Onwards and Upwards! – Introducing the Spiritual Disciples – Prayer
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”Hebrews 12:1-2
Just as athletes require discipline to improve and progress toward their goal, so the Christian needs discipline to grow. We must be willing to rid ourselves of that which is unhelpful in the Christian life, and to work at that which helps us to grow and mature.
Over the coming weeks I’d like for us to reflect together on a few “Spiritual Disciplines” that have helped God’s people to run our race well for him through the generations.
We begin with prayer. How could we not? It is, after all, prayer that sees the Christian life begin! “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
When we are born again, we are adopted into the family of God. God becomes our father and our friend. This is a great and glorious truth. Our relationship with God will only flourish and mature with good communication. Prayer matters.
Yet it is not always easy to pray. How often we find ourselves like the disciples in Gethsemane. We want to pray, but our eyes are heavy! In a world constantly promising instant gratification and encouraging self-exaltation, there are few willing to invest the time and effort to become men and women of prayer.
How can we ensure that we are found among that faithful few? I don’t think there are any easy answers, but a good place to begin would be to consider what prayer is.
Consider the Privilege of Prayer
Prayer is both an instruction and an invitation, a duty and a delight.
It’s a great privilege to pray. Consider the one to whom we speak in prayer. He is the Sovereign King who rules over all. Were I to get a brief word with the Queen, it would be a moment I would remember and cherish for the rest of my life, yet she is just a flawed human being like me. But God is the perfect King who rules eternally over all. And yet our prayers matter to him, because we matter to him. They are “golden bowls full of incense” (Rev 5:8) That is, a sweet-smelling offering, to him.
Consider the Power of Prayer
As Sovereign, there is no higher authority than God himself. No one can tell God what he can and cannot do. As Almighty, there is nothing he lacks the power to do. He has the power and authority to do whatever he wishes. And this almighty sovereign God is, in Christ, our loving heavenly Father. It has been said that he who has his heart, has his arm.
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”James 5:16–18
Consider the Pattern of Prayer
To the Father
Ultimately we pray to the triune God of Scripture, but Biblical prayer is addressed to the Father. Jesus himself taught his followers to pray “our Father” (Matthew 6:6,9) And this is what we see consistently practised throughout the New Testament (though Stephen calling out to Jesus as he is martyred is sometimes cited as an exception to the rule.)
In the Name of the Son
“In Jesus’ name” is not just a meaningless phrase to tack on to the end of our prayers. We pray, trusting in his righteousness and asking in accordance with his will.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”John 16:23-24
In the Power of the Spirit
The Spirit helps us to pray when we don’t know what or how to (Romans 8:26). He helps us feel something of the significance of the prayers we bring before the throne of grace.
“When the Holy Spirit gives help to the believer in prayer, suitable affections in every area of prayer are stirred up. The Spirit creates an aching heart when sin is being confessed; he brings forth a deep sense of need when God is being supplicated; and when the Lord is being praised, the Spirit carries the heart on high upon the wings of love and joy.”William Gurnall
This is not to say it is always easy to pray, sometimes we have to ‘wrestle’ in prayer, and the spiritual disciplines, as the name suggests, require discipline! However it is surely in remembering what prayer is that we find ourselves committing and recommitting to grow in this gift.
It’s easy to become discouraged in our prayer lives, especially if we strive for perfection more than for progress, but my prayer is simply that we would learn to become men and women increasingly faithful and devoted to prayer. May we move forward, step by step, for him.
“Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”Ephesians 2:18