Written By: Jacob Day
“Let us pray.” This is definitely one of the more common phrases we use to enter into prayer together — maybe in small group, to begin a meal or prior to travelling. It is a very normal phrase to engage in very normal prayers, prayers which may amount to little more than “bless this food to our bodies” or “give us travelling mercies” before closing off our thirty second routine with “in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Now routine and tradition are good things, but if our faith in the power of the name of Jesus amounts to little more than trusting we won’t get food poisoning or total our cars, then we have a very shallow view of the Creator of the universe. Jesus’ rebuke thus rings true: “O you of little faith!” Has our faith in Jesus been reduced to superstition? Has our time with our Heavenly Father been condensed to 30 seconds before dinner? Has God become a means to an end in obtaining desired blessings? If so, we must re-evaluate our understanding of prayer: its power, our commitment, and the purpose of it all.
Scripture points to prayer as one of the most powerful tools for Christians. The well-known illustration in Matthew 17 tells us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. Some say this is all metaphorical and could never really happen, but when was the last time anyone ever had that much faith? In fact, an even more improbable event came as a result of prayer when Joshua asked God to stop the sun in its place (Joshua 10:12-14). The list of miraculous events throughout Scripture as a result of prayer would exhaust this article; nevertheless, the power of our prayer relates to our faith and indeed all things are possible with God. For as Jesus tells his Disciples, we too—if we are His disciples—can be assured that “whatever [we] ask in prayer, [we] will receive if [we] have faith” (Matt. 21:22). To many people, like me, this poses the question: how can I get more of this faith? How can I make myself believe more deeply in the power of God? I believe that the man in Mark 9 felt a similar way when his doubt was challenged by Jesus. In desperation he cried out: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” This mixed conglomeration of belief and doubt that many of us struggle with can be difficult and emotional, but in recognizing that faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8) we who ask for a greater amount of it can be confident that we will indeed receive. Ultimately, we draw limitations on our prayers when we draw limitations on our God; it is by His grace and power that our prayers are made effective.
Scripture points to prayer as one of the most important time commitments of the Christian person. Paul exhorts Christians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). We in the West are highly time oriented so stopping to be in the presence of God can be one of the most difficult sacrifices of all. How we spend our time tells a lot about who or what is in control of our lives and what our priorities are. Jesus’ life and ministry show us very clearly how important prayer is. Jesus often withdrew in solitude to pray (Luke 5:16), He prayed early in the morning (Mark 1:35), He prayed in the evening and through the night (Luke 6:12). He was praying at many of the significant events of His life: His baptism (Luke 3:21), transfiguration (Luke 9:28), after the Last Supper, in the garden before He was taken (John 17 and Matt. 26:36) and of course during his crucifixion (Luke 23:34). Jesus often taught on prayer in parables (Luke 18), through instruction (Matt. 6:7) and by example (Luke 11). Prayer was evidently a substantial part of Jesus’ life, both in what He did and what He taught. If the perfect Son of God made prayer a foundational aspect of His life, we as sinners ought to make it a vital part of ours as well.
The purpose of prayer is to spend time with our Father and advance His Kingdom as well as request His providence, forgiveness, guidance and protection. Probably the most significant text on prayer is when Jesus teaches His disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, which is too important not to quote in full:
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”
If we look at the principles outlined in this prayer, we can use those principals to shape all of our prayers, no matter how diverse they may be. I’ll list four principals that I believe are outlined here and affirmed in the rest of Scripture. First, we ought to recognize Christ’s work in reconciling us with God, that when we are born again (through belief and repentance), we become coheirs with Christ and children of God. We need to recognize both this intimacy with our Father but yet also hold Him in reverence and adore Him for who He is. Second, we ought to seek out His will to be done and His Kingdom to come – not just in our prayers but also in our lives, not just in times of blessing but in times of immense sacrifice. Third, we should present our requests to Him (after first seeking His Kingdom), while noting that we need little more than our daily bread. Fourth, we ought to be constantly confessing our sins and living lives of repentance in which we rely on God’s grace to overcome temptation and Satan’s grasp. This is how Jesus taught us how to pray; let us hold fast to the model He has given us.
Prayer is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring aspects of being a Christian. We get to spend time with the Creator of the world, whom we have the privilege of calling “Father”. Our prayers also give us the opportunity to participate in the mission of God, and through trusting in His faithfulness of His promises we can see extraordinary change through prayer. As our relationship with God is our most important relationship, our time in prayer should reflect that. If we have a proper understanding of prayer’s effectiveness in God’s Kingdom, then naturally we should be seeking first His kingdom through this method prescribed for us. It should also mean that we are constantly praying “your will be done” in all circumstances, as Jesus did before He was taken to be crucified. Let us not confuse prayer for a superstitious ritual; let us not try to put limitations on God’s power; let us not make it a means to a selfish end. In the manner that the Bible has so clearly outlined for us: let us pray.