The Importance of Prayer

            I would say prayer is the single most important part of every believer’s life, as prayer plays a key role in driving the rest of the spiritual disciplines. How we pray is a direct result of how we believe, and is driven by, and drives how we respond to our beliefs.

            I like the way Arturo Azurdia III explained the link between prayer and living out our faith: “I don’t think about prayer and how I should pray, and the way that prayer should intersect with my life apart from certain theological convictions that drive me to those practical things.  We get in trouble today when we think that methodology is divorced from theology.  Everything that we do by way of methodology needs to be a reflection of our theological convictions.”  Theology is meant not to merely be an intellectual understanding but to lead us to action based on the truths found in God’s revelation. As a believer our prayer life should be the foundation from which we carry out God’s mission, in submission to God, seeking wisdom from God, repenting daily of our shortcomings, and making petitions for those we lead. Prayer plays a key role in the daily life of all Christians as we live out our faith daily.

            In the daily role of a believer it seems to me that prayer is a key way we work with the Spirit and drives our spiritual disciplines as we seek to have the Spirit sanctify us. In prayer though we must first understand the role it plays, how God works, and what His will is for our lives. This is described well by DA Carson- “At the heart of all our praying must be a biblical vision. That vision embraces who God is, what He has done, who we are, where we are going, what we must value and cherish. That vision drives us toward increasing conformity with Jesus, toward lives lived in the light of eternity, toward hearty echoing of the churches ongoing cry, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” That vision must shape our prayers, so that the things that most concern us in prayer are those that concern the heart of God. Then we will persevere in our praying, until we reach the goal God himself has set for us.”

            In reading through 1 John 4:20-5:5 a principle I discovered was true love for the Father is an obedient love, a submissive love, therefore we must love God on His terms not on our own. I believe this is part of what Carson was talking about in our understanding a biblical vision for our lives. In our daily prayer we must take on a posture of submission as we approach God in prayer seeking His will for our lives and how He would have us continue in our walk. We need to submit to His will as we take our petitions to Him and understand that His answers will be according to His plans rather than granting our desires. Our relationship with God through prayer changes us more than it changes our surroundings. Jerry Sittser spoke in to this well in the following quote; “Ultimately God’s greatest answer to prayer is far different than what we can imagine. It is not what God does for us that demonstrates His greatest answer to prayer it is what God does in us. God wants to change us to His liking not change the world to our liking.”

            I also believe every believer must have a clear theological understanding of how God uses prayer in light of providence. Personally I have a meticulous view of providence while also believing there is compatibility between how God works and our personal choices and actions. It may be tempting to rest to deeply in God’s sovereignty and neglect prayer thinking our prayers are ineffectual or unimportant but throughout the redemptive story in scripture we find that prayer is an important part of the daily life of God’s people. At times it can be hard to understand how prayer and sovereignty intersect but I found the words of Arturo Azurdia III profound when speaking to this using the example of the disciples in Acts 1. “After Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit and ascended to Heaven, the disciples devoted themselves constantly to prayer for the 10 days after Jesus left till the Spirit came.  Why pray if you’ve already been given the promise that the Holy Spirit is going to come?  Because they understood that though God has His sovereign plan and sovereign purpose somehow in the mystery of Gods sovereignty I have responsibility.  Prayer is the means by which our sovereign God most commonly affects His purposes.”  

            So meticulous providence and prayer intersect because though God has ordained all things, predestined those who would be His children, and is personally holding all things together and working through all circumstances He has also commanded us to pray and ordained to use our prayers in His plans. Because our God is personal, and created us for relationship with Him and each other He plans and desires to interact with us every step of the way. This interaction is a key way that He does His sanctifying work in our hearts, conforming us to His image.  Just as prayer is a key component of our relationship with God it also plays a role in our relationships with others.  

            Prayer is one of the most intimate disciplines in which we relate to God, and plays a role in how we relate to others. We interact with others through prayer by praying together as well as praying for one another. In both 1 John 5:14-17 as well as Matthew 18:15-20 we find instructions and importance placed in prayer for the reconciling of a fellow Christian back to God and the fellowship of believers. We are instructed to pray for one another as we stumble in sin, with the desire to see each other sanctified. We also see this in Galatians 6:1-2. We bear one another’s burdens with a desire to see the burden lifted and the individual grow in character, and in the context of the text one must first be keeping in step with the Spirit which seems to me happens through prayer and other spiritual disciplines.

