The true spirit of prayer is none other than God’s own Spirit dwelling in the hearts of the saints. And as this Spirit comes from God, so doth it naturally tend to God in holy breathings and pantings. It naturally leads to God to converse with him by prayer.
- Jonathan Edwards, “Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer”
We might think that, given the paucity of prayer among God’s people these days, together with the promise God attaches to seeking Him in prayer – “great things and mysteries” (Jer. 33.3), promises “big and beyond” – that prayer would have a greater priority in our lives than it does.
Jonathan Edwards was skeptical about anyone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus Christ and yet did not maintain a rich practice of private prayer. All who are truly indwelled by the Spirit of God should, Edwards reasoned, find themselves often caught up in His “breathings and pantings” as He engaged communion with the Father and the Son.
Such involvement with the Spirit in prayer does not occur automatically, however. Otherwise, we would not be commanded by Jesus and others to take up the work of prayer as an active endeavor.
It may help us, in rising to the Lord’s call to prayer, to understand somewhat better the place prayer holds in the mind of God. In what follows, I want to mention ten indicators from Scripture respecting the priority which prayer holds in God’s mind. If we can become convinced of prayer’s importance to Him, we might find ourselves more inclined to work harder at this effort ourselves.
God commands prayer
As we have seen, God frequently commands His people to pray, as in Jeremiah 33.3: “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” The psalms offer many similar exhortations and commands to pray, and the Lord Jesus and His Apostles often called their hearers thus to seek the Lord. Prayer must be a high priority with God; otherwise, as I mentioned above, He would not so often command His people to be about this discipline.
God makes prayer our first good work
They who have come to faith in Jesus Christ are redeemed unto good works (Eph. 2.8-10). God intends us to live for Him in ways that express His character and priorities, and He shows us, by His Word and Spirit, which are the good works He intends we should do.
First among these is the work of prayer. We can see this from Galatians 4.6, where the Apostle Paul says that, upon our coming to faith in Jesus Christ, God sends His Spirit into our hearts, “crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” It is clear from the Greek that the one doing the “crying” is none other than the Spirit of God. Our first good work upon becoming believers is to pray, the Holy Spirit using our own voices to enable us in acknowledging our new status in relationship to Almighty God. Such an important first good work should, we might suppose, be one that is of a high priority with God.
God calls us to pray about everything
God is busy at all times attending to the maintenance and wellbeing of our lives. He is active always, in all things, and at all times for the good of those who love Him. As God takes seriously every facet of our lives, to make known His steadfast love and faithfulness, so He intends that we should make everything in our lives a focus of daily and continuous prayer (Phil. 4.6, 7).
There is nothing in our lives so trivial or insignificant that God Himself does not attend to its continuance; thus, there is nothing which we should neglect to hold up before Him in prayers of thanksgiving and supplication, as He commands.
God intends that every aspect of our lives should thus be hedged about, immersed in, and enveloped by prayer.
God awaits our prayers
God is more eager to hear our prayers than we are to give them. To this end, as the psalms indicate, we may come to God in prayer irrespective of our mood or situation, our doubts or fears, our focus or our needs. He stands ready, no matter our condition or circumstances, to receive and respond to our prayers, so great is the priority of prayer in His mind.
God’s “office door” is always open, that He might receive us when we come to Him in prayer.
God teaches us to pray
The Lord Jesus graciously taught His disciples to pray (Matt. 6.1-10) so that they might take up this duty with clarity and effects. Further, God has given us the example of many excellent saints praying in His Word, together with an entire compendium of prayers and hymns – the psalms – which He intends us to use in approaching Him in prayer.
God has conducted the class, provided excellent mentors, and written the syllabus and scripts for us to use in prayer. Surely prayer must have a high priority with God, this being so.
God counsels us to hang our day on prayer
In both the Old and New Testament we find some of those worthy exemplars of faith hanging their days on prayer. David prayed three times a day (Ps. 55.16, 17), as did Daniel (Dan. 6.10). The writer of Psalm 119 (Ezra?) committed himself to seven periods of prayer each day (Ps. 119.164). The Apostles can be seen to have observed the “hours of prayer” in Jerusalem (Acts 3.1), suggesting that they, too, were given to interspersing seasons of prayer throughout their busy days.
God has shown us through these saints how important prayer is to Him. He intends us to hang the activities of our days on pegs of prayer, that we might be refreshed and re-oriented frequently throughout each day.
God calls us to be always in prayer
Paul says we should pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5.17). By this he means that we should maintain such a constant communion with God, and such an aptitude to prayer, that we are, as it were, in continuous conversation with the Lord, listening and responding at all times as His Spirit leads and prompts.
God makes prayer a weapon in our warfare
In and with all the wonderful weapons of our spiritual warfare, God includes prayer (Eph. 6.17-19). We must not assay to take up any of the spiritual weapons provided for us without prayer attending the use of each and all. Prayer is the common component of all our spiritual endeavors and all our spiritual warfare.
God intercedes for us by His Son and Spirit
As we have seen already, both the Son and Spirit of God stand ready to assist us in our prayers, so important is this work in His eyes.
God waits for us to seek Him in prayer
God has wonderful plans to unfold in our lives, plans to enrich our future and fill us with the hope of glory. But He waits for us to seek Him in realizing this plans (Jer. 29.11-14). That is, God considers prayer an act of faith and obedience so important, that He withholds the good He has prepared for us until we seek Him earnestly in prayer.
Making God’s priority our own
It is clear that God intends His people should hold prayer as a high priority in their walk with Him. Prayer is very important to God, and it must be very important to us as well, lest we be found guilty of hypocrisy, or worse.
Let me conclude by offering five suggestions whereby we might make prayer a higher priority in our lives:
- Memorize Scriptures related to the importance of prayer in the mind of the Lord – such as Jeremiah 33.3, Matthew 7.7 and 8, Philippians 4.6 and7, or 1 Thessalonians 5.17. Rehearse these often and keep them and other passages like them before your mind each day, to remind you of the high priority prayer has with the Lord.
- Make a written commitment of how you intend to pursue the work of prayer, and offer it up to the Lord, much as we see David doing in Psalm 55.16 and 17.
- Enlist others to pray with and for you (Eph. 6.19). We each need some people in our lives with whom we have covenanted to join in prayer at regular seasons.
- Learn to heed the Lord’s promptings and summons to prayer. These might include any anxious thoughts (Phil. 4.6, 7), good things you experience each day (Jms. 1.17), brushes with harm or even death (Ps. 23.4), and the abundant and variegated beauty of each day (Ps. 111.4). Let these prompts and summons lead you to give thanks and praise to God, as often as they will.
- Finally, bookend your day in prayer. In the morning, offer your day up to the Lord and His work (Ps. 90.12, 16, 17). In the evening, lay your head down in rest, reflecting with thanksgiving on the day just completed (Ps. 4).
Prayer matters to God. And when it matters to us as much as it does to him, so that we are replacing the paucity of prayer with a vibrant and increasing practice of this discipline, then we will find the promise of prayer increasingly becoming a reality in our lives.
A conversation starter: Ask some of your Christian friends, “What do you think is God’s attitude toward prayer? Does it matter to Him? Should it matter more to us?”
In The Ailbe Bookstore you will find excellent helps for enriching your prayer life. John Nunnikhoven’s two volumes of Voices Together will lead you in simple, everyday prayers through the psalms. T. M.’s book, God’s Prayer Program, will show you how to make praying the psalms a more consistent part of your daily life. And The Ailbe Psalter offers you all the psalms cast in the melodies of familiar hymns, so that you can sing your praise and thanks to God each day.