The Christian and Prayer
People closely identify Christianity and Christians with prayer. And yet, if most Christians were honest, they would admit they do not participate in prayer enough. Yet Christians should be a people at prayer.
In general, prayer involves making one’s petitions before God, a practice thoroughly expected of the Christian (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Timothