisting God’s arm to get what we want. Such prayers are an abuse of relationship and to abuse a friendship is to lose it. Nonetheless, according to Jesus, there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. God will take notice of every prayer of His child. It may not be answered in the form in which we offer it. It may be answered by God making us aware that there are things in our life that have got to be changed before He can give us what we have asked for. Or we may not have asked for precisely the right thing in the first place. So God answers the prayer we ought to have made rather the prayer we did make.
Another way of abusing prayer is trying to make it work for us. Instead of unselfing ourselves, we use prayer to reinforce our ego. Jesus unmasked Pharisees who only pretended to pray and used prayer to confirm their own self-righteousness in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18 :11). The Pharisee prayed to himself and not to God – he was using prayer as a manipulative tool – sincere prayer will keep you from self-deception, or self-deception will keep you from your prayers.
With God, the inner realities of motivation, purpose and desire that prompt and energise our actions are just as important as the performance of the actions themselves. This we must remember when we come to prayer before God. Real prayer purifies the heart; it purges our attitudes and motives; it melts down all the self-centredness, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance that as fallen creatures we bring to it, and encourages us to work humbly in a God-fearing, God-dependent way in all our actions. Motivation is an integral element in actions; the Lord looks not only on the outward behaviour but also on the heart, and any motivation that exalts itself will render our work rotten at the core. We must pray consistently about the things we do and ask ourselves before God why we are doing them and how they fit in with God’s glory and the good of His people.