Most of us have an understanding of what it means to pray. And if we are Christians we know how important it is to pray. But I am as guilty as anyone of failing frequently in this area of my life. Let's get back to the basics and try to define prayer. Then, we can settle on an understanding of a few basic and biblical reasons why we must pray.
The Definition of Prayer
Miriam Webster defines the word pray in this way: “to speak to God especially in order to give thanks or to ask for something”. This isn't bad, but it isn't quite enough.
St. Therese of Lisieux has said “For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally it is something great and supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus”. Beautifully said.
Arthur W. Pink said that “Real prayer is communion with God so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts, and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to him”.
In Tim Keller's book entitled Prayer, he states “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.”
Prayer is an amazing and utterly awe-inspiring thing if we really stop to think about it. It is the opportunity to commune with an all-powerful, Sovereign God. It is the created speaking directly with the Creator. And we can boldly come to the throne of God in prayer, even if we don't have the words to say. In Romans 8:26-28 we are encouraged that the Spirit will intercede for us when we don't know how to pray. Feel free to listen to a sermon preached by my husband, Brad Evangelista at CrossPointe Church on these verses in Romans. He does a beautiful job clarifying this text and the Gospel.
Psalm 55:17 shows us the heart of crying out to God when the Psalmist proclaims “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice”. Even through our unspeakable “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), we can pray according to God's will. What a marvelous thing.In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. John Bunyan Click To Tweet
And it's more than just a blessed opportunity. In fact, it is much more.
Feel free to listen to the audio version of this post if you are on the go.
Prayer is a Requirement
Wait, what? I can tell you were tracking with me, but now you may be getting a little prickly. I totally get it. We are strong. We are modern. We are not to be told what to do. Except, we are. God has distinctly commanded in his Word that we are to pray. I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “Pray without ceasing”. Ephesians 6:18 admonishes us to pray for others when it says that we are to be “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”. Philippians 4:6 is clear when it mandates this: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
But let's step back and look at this a bit more closely. Although prayer is a duty of all Christians, it is important that we do not see it as a legalistic box that must be checked. No, it's a duty that is necessary to our very spiritual lives. It is as essential a part of our day as eating or sleeping.To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive w/o breathing. Martin Luther Click To Tweet
John Piper says that prayer is a “duty the way a scuba diver has a duty to put on his air tank before going underwater”. Yes, it's something he must do, but he does it gladly. He knows it is essential to preventing him from drowning.
It is a requirement. The Creator God instructs us to commune with Him for the good of our souls and ultimately for His glory. What a blessed joy to follow this command.
Prayer is a Responsibility
In some great mystery that is beyond my understanding, the sovereign ruler of the Universe has ordained that prayer can cause things to happen. This is a short video in which John Piper expresses how our all-powerful God folds our prayers into his sovereign plan.
If God has chosen to use our prayers to advance his kingdom and display His Glory, it stands to reason that it is our responsibility to actually obey his command to pray.
Prayer is a Privilege
Christ humbled himself to a death on the cross as an atonement for our sin. He was sinless and yet he died and rose again to remove our sin and to substitute His righteousness in its place (2 Cor 5:21). We were dead and now those of us who are in Christ have been made alive. Because of His work on that cross, we can now stand before Him. We are free to talk to our God all day, every day. That is the privilege of prayer.
In Psalm 61, the psalmist cries out to God by saying, “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth, I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”
We can call out to God. We can pray, expect Him to hear us and He will be our refuge. Sometimes, when I get a glimpse of that truth, it overwhelms me.
I end with this. Jesus prayed. All the time. And he is our example.
Tim Keller sums this up beautifully in his book titled Prayer when he says “Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a ‘house of prayer’), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb. 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1–26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying.”
Jesus prayed. It is my duty, responsibility and privilege to bring my praise and petition before an almighty God as well. This is why I pray.