How is your prayer life? Do you love spending time talking to your heavenly Father? Do you take the time to let the light of His presence flood your heart and mind? This is an awesome privilege we have – to actually be able to approach the Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and the sustainer of life. He is so holy that the angels cover their faces as they cry out “Holy, holy, holy,” from above the throne. The foundations shake at the sound of His voice (Isa 6:1-4 ESV). When we were in our sins, we were far from God. His holiness is so great and our sin so abominable that it required the Savior’s blood, shed on Calvary, to wash us clean and to make us fit to approach His presence. Now that we have been “brought near” by the precious blood of Christ and have been made children of God, we can go to Him, our Father (Eph 2:13). God wanted us to have this intimate relationship with Him so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son in order to procure it for us. This is the value He placed upon intimacy with you and me. How about you? How much value do you place on intimacy with Him? How much of your time and energy are you willing to invest in your relationship with God?
Relationship cannot grow without communication. Webster’s Dictionary defines communicate as “to make known, impart.” Our Lord said, “This is life eternal, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). God makes Himself known to us (communicates) through His Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. When we respond to Him, we communicate to Him through prayer. As we spend more time in His Word and in prayer, we come to know Him more and more deeply, and our relationship grows.
What exactly is prayer?
The Greek word translated “to pray” is proseuchomai, which comes from two words – pros, meaning “toward or near to,” and euchomai, meaning “to wish, to will, or to pray.” When we pray, we are seeking to draw near to God, to lift up before Him the longings of our hearts. Strong’s defines proseuchomai as “to pray to God, to supplicate, worship, pray earnestly.” Prayer is more than just communication. It is founded on our relationship with Him, because, without that, we could not draw near to His holy presence. It takes into account our position before Him and acknowledges Him for Who He is, the One Who hears us and is mighty enough to answer our prayers. Therefore, prayer is rooted in faith – that God is Who He says He is, that I am who He says I am, that He loves me enough to listen to me and to choose what is best for me, and that He has the power to do it.
Our Lord’s example
Prayer marked the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospels record many instances when He prayed. After He performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, he “dismissed the crowds” and “went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matt 14:23 ESV). On another occasion, mothers brought their children to Him so that He would lay His hands on them and pray. He spent all night in prayer with His Father before He chose the 12 disciples. He took Peter, James, and John up the mountain, and, while He was praying, He was “transfigured” before their eyes and “His face shone like the sun” (Matt 17:2 ESV; Luke 9:28-29). In Gethsemane, when His soul was “in an agony,” He “prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV). While He was enduring the horrific suffering of the cross, He prayed. In every situation, whether it was after performing miracles, or before making decisions, when contemplating Calvary, and even while suffering on the cross, our Lord Jesus prayed.
Learning from the Master
It was after our Lord finished praying on the Mount of Olives that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). They had witnessed the role of prayer in His life and they wanted to make it a part of their own. He gave them a pattern for prayer. Each sentence He gave them covered truth that was vital to their prayer lives. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.” He is our loving Father Who is sovereign over all, and we, His children, come before Him with our praises for Who He is. We reverence and worship Him Who alone deserves the highest place. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This expresses submission to Him. It is a longing for His rightful reign, and a desire to fulfill His will rather than our own. The phrase “give us this day our daily bread,” is an acknowledgment of our need and His ability to meet that need.
The next line, “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” reveals the absolute necessity of confession and forgiveness if we are to commune with God. Not only must our sin be confessed and forgiven, but we must also forgive those who have sinned against us. (In Luke 7 the Lord Jesus tells the parable of the two debtors as an illustration of the importance of forgiving and having one’s sins forgiven.)
In the next phrase, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” our dependence upon God is highlighted. It is through His strength and power alone that we will be kept from sin. The pattern ends with praise. “For Thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” From this pattern prayer the Lord Jesus taught us the essentials of prayer. We learn to begin with praise and an acknowledgment of His preeminence. We bow in submission to His plan and will. We pour out our hearts before Him, telling Him of all our needs and holding nothing back. Then, when we have placed those burdens in His hands, we trust Him to be sufficient for us.
In His presence we forgive others, confess our own sins to Him, and accept His forgiveness. Daily we seek His preservation and rely on His strength to deliver us from sin. In the light of all this, praise flows from our hearts to the One Who alone is worthy.
