If I had to describe my prayer life, I would have to say it is a relationship of fits and starts. There are seasons when I feel like I pray constantly and God‘s presence is as real as the people around me. I hear him and I see him act.
But a more constant reality concerning prayer for me is feeling like I just can’t figure it out. It’s a bit like knowing where a beautiful home is located, being enamored by it and knowing that it is mine, but struggling so much to find the front door. Then, giving up and living in a shack in the bad part of town.
What follows is the biblical vision for prayer. It resides in the Scriptures and is one of the deepest desires of my heart. It is my hope as a pastor it encourages you like it does me and may we together find that place of rest, intimacy and power.
We know we need to pray. We have all read books or heard a sermon about how to pray. But most of us do not embody the New Testament vision for prayer, praying without ceasing and normally seeing supernatural results. I believe that the reason our prayer life is so lacking is because we deeply misunderstand the nature of prayer.
This essay seeks to reclaim the biblical vision for prayer. To do so requires answering basic questions:
1) what is prayer?
2) does it actually matter if we pray?
3) how should we do it.
What is prayer?
Prayer is interactive relationship. It has in its nature mutuality. It is based on the necessity of interaction—us praising, pleading and lamenting, Him answering, revealing and responding. If our prayers are merely monologues to the sky, something is wrong.
The Bible is clear, prayer is fundamental in our lives and much will not be done if we do not pray. Imagine a hospital without medicine. Imagine a house without electricity. Imagine a car without gasoline. Imagine A relief agency that could not and did not do anything to help others. This is life without prayer. It is a life without divine help, energy, and resource to do eternal good.
I don’t want you to take my word for it. Below are biblical examples of prayer. Read the paragraph above one more time and then see its reality in the texts below.
Does it matter if we pray?
The very question of the value/need/importance of prayer touches upon two important biblical categories.
The first category is God’s sovereignty. Romans 9 is but one example of God being completely free and able to do what he wants. The other category is human desire and initiative—agency. Thus, there is an inherent tension between an eternally unchanging, all-wise God and our prayers for him to act in ways we desire. This tension is an antimony—two contradictory ideas held together in tension. This tension is clear in the Bible and no one systematic theology easily solves it.
I believe this antimony is solved in a syllogism:
1) We are called to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6).
2) Faith-filled prayer moves God to act (Matthew 17:20).
3) At times, God even changes his mind (2 Kings 20:1-6).
4) God is in complete control of everything and is the author of the past and present (Isaiah 45:7).
5) Thus, it must be that God has created a principle of relationship called prayer that he willingly constrains himself to in our universe. The present and future are shaped in a significant way by the prayers of the saints.
6) In the end, it will all come together as he desires, as he wills.
Prayer has a direct impact on how God moves. He has intentionally created a principle of interaction that he submits himself under. It is a principle of kingdom prayer—all his children are invited to play a vital part in his purposes in the cosmos. This comes with sobering ramifications. If we do not live into the way he has ordered life, things that could be done will not be done.
Major Categories of Prayer
- prayer of faith (James 5:15)
- prayer of agreement (also known as corporate prayer) (Acts 2:42)
- prayer of request (also known as petition or supplication) (Philippians 4:6)
- prayer of thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2
- prayer of worship (Acts 13:2-3)
- prayer of consecration (also known as dedication) (Matthew 26:39)
- prayer of intercession (1 Timothy 2:1)
- prayer of imprecation (Psalms 69)
- praying in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).
A Prayer-filled Life
If we are living in this house of intimacy, we are experiencing regularly the peace, joy and love that comes naturally with being in Union with him. You are not an automaton in his creation not a clog in the cosmic machine. You are the beloved of the King. This rescuing, passionate God who loves you is working in this world, all around you. He has invited you to really participate. We do this primarily through prayer. Relationship cultivated intimacy which in turn builds unity in purpose. It is to be of one mind. To be working towards the same things.
You have immediate, unfettered access to God. You are his child and you are important. He wants to know what you think! Throughout the day, he asks you, “what should we do about this”? What shall we do together about you sin, your pain, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, your city and even the world.
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6