18 Nov 2020
Prayer is a very difficult subject to share. For one thing, although at times, I find prayer somewhat a delight, but most times, prayer is a challenge and I find it a struggle and a difficult task.
Thomas Watson, a puritan, confesses that Jesus went more readily to the cross than we do to the throne of grace in prayer.
It goes without saying that the least attended meeting in a church is often the prayer meeting. Perhaps, believers regard the ministry of prayer as supplemental rather than fundamental in the life of the church. Perhaps, many christians know much about God but are sorely lacking in knowing God Himself in a lively relationship.
A personal relationship deepens when we spend time with each other and when there is a flow and exchange of mind and heart. Our relationship with God grows when He speaks to us and reveals Himself to us in His Word (Scripture), and when we speak to Him in prayer. John Calvin, in his commentary on Isaiah says,
‘Prayer is nothing else than the opening up of our heart before God’.
It is helpful to ponder: Our time in reading and meditating on the Scripture and our time in prayer to God – are they a reflection of the degree of our relationship with the Almighty? Some of us may feel that our relationship with God is in a good state as we review our many christian activities and the many areas of service we are involved in. It may come as a shock and a surprise if the Lord Jesus were to rebuke us and to tell us that He hardly knows us. Our relationship with Him may not have been developed to a degree that we can hear Him conclude that He knows us in an intimate manner.
“And this is eternal life; that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
We note what the Lord Jesus said in His prayer in John 17: eternal life is essentially and principally a relationship with the one true God and with Jesus Himself, the second person of the Godhead and, by implication, also a relationship with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead. It is a relationship with the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This relationship is made possible because God the Father initiated it in His eternal purpose; it has its origins in God and has God as its ultimate goal (1 Cor. 2:6-9; 8:6), and it was set in motion by the Father sending both the Son and the Spirit (Gal. 4:4-7). Christ the Son accomplished salvation and established this relationship for the people of God through His death and resurrection; the application of this to His people is uniquely the work of the Holy Spirit. If relationship with the triune God is what eternal life is all about, then what nurtures and develops this relationship matters. Besides growing in this relationship by receiving and appreciating the revelation of God in Scripture, prayer should feature primarily in nurturing and deepening such a relationship. But be warned: knowing about God is simply a matter of research, whereas knowing God is a matter of relationship. Knowing about God might make us clever theologians; but according to the words of Jesus, it might not make you a christian and it would not give you eternal life if there is no established relationship with Him. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end; our own works and efforts, apart from God’s grace and sovereignty, would avail to nothing.
Perhaps, it is helpful to begin by considering what prayer is not.
(a) Prayer is not a substitute for work; in fact prayer is actually the hardest kind of work. We may excuse ourselves by not doing God’s will and carrying out His instructions by claiming that ‘we have said a prayer’ and thus convinced ourselves that we have fulfilled our duty and our conscience has been ‘cleared’.
(b) Prayer is not just a means of obtaining favours from God; instead, prayer is primarily worship and adoration of God for His greatness and grace. It is not a mechanical recitation of a form of words which we have learned; it is also not entering into a rut of ‘routine’ which, at best, is just an ‘exercise’ of repetition without meaning and impact.
(c) Prayer is not the preserve of an elite or a certain group of individuals given the ‘positions’ in the church or organisation. It is for all, young and old; even the youngest believer has access to the throne of grace. And prayer is not confined to certain ‘holy places’. Wherever we are, whatever the circumstances, we can pray.
So what does true prayer consist? Many have written books on this but for our purpose, we can begin by briefly looking at certain elements in true prayer:
(a) In prayer, we are entering into God’s presence through the access obtained for us in Christ’s sacrificial death. The veil separating the Holy Place from the rest of the tabernacle was torn and access to God in the Holy Place is now available to His people.
(b) Prayer is worshipping and adoring God for all that He is.This is the constant activity of the redeemed people of God in heaven (see the book of Revelation, particularly chapters 4&5). It is also the delight of God’s people in this world (the Psalms are full of worship and adoration). It is an expression of our desire for the honour and glory of the name and character of God.
(c) Prayer is also praising and thanking God for all that He has done and is doing. The psalmist calls us not to forget all the benefits God has bestowed upon us but to always remember in gratitude and thanksgiving. The Apostle Paul listed ingratitude as a mark of moral decline in the last days (2 Timothy 3:2). If believers go around, ‘mopping, complaining, grumbling at every inconvenience, we are behaving like the Israelites of old in the wilderness, complaining against God and Moses – they forgot the great deliverance from Egypt and God’s provision, guidance and protection in the wilderness. For Christians, do we appreciate the great cost paid by Jesus and the Father to secure our salvation and to reconcile us back to Him, adopting us as His children and bringing us into His kingdom?
(d) Prayer consists of humbling ourselves before God because of what we are, and confessing our sin and failure. Confessing our sins really means to say the same things about sin as God says, implying that we do not rationalise away our sins and look at them ‘lightly’ and excuse ourselves so easily. At the same time, we are not to continue brooding unhealthily over our sin but to be thankful that forgiveness is always available if we repent.
(e) Prayer is also supplicating at God’s throne and petitioning Him for the good things for which we are totally dependent on Him. The good things are the fullness of His perfect will for His children and they may include discernment and the willingness to abide by His will which may not appear as ‘good’ initially but comes from the love of the heavenly Father who desires ultimate good and well-being for His people.
(f) Prayer includes intercession for others. Intercession involves taking the needs of a particular person or group into your heart in order to plead before God for them. It means that you have a special interest in or concern for them. You will take the trouble to learn about their needs; the closer the relationship, the more intense the intercession. It is an expression of love that comes from the heart of God which takes a ‘place’ in our hearts as we learn to identify with Him and to become more like HIm. Intercession would not be prominent in lives that are self-centred. Prayer of such ones would be concentration on their own needs and wants. There is little place in their hearts for others and their needs, including the needs of unbelievers and the world at large.