“Call unto Me…” Jeremiah 33.31
In the interaction of life and prayer will be found the secret of power, and the realization of fellowship with God will never be more than a theory save as prayer becomes a practice.
- G. Campbell Morgan
A binding practice
Prayer is the practice which, more than any other, binds the three aspects of the framework of faith into a lived unity.
Prayer connects us with the unseen realm, that spiritual vision which Paul insisted is so important to a strong and vibrant faith (Eph. 1.15-23; Col. 3.1-3). In prayer we engage the Son and Spirit of God, as well as the saints of the Lord, in seeking the as-yet-unrealized promises of God, which fill our minds and hearts with such hope and anticipation. Prayer is the language of the spiritual realm, the means whereby we enter the throne room of Christ, through Him and in His Spirit to make our praises, thanks, and requests known to God.
Prayer is the one spiritual discipline which we engage in the midst of all other disciplines. Whether we are reading and studying the Word of God, worshiping alone or with God’s people, singing His praise, waiting on Him in silence, or wandering amid the everywhere-present glory of God in creation, we practice the discipline of prayer as we commune with the Lord.
And prayer is the most important spiritual practice, the only practice of the life of faith which we are enjoined to take up at all times, in all situations, and without ceasing.
We cannot, therefore, overemphasize the importance of learning to practice the work of prayer with greater consistency, meaning, and effects. For, given prayer’s role in holding the life of faith together, it is certainly true that “the realization of fellowship with God will never be more than a theory save as prayer becomes a practice.”
We have seen that, in a day when prayer is more and more neglected, God continues to hold out very large and expansive promises – “great things and mysteries” – to those who will call upon Him in prayer (Jer. 33.3). Prayer is the gateway and avenue into all the promises of God, but we must learn to pray fervently and with effects. Our seeking the Lord in prayer is high on His list of things for us to do, and, thus, should be high in our priorities as well. But if we would know real power in our prayers, we must submit to the will of God in all things, for this is the prerequisite of a life of powerful and satisfying prayer.
Knowing that prayer is hard work, how then shall we take up the practice of prayer with greater diligence, consistency, and power? I want to address this question in two parts. Here we will consider the framework of prayer which must guide us as we seek to engage the Lord in this most important practice. Then we will consider some general guidelines, practices, and applications for developing a more consistent, powerful, and satisfying life of prayer.
The framework for prayer
We need to nurture a proper understanding of the role of prayer in the life of faith, and for this must be clear about the framework within which prayer operates and we engage in it. Understanding the framework of prayer is a little like knowing the boundary lines in an athletic contest. If we try to play outside the boundaries – “out of bounds” – any strenuous efforts we might undertake or spectacular achievements we might realize will be entirely without effects. God does not honor the prayers of those who engage in it “out of bounds”, so to speak. He expects us to learn and submit to the framework of prayer which He Himself has established.
We may briefly summarize the framework within which we must learn to practice the work of prayer as follows:
Prayer is to be offered, in general, to the Father (Jn. 16.23, 24).
Prayer is offered to the Father, through the Son (Jn. 16.26, 27).
Prayer is offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit of God (Jn. 16.13).
Prayer is offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, according to the Word of
God (Jn. 16.13, 14).
Let me unpack this briefly.
First, in general, our prayers are made to the Father. The Father is the Head of the family of faith. He is the Maker of creation and the covenant. His is the Law. He ordained the work of salvation by His Son and Spirit. He adopts us as His children. To Him the Kingdom will be delivered by Christ, His appointed King. Our first prayer as an adopted child, enabled by the Spirit of God, was to “Abba! Father!” Jesus taught us to prayer, “Our Father…” His words and the Spirit’s working, therefore, instruct us how, in general, we must focus our prayers as we bring them before the throne of grace.
This does not mean, of course, that we cannot pray to the Son or Spirit of God. Certainly we may, as might seem appropriate to our particular need at the time. However, as a general rule, when we enter the throne room of God to pray, let us focus on the Father Who rules supreme over all things and Who has adopted us as His own children. To Him we bring our praise, thanks, and requests as the starting point for a life of effective and powerful prayer.
But we come to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, by His redeeming grace and love, clothed in His righteousness, seeking to know and express His mind, obey His command to seek God’s Kingdom, follow in His steps, realize a greater measure of our hope in Him, and grow in His resurrection life and power. The Person of Jesus, in all His radiant beauty and might (Pss. 45, 110; Rev. 1), provides the “package” in which we present our prayers, the object toward which we aspire and which we would realize more fully through the life of prayer. We claim no privileges or powers save what Christ affords us; we seek no promises but what are embodied in Him; and we approach the Father by no authority other than that which He accords us as His disciples and friends.
Jesus Christ provides the “boundaries” for our prayer; thus we come to the Father through Him.
We come to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ in the Spirit of God. He must search us and cleanse us of all sins, lest our prayers be hindered. We must be filled and ready in Him to be transformed from glory to glory into the image of Jesus Christ, and eager to grow in His power, gifts, fruit, and Kingdom character. Unless we first come to the Spirit, and then in Him, so that we are filled with Him and know how to rest in Him, we shall have no benefit from our prayers, for we will be offering them in our own strength and wisdom, which cannot prevail with God.
Thus, we must be ever grounded and more deeply rooted in the revelation of God’s will in Scripture. We come to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ in the Spirit of God and according to the Word of the Lord.
The Spirit teaches us to know the deep and secret councils of the Lord (1 Cor. 2.12, 13). He shows us Jesus in the Word, gives us life by Him, and shapes our hearts, minds, and consciences so that our souls are ready to offer and receive whatever God requires of us in prayer. The more our prayers reflect the will of God in Scripture, the greater confidence we may have that our prayers will avail much.
Nurturing the framework of prayer
Nurturing this framework for prayer is a matter of meditation, concentration, and waiting on God to settle us before Him, all the proper arrangements being in place for prayer. The more we embrace this framework for prayer, and pray within and according to it in our secret times of prayer, the more it will be in place for us when times of spontaneous prayer arise, or whenever we are praying in any other situation.
To know the power and glory of the practice of prayer, we must prepare to engage it within the “playing field” as that has been defined by God. Otherwise, no matter how many, fervent, or sincere, our prayers will not realize any benefit before the throne of grace.
A conversation starter: Ask some of your fellow believers: “When you begin to pray, what do you envision? What do you ‘see’ with the eye of your heart? How might we strengthen this vision and make sure it’s what it ought to be?”
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.