With this article we are introducing a series dealing with the subject of prayer.
Few subjects absorb so much time in the Christian life as prayer yet receive so little attention in ministry.
Perhaps there is no difficulty for you in this matter of prayer. But for many, there arises a flood of questions which challenge faith and overwhelm reason:
Why pray if God already knows everything?
What good is prayer if God’s will is going to be done anyway?
Who am I to tell God anything?
I’m already doing what He wants me to do. Why do I need to pray about it?
God is more concerned about me than I can ever be so I will just leave it with Him.
It is likely that most believers, if not all, have faced these and similar questions at one time or another. But set over against this, who cannot testify that prayer is the most natural and native activity of Christian life? To deprive a believer of prayer would be to remove the very life-line, a spiritual “pulling-of-the-plug” which would signal the end of spiritual life.
Yet these and similar questions must be faced. Young believers, in a skeptical and scornful world, are confronted with them by classmates, professors, and an educational system which analyzes and rejects all which does not fit into water-tight, convenient, cause and effect answers.
In concert with the rationalism which challenges the practice of prayer, there exists inherent obstacles to prayer.
Listen to one young believer as she opines: “I’ve asked for so many things, spiritual and good things. But nothing happens. I gave up praying.” A silent heaven seems to mock many as they pray. Years of asking for the salvation of relatives, friends, and contacts have yielded nothing but an increased sense of frustration and an iron curtain over heaven.
Another young man says, “When I pray my mind strays and not only gets distracted, but sometimes even entertains evil thoughts. Why should I continue to offend God?” It has been observed that the more spiritual the activity, the more difficult the task. We can talk about spiritual things without feeling a great barrier. We can even read our Bibles and not find much opposition. But we cannot pray without encountering opposition. Prayer demands concentration and effort. Epaphras was a man who labored fervently in prayer (Col 4:12). James (5:16) reminds us of Elijah and “effectual fervent prayer.”
All this serves to remind us of a sinister foe who does battle in the heavenlies. Paul reminds us that our warfare is in the spiritual realm. The wiles, the carefully thought out strategies of Satan, are to keep us from enjoying and appreciating our inheritance (Eph 6:11). Paul reminds the believers that linked intimately with their spiritual armor is the need to maintain contact with headquarters. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…” (Eph 6:18). Are we so naive as to think that the demands of a pressure-filled business world, the information overload of the media, the lurid and provocative advertisements which bombard our eyes, and the body-wearying demands of life are somehow just “the way things are?” Are they not all the carefully worked out tactics of Satan to weaken us in prayer, to drain every ounce of physical energy and divert it to what we consider the essentials of life? All this is legitimate and normal, yet leaves us with no spiritual energy for prayer.
A silent heaven, a straying mind, a struggling flesh, and a sinister foe all combine to hinder our path to the throne of grace.
Answers to the objections, and solutions to the obstacles would be prized. As in all spiritual issues, we are cast back upon the Word of God. We are not given full “explanations” of how prayer works and where it fits into God’s great program, but it is clear that prayer is a vital part of the believer’s life. Look at the first book in the Bible and notice some of the answers. We pray:
To Spend time with our Father – In Genesis 21:33, Abraham planted a grove (a tamarisk tree), and called upon the name of the Lord, the everlasting God. No request is detailed; no plea is heard arising. He is simply enjoying the fellowship of God. One of the tragic marks of our private prayer life is that it is just all about our requests and needs. Little time is spent just enjoying and speaking with our Father. The development of every relationship depends upon time spent together and mutual interests shared. The spiritual relationship demands the same.
To Submit to His Request – He has requested that I pray. Abraham was instructed to pray for Abimelech (Gen 20:7) and he did (20:17). In the New Testament, there are numerous exhortations to pray (1 Thess 5:17, 25; Luke 18:1; 1 Tim 2:1-3; Eph 6:18 – to name only a few). So when we pray, we are obeying God.
To Share in His Work – God Who ordains the ends, also ordains the means. He has given me the great privilege to have a share in it through prayer. He has chosen to use my prayer as the fulcrum which moves His omnipotence. Explain it? I can’t. Believe it? I do! Consider Abraham in Genesis 18. Did God “need” Abraham to be able to save Lot out of Sodom?
To Show our Dependency – When Rebekah did not conceive, Isaac entreated the Lord for her. He owned that natural power was helpless here; divine power was needed (Gen 25:21). How pleasing to the heart of God to see men who willingly take a place of dependence on God in a world marked by smug independence of God.
To Shape our Will – Perhaps one of the greatest reasons we are exhorted to pray is that in praying, our wills are molded and conformed to His will. It is a case where the process is as important as the product. As we pray, God begins to probe our motives and hearts. As we feel His probing hand uncover long hidden (and some not so hidden) motives and desires, we confess our failure and refine our requests.
We plan to consider in future months: The Doctrine of Prayer, David and His Prayers, Daniel and His Prayers, Deportment and Prayer, Detractions from our Prayers, The Depth of Paul’s Prison Prayers, The Disciples’ Prayer of Matthew 6.