Probably one of the most important things in our spiritual walk for which we need encouragement is our prayer life. This is true whether we think in terms of our own personal prayer or of united prayer with others. We live in a world where everything seems to conspire against it. Satan is very active against prayer and finds, amongst other things, good ground to resist it through our own natural predisposition to take an easy route in life whenever possible. Desperation and pain are frequently an unpleasant stimulus to prayer and we would probably admit it is in such times that we really pray. But there are much more positive stimuli, and some are offered below.
1 The Privilege of Prayer
“Let us the approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Heb. 4:16
It is so important to recognise what a privilege prayer is. Such a privilege is something for constant meditation. Prayer is the practical expression of the two most important things that any human being can have in this life; access to God and relationship with God. This means we can come into his presence and find that he is pleased to receive us, and ready to listen to us. It is important to recognise that the access we have is to a place where God rules – the “throne”. Our access is to the all-powerful, ruling Lord of Creation, the one who has power over everything and knows everything. Our access is to an audience with God who is King over all. Without such access prayer would be of no avail, just mere words, and we would have no confidence in making requests. But with such access we have come to the centre of divine power. All is available to us through One who is all-wise.Such access means we have a relationship with God. Talking to someone and listening to them, and especially talking at the deepest level is the essential mark of relationship. And our relationship in prayer is with an Almighty God who is also our Father. At a human level if we fail to talk and listen to our friends or family our relationship founders and we lose all the value and help it can provide. It is so important to communicate. God, as Father, is, in the nature of things, always ready with a listening ear, ready to “help in time of need”, ready to provide, ready to guide. It is very short-sighted on our part to fail to talk and listen to Him, so letting the relationship weaken. Relationships in life which are helpful and strengthening are one of the most important things to successful living and much to be pursued; how much more so our relationship to God. We are always glad to talk to helpful friends and we should certainly have the same frame of mind with God. We should feel able to be utterly free to really speak our mind and our heart, and in simple language. We should feel able to simply sit with Him and just enjoy his presence, even when we are not quite sure what to say; relationships are sometimes secured as much by being quiet in the presence of a loved one as by talking. And what a privilege it is to have access through our relationship at any time and in any place!
2 The “Price” of Prayer
“We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb. 10:19
Access and relationship with God was bought at a great cost. It did not simply “just happen”. To establish the “privilege” of coming into the “throne room” of God our sin had to be dealt with, and a sacrifice was essential. Prayer is no cheap privilege, to be taken for granted. God’s own Son paid the price with his own blood, something that we can scarcely really conceive. Calvary, and the forgiveness of our sin makes prayer possible. The only cost we are called to make is to allow sin to die in our lives, and leave godlessness behind us. If, at a human level, a family member’s death proved to be the means of restoring a warm and enduring family relationship we would be eternally thankful, and would honour that death immensely. The death of Jesus as done precisely that as far as our relationship with our Heavenly Father is concerned. How tragic that we are all too inclined to neglect such a privilege that was paid for at such a price! Thinking on the cost, however, will bring us more readily to the throne of grace, release a deep sense of thankfulness into our prayer and see it release the Father’s power.
3 The Power of Prayer
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be opened in order that you may know …….. his incomparably great power for us who believe” Eph. 1: 18,19
Prayer in itself is not power, but it is the switch that releases power, or more precisely, God’s power. That is why it is so powerful. If the switch is rarely pulled, the power is rarely seen! Two things are required in order to operate that switch. First, there must be faith in the Living God and in his readiness to listen to prayer. Second there must be godly living in the one who prays. Prayer is no mere slot machine operated by “correct” words or much repeated words. It is the function of a living relationship in which a genuine heart faith in God is allied to godly requests and a life which is pleasing to Him.
4 The Priority of Prayer
“You have not because you ask not”. James 4:2 “Ask and you will receive”. Matt.7:7
There is no clearer lesson in Scripture than the truth that all powerful works of God have their beginnings in prayer. In fact it becomes very clear that when God wants to move and do something He seems always to get someone or a number of people to pray for what he is wanting to do. It is part of the way he works. In prayer we are co-workers with him in his purposes. The genuine works and power of God have always come out earnest prayer.
Sometimes indeed that prayer comes in the shape of a heart-rending cry out of sheer distress, as with the Israelites suffering and crying out for deliverance under brutal Egyptian oppression. In answer to their cry God raised up Moses and delivered the Israelites, a deliverance that was, however, in his purpose before ever they cried out. Following the ascension of Jesus, the apostles and others gave themselves to ten days of prayer, pursuing in their prayer Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. God met with them on the Day of Pentecost and the promise was mightily fulfilled. The switch had been pulled – here was the power. Paul, blind and broken in spirit cried out to God for three days for God to speak to him, and he was answered by Ananias telling him of his commission to the Gentiles and praying for him to receive the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes prayer comes out of a promise or a vision of a work which is strongly impressed on the heart of someone who has learned to “wait on God”. The annals of those sent on missionary work over the last two centuries are full of examples of this; Brother Andrew of Open Doors, seeking to support persecuted Christians is one such remarkable story of an entirely new twentieth century work begun in vision and secured by uninterrupted intercession to the benefit of untold Christians. There are many other similar stories
In whatever way such a burden of prayer is released it is always prior to and fundamental to the work which is accomplished through it.