“Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). The Scriptures pulsate with the prayer lives of the saints. From the first mention in Genesis 4 through to the prayer of John in Revelation 22:20, “Even so, come Lord Jesus,” scarcely a page of our Bible is not graced by prayer. Examples of prayer abound. In the Old Testament we can trace the prayers of Hannah and Samuel, of Moses the man of God, of Daniel, and of the Psalmist. Whether we look at the law, the Psalms, or the prophets, prayer was a way of life.
In the New Testament, prayer is even more evident. The Lord Jesus prayed. Luke, the gospel which depicts the Perfect Man in His dependency, gives us seven unique occasions when He prayed.
The Lord Jesus directed His disciples to pray. Significantly, in Luke 18:1, He employed a word of moral obligation, “ought.” Exhortation was added to example. On other occasions, His exhortations contained instructions on “how” to pray (Matt 6:9-13).
The book of the Acts reveals to us the crucial role which prayer played in every aspect of the lives of the believers: evangelism, courage under persecution, prayers for deliverance of the imprisoned, and the burden of church leaders (Acts 6:4; 13:1-3). It was, as the hymn writer said, “their native air.” They seemed to live in the atmosphere of prayer. Every significant movement in Acts was the result of prayer. Prayer became the wheels which propelled the progress of the gospel.
The epistles detail for us the prayer life of the Apostle Paul, a man who prayed as few others. The man who felt the burden of the care of all the churches knew what it was to call upon God for very specific needs. His prison prayers contain petitions for spiritual goals to which few ever attain. The small epistle of 2 Thessalonians, for example, contains at least four prayers of remarkable significance.
But do example, exhortation, and experience constitute a doctrinal statement concerning prayer? Is there a “doctrine” of prayer? A doctrine is a body of truth about a subject, the facts known about it. Few things, however, engender as many questions as prayer. Why pray if God already knows? How does prayer work? Why are some prayers not answered, or at least seemingly so? How should I pray? The questions are many and answers are not always as neatly packaged as we would like. But prayer is so natural to a believer, so instinctive in our experience, that it can hardly be questioned that it has a vital role in every believer’s life. The very first activity of Paul at his conversion was to pray (Acts 9:11).
In formulating a doctrine of prayer, we need to go beyond the experience of saints and explore the ways and nature of God and the nature of man.
The nature of God Himself is part of the basis for the doctrine of prayer. Notice the words which Paul employs in his exhortation in 1 Timothy 2: prayer, intercessions, supplications, and giving of thanks. These are not mere words for the sake of variety. They are intelligently grouped because each denotes a unique aspect of God.
When you think of supplications, you are thinking of requesting something. God must, of necessity, then be sufficient for whatever we request. He is the God of all sufficiency. All of our resources are in Him.
When we intercede, we are recognizing that the very nature of God is that He is sovereign and able, as our refuge to do what we cannot do. Interceding carries with it the thought of asking on behalf of another. Why pray if God is not sovereign and able to accomplish what we cannot?
When we come to God in prayer, we own that He is sacred and above all, and deserving of our reverence. He is deserving of our worship and adoration.
Giving of thanks is due to the God Who satisfies every need, and we enjoy His riches. He, Who is sacred in His Person, is able to intervene at our intercessions and able to supply for our supplications. His very nature establishes the value of prayer.
In John 1 we are told, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). A few verses later, we are told that “the Word became flesh” (v14). The significance of the title, “The Word,” is that God has always desired to communicate with man. Words are used to communicate thoughts. God communicates to us through His written Word today, desiring us to respond to the truth revealed. When we pray, we are communicating with Him and “closing the circle” of communication. Prayer becomes the essential means by which we commune with God.
As well, man was made for obedience and loyalty to his God (Gen 3). He was made to enjoy communion and to move in dependence on God (Gen 2 and 3). This awareness of his dependency is first expressed by what is written in Genesis 4:26 at the birth of Enos. His name means “frail, mortal man.” Conscious of weakness and need, it was then that men began to call upon the name of the Lord. God has designed us to be dependent in our lives; prayer is a sign of that dependence. We were made, as well, to be worshipers of God, enjoying communion with Him. Adam knew days of walking with God (Gen 3:8). Prayer is not only an avenue for request, but a channel for communion, a means of worship. Our very nature as creations from the hand of God supports a doctrine of prayer.
Even more so, our spiritual life is constituted to place us in the place of dependency, need, communion, and worship. Employing the imagery of a battle, Paul reminds us of the need to maintain contact with headquarters as we remain on the front lines facing the enemy (Eph 6:18). Jude reminds us of the need of “praying in the Holy Spirit” (v20) as we face those who would challenge Scripture. The penman of Hebrews speaks of having confidence to enter into the holiest to commune with God (Heb 10:19) and that God is well pleased with the worship and thanksgivings of His people (13:15).
We are designed as redeemed creatures to thrive best in a place of dependence and communion with our Father. Thus, both the nature of our spiritual lives, and the nature of our God become, in themselves, the basis for a doctrine of prayer.
No doubt, however, your questions about prayer still remain. Articles which will follow in this series, by a variety of writers, will explore in more depth the many issues which surround our prayer lives.