Putting prayer into practice
Before our Lord taught His disciples how to pray He warned them not to be like the hypocrites who prayed “that they might be seen of others,” or like the Gentiles who used “empty phrases” and thought they would be heard because of their “many words” (Matt 6:5, 7-8 ESV). Prayer is not about impressing others or making ourselves look spiritual. Prayer is about drawing near to God in faith. The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to have faith when they prayed (Mark 11:22-24). In Romans we learn that our “faith is counted as righteousness” and in James we discover “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Rom 4:5; James 5:16 ESV). Thus, for our prayer life to be powerful, it must be rooted in faith. The more time we spend in His presence, reading His Word and communicating with Him in prayer, the more we will come to know Him, and the more we come to know Him, the more we will trust Him, for He is worthy of our trust. Satan knows this and works at keeping us so busy that we don’t spend the time with God that we need. Then, when the difficulties come, we don’t have our roots deep enough in the truths that will give us stability and strength to be victorious. God’s presence and His Word must be the top priority of our lives if we are to truly live out the “fullness of life” that our Lord intended for us. He wants to richly bless us. He wants us to draw near and spend time with Him “that our joy may be full” (John 16:24). He has loved us with an everlasting love and wants us to “abide” in His love (John 15:9). If we allow other things to crowd out the time we need with Him, we will miss the joy and satisfaction that can only be found in His presence and our prayer life will not be effective.
The effectiveness of prayer is pointed out in God’s Word which speaks of the “great power” of prayer, and it can also be clearly seen in the lives of some of God’s people (James 5:16). Two examples of men mighty in prayer in the 1800s, were George Mueller and Daniel Nash. Mueller lived a life marked by prayer and faith in God. Throughout his life he built five large orphanages and cared for 10,024 orphans. In his 68 years of ministry, he never drew a salary, took out a loan, or went into debt, but trusted God to provide for his needs. Neither he nor the orphans ever went without a meal, although sometimes the cupboards were empty before God provided the next meal. He did not directly ask anyone for funds, but “prayed in” the equivalent of $7,200,000.00 which he used for the orphans and the spread of the gospel. While Mueller ran his orphanages and prayed, another man, Daniel Nash, gave up his employment to devote himself totally to prayer for the meetings of Charles Finney, a fellow evangelist. Finney saw great blessing in the “Second Great Awakening” in the early 1800s. Nash would quietly rent a room in a town a few weeks before the meetings were to begin, find believers, and spend days in prayer. Finney referred to him, “as the man who cracked the gates of hell.” On Nash’s tombstone is this epitaph: “Daniel Nash, Laborer with Finney, Mighty in Prayer.”
The labor of prayer
If we are going to be mighty in prayer, it will not happen casually. It takes commitment. It means that we value prayer enough to forge out time alone with God regardless of the personal cost. Hudson Taylor knew what it was to be committed to spending time with God in prayer. His son said that, for 40 years, the sun never rose on China that God didn’t find Hudson Taylor on his knees. The Bible records the commitment of another man of prayer, Daniel. As a teen who was a slave in a foreign land, Daniel not only prayed himself, he also got his friends to pray with him. When he was older and the king’s decree went out that whoever made a petition to anyone but the king would be killed, Daniel still prayed three times daily, as was his habit. He valued prayer more than life itself. And so, when he was cast into the lions’ den, the angel kept their mouths shut and “no kind of harm was found upon him because he trusted in his God” (Dan 6:23 ESV).
The labor of prayer involves more than just commitment. The apostle Paul described to the Colossian believers the earnestness with which Epaphras prayed. Epaphras was “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col 4:12 ESV). The Lord Himself, knowing that we can become discouraged in prayer, used the parable of the persistent widow to teach His followers that we “ought always to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1 ESV). When we do not see the answer to our prayers it is easy to become discouraged; that’s when our faith is put to the test. Will God be faithful? If He really is in control, why is this happening? Where is His love for me in all of this? When Satan tempts you to despair, always go back to the cross. Read of all He suffered just to make you His own. “He Who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”(Rom 8:32 ESV). Trust in His love; trust in His faithfulness. It is in the intimacy of His presence that we are fully satisfied. “In Thy presence is fullness of joy” (Psa 16:11).