In This Series
The Vital Importance of Personal Discipline
Spiritual Disciplines, Part 1: Is Self-Discipline Unspiritual?
Spiritual Disciplines, Part 2: The Priority of Bible Reading and Meditation
Spiritual Disciplines, Part 3: Bible Reading: Some Practical Suggestions
Spiritual Disciplines, Part 4: What is Biblical Meditation?
In the next two posts, I will focus on the discipline of prayer. In this post, I will look at a few foundational questions related to prayer. In the next post, I will address some practical issues.
Why is Prayer Essential to Our Christian lives?
Like our study of the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and meditation, we must first establish a strong theological foundation upon which to build our practice of prayer. Without good theology, our disciplines will soon lose their vitality and our motivation will quickly vanish. So, why is prayer so important?
Because God exists and we have a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. Most foundational: we pray because God exists. He is really there (Gen 1:1; Ex 3:14; Rom 1:20; Heb 11:6). And we’ve been brought into a relationship with God through the atonement of his Son Jesus Christ—the living Savior. We have fellowship and relationship with the one true God (1 John 1:1-3). Prayer, at its most basic, is the natural response to such a relationship like breathing is to a newborn child.
Because we are wholly dependent upon God. Prayer is the life breath of the believer because we are truly dependent upon God for all things: physical provision and health, spiritual sight and affections, physical and spiritual deliverance, strength, wisdom, perseverance, and faith (John 15:5; Rom 11:36). Almost immediately into our journey of faith we realized that we are travelers prone to weakness, confusion, and exhaustion. We are patients with a severe illness who are in need of constant attention from our heavenly Physician. We are soldiers in need of wartime resources. We are wholly dependent upon God, so we pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17).
Prayer is the natural response of a heart that knows God and knows its desperate situation. That is why we see God’s people throughout Scripture characterized by prayer. Throughout the Scripture, God’s people are people of prayer.
- Abraham (Gen 20:17)
- Isaac (Gen 25:21)
- Moses (Ex 8:30; Num 11:2; 21:7; Deut 9:26; Psalm 90)
- Manoah (Judges 13:8-9)
- Hannah (1 Sam 1:10ff)
- Samuel (1 Sam 7:5; 1 Sam 12:23)
- David (2 Sam 7:20-29; Psalm 4:1ff; 5:1ff; 6:9; 54:2)
- Solomon (1 Kings 8:12ff)
- Elijah (1 Kings 8:36)
- Ezra (Ezra 9:6ff)
- Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:5ff; 2:4)
- Job (Job 42:10)
- Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:15; 38:2)
- Jeremiah (Jer 32:17ff)
- Jonah (Jonah 2:7-10)
- Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:1ff)
- Daniel (Daniel 6:10; 9:1ff)
- The Psalmists (Psalm 116:4; 118:25; 119:1-176)
- Anna (Luke 2:37)
- Jesus (Matt 26:36; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; John 17)
- Paul (Acts 20:36; 21:5; 27:29; 28:8; Phil 1:3-11; Col 1:3-12)
- Peter (Acts 9:40; 10:9)
- John (3 John 1:2; see Acts 4:31)
- The apostles and early Christians (Acts 1:12; 2:42)
If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?
But you might find yourself wondering why we should pray at all if God is sovereign over his creation and doesn’t need our prayers. This is a legitimate question because it is right to acknowledge the glorious truth that God is eternally satisfied in the fellowship of the Trinity (Matt 28:19; Acts 17:24-25; 2 Cor 13:14). He does not need his creation to fulfill any deficiency in his Being, which means he does not need us. Also, we must embrace the truth that God has exhaustive knowledge of all things and is meticulously sovereign over his creation (see Daniel 4:34-35; Eph 1:11; Isa 40:13-14; Eph 1:11). Therefore, God does not need us to pray in order provide him knowledge that he does not otherwise have. God’s knowledge is boundless (Ps 147:5). He knows the intricacies of our bodies (Ps 139:6) and our inmost desires (1 Chron 28:9).
So, again: why pray?
First, it is important to understand that prayer is not merely the asking for things (provision, fulfilling of desires, help in times of trouble, etc.); it is first and foremost a means of fellowship with our Creator! We have a relationship with God. Think of that! We can speak with the Creator of the universe, and he hears us (Heb 4:14-16). God desires for us to come to him in prayer because he loves us and cares for us (see 1 Pet 5:7; Phil 4:6-7). Jesus himself acknowledged that God knows of all our necessities before we even ask him (Matt 6:8) just prior to teaching his disciples how to pray (Matt 6:9-13)!
Second, although God knows all things exhaustively (which means he has ordained all things exhaustively), he has designed the world in such a way that our prayers are one of the means by which he carries out his purposes. Listen to this helpful word from Bruce Ware on this connection between prayer and God’s sovereignty.
In a word, the relation of divine sovereignty and prayer is participation. Being the sovereign God that he is, God simply is in no need of our participation with him in accomplishing his work. Sometimes we think so, because we mistakenly confuse the call of God to work for him with a need in God for us so to work. Let’s take the call of God to missions as an example….must God call some to serve as missionaries in order for others to hear the gospel and be saved?….The answer seems to be yes and no simultaneously, but in different senses. In light of God’s design that the lost hear the gospel and missionaries go and preach, yes, God must call some as missionaries for this work to be done; but in the sense that god could have chosen a different mechanism to get the gospel to lost people, no, it is not necessary in an absolute sense for God to call missionaries for people to be saved….he could accomplish this task in a multitude of ways. He could write it in the sky, or proclaim it from a heavenly loudspeaker….Although God is fully capable of “doing it on his own,” nonetheless, he enlists his people to join him in the work that is his, and his alone ultimately. And one chief means that he employs for our participation with him in this work is prayer (God’s Greater Glory, 190-91).
Ware then provides five ways prayer functions as a tool “designed by God to enlist our participation his work.” (1) Prayer is sometimes a necessary means to accomplishing the ends God has ordained (see James 5:14-15). (2) Prayer reshapes our minds and hearts around God’s will (Matt 6:10). (3) We participate with God by praying for God’s grace in the lives of others (see Col 1:9-12); (4) Prayer enables us to become more fully aware of what God is doing so that we can praise him for it. (5) Prayer is a means of our own sanctification, as we grow through seemingly unanswered prayer (see 2 Cor 12:7-10) (191-194).
Can’t We Just Pray, “Whenever We Feel Like It?”
As we’ve noted earlier, our Christian lives should be characterized by spiritual spontaneity. But without times of set-aside, disciplined prayer, we probably won’t experience much spontaneity, nor will we likely pray for others with any consistency. Personal discipline, then, is a means of loving our neighbor (Matt 22:39; 1 John 4:20), for without intentionality and sacrifice, we will be taken up mainly with our own immediate concerns and cares to the neglect of the interests of others (see Phil 2:3-5).
There are many things to which we should give to prayer (the health of our church, the salvation of family and friends, our government leaders, missions and the global advance of the gospel, the ministry of our pastors), and if we don’t impose some discipline into our prayer life, we will rarely, if ever, pray for these things.
In the next post in this series, we will consider the Lord’s prayer and think through a few practical issues.