When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). It is doubtless true that the Lord’s Prayer is routinely abused around the globe every day, mouthed by people who neither think about its meaning, nor would mean it even if they did. This is why Martin Luther referred to the Lord’s Prayer as “the greatest martyr on earth.” It is, as it were, butchered by thoughtless, soulless prayer on a daily basis. However, the other extreme, into which many evangelicals today have fallen (and it’s just as bad) is this: we have largely neglected it!
A friend who has recently been reading through David Brainerd’s biography shared with me a stirring passage from Brainerd’s journal. What motivated this man — who spent years in sacrifice and service of the gospel, and eventually died an early death for the spread of it — to continue laboring in the face of excruciating pain and disappointment? The overarching, undergirding concern “that God might be known to be God in the whole earth” and that “God have the glory forever.”
God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). There are countless emotional obstacles that keep us from freely praying to God each day, and moment by moment. But there is one overriding reason, Paul says, for you to fight through and go to God in prayer: the Holy Spirit himself is the one beckoning you, drawing you into God’s presence. I was struck recently, in reaching this passage, by the fact that each of these nouns refers back to the Spirit.
Paul, in the middle of a praise-hymn to God in Christ, makes the astounding claim that He is “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” because of the power that is working in Christian believers (Ephesians 3:20). God is able! He is able to do what we ask; he is able to do more than we think; he is able to do above all that we can ask or think. And this doesn’t just mean that God is capable of answering more prayers than we are asking; it also means he is answering
“[We have] boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). Access to the holy God who created us is the most precious commodity in the universe. So precious, in fact, that no person can afford it, can purchase it with any amount of money or sacrifice or even personal godliness. This is the lesson we are meant learn from the Old Testament sacrificial system of worship. The innermost room (the “holiest”) of the temple was where God’s presence was experienced in a special way. Yet the writer of Hebrews reminds us that there is only
The same Jesus who teaches us to pray our Father in heaven tells us God runs to meet his children who come to him by faith. So even as you run to God today, when you do, Jesus says you will find that God is running to receive you. Take the parable of the prodigal son. In the beginning, the son wants what he can get from the father:
David Brainerd observed, “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.” The answer to the question “Does prayer make a difference?” is definitely, “Yes!”. But let’s consider how and why the Bible teaches us that prayer matters so much.
Sometimes it is said regarding a friendship or romance that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But when it comes to our interaction with God’s Word, it is more accurate to say that “absence makes the heart grow cold.” If we are not regularly exposing ourselves to the Word of God, we tend to lose our appreciation for its value and power. And as our appreciation for the Word of God grows weak, so does our appreciation for God himself.
Paul briefly exhorts in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 for believers to “Pray without ceasing.” Yet some of us might ask the question: “Why?” Why pray without ceasing? That seems a tall order for busy people who have many life obligations on their plate already. But consider the biblical inducements to prayer by asking yourself a few clarifying and self-examining questions:
Here’s a brief meditation I wrote down from Psalm 119, a great text for Bible reading. You might find it encouraging as you continue looking for wonderful things in God’s law this year: “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
The old British divine Matthew Henry refers to the practice of praying God’s Word back to God as “wrestling with God in his own strength.” For this reason, I love to peruse the Bible for prayers to make my own. And one of my favorite passages to pray is Psalm 25. As we look forward to a new year, I don’t know what changes, purposes, or opportunities await each of us, but I am confident that “good and upright is the LORD” and that, “therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts… (1 Corinthians 14:1). Christians should desire giftedness. Although any spiritual gift is useless unless it is practiced in love (1 Corinthians 13:1-2), Paul exhorts the saints to desire the spiritual gifts. When was the last time you prayed for spiritual gifts? Spiritual gifts can only come from the Spirit, and so prayer is the best way to pursue them.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… (Ephesians 3:14). In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul gives us four specific prayer requests he had for the people of God. And all of them center around the person and work of Jesus Christ: that Christ’s Spirit give you strength, as Christ lives in you by faith, giving you an ever-deepening, familiar knowledge of Christ-love, that you may enjoy the very best, the fullness, of what God has to offer: Jesus!
Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight (Exodus 33:13). I get chill bumps every time I read this verse. Partly because of the surrounding context: in the verse before, Moses quotes God’s declaration to him “I know you by name, and you have found favor in my sight” (Exodus 33:12). In the verse following, God speaks again to Moses and says, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).
I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him… (Psalm 142:1-2). Many Christians simply do not know how to talk to God. And we are particularly uncomfortable talking to God about our discontent, grief, or pain.