            Just as prayer is one of the most intimate ways we relate to God it is also an intimate way to relate to each other as we approach God. By praying together in community we lay ourselves out transparent to others as we seek Gods will for our lives, petition God for help in our character, as well as show our heart for others. When praying corporately we reveal more of ourselves to others, and we have an opportunity for the Spirit to work through each other, prompting and cueing each other to pray deeper and with increasing specificity.

            Within the most intimate human relationships we also see that prayer plays a vital role and has an importance that was made clear by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:5. Paul had been admonishing married couples to do their duty in being intimate with their spouses to maintain a healthy relationship, and to keep the temptation of Satan at bay. However the one stipulation he gave for not being intimate with ones spouse for a time was in order to devote more time to prayer.  
 “Do not deprive one another sexually—except when you agree for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:5 HCSB The one way in which a husband and wife are most intimate and bonded together as one was seen as second to the most intimate form of spiritual discipline, and even then only for a time, for just as we must continue to be intimate with God in order to maintain a healthy relationship with Him, we must also continue to be intimate with our spouses in order to abide in that relationship.
            As far as intimacy with God in prayer I appreciated the words of Rob Wiggins he said “It’s a natural flaw of our humanity that we strive to be autonomous from God and autonomous from one another.  Prayer is the opposite of my independence, it is the declaration day after day that I rely upon God for everything in my life.” In prayer we cry out to our Father I need you Lord, please do not let your presence depart from me, just as Moses had petitioned God after the Israelite’s had worshiped the golden calf.

            It seems to me prayer is part of the very foundation of spiritual leadership in leading the church or ministries. Jesus was devoted to spending time with the Lord daily and was even more fervent and passionate in prayer in times of crisis. The apostles were devoted in prayer while waiting for the Holy Spirit to arrive and throughout their ministry on a normal basis as well as when special occasions arose, such as persecution from the Sanhedrin. Prayer was also one of the key roles of the Apostles as they stated in Acts 6 they needed helpers to be appointed to serve the widows and needs of the church so they could be focused on prayer and teaching. In terms of discipleship the spiritual leaders in ministries need to also teach those they are disciplining to pray, and lead those they serve in prayer, while praying for them and their time of instruction to be fruitful.

            Here are twelve principles for prayer that I have derived from reading D.A. Carson’s book “Praying with Paul.”

            – Be intentional about prayer, about taking time to do it, how to stay focused, accountability, and methods.  

            – Root your prayers biblically while keeping them fresh and current.  

            – What you are thankful for in prayer reveals what you deem important, what your heart desires. Also our petitions should align with Gods will.  Paul often didn’t focus on their material needs or pray for persecution to stop he prayed for God to be glorified and believers to mature and fulfill their purposes. 

            – The love of God evidences itself in us by our love for others, which should be present in our prayer life. 

            – Paul’s passion for people drives his prayers for people.  Our passion should lead us to pray for people to come to faith and grow in faith, and that we may be used to be part of that work.  

            – Not only should our prayers not be solely focused on ourselves but also they should not be limited to those whom we know personally.  We should pray specifically for Gods work among people we don’t know, and thank God for their being a sibling in faith.  

            – Nothing is more important than prayer, even the intimate obligations of husband and wife are second to our intimacy with God.  

            – If Gods greatest revelation of truth is the gospel then for us to understand Gods love we need to be devoted students of His revealed truth (scripture), for the purpose of heart transformation.  Our prayers should reflect the desire to grow in this way as well as thankfulness for growth in this way, for us, and others.   

            – God’s sovereignty and humanities responsibility are compatible.  We pray because God has ordained this as His intended intimate, powerful interaction with humanity in carrying out His plans.  

            – All prayer including thanksgiving is an opportunity to humbly submit to Gods sovereignty.  Recognize what only God can accomplish and thank Him for doing so, and ask Him to continue to work in this way, while desiring these results for everyone.  

            – Pray for the continued work of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish change and empowerment in the life of believers, with the knowledge He can and does.  

            – As fellow believers in Christ, who have experienced Christ’s love, we should be compelled to be united in prayer for one another and our ministries.
 
I hope reading my reflections on prayer will inspire and embolden your prayer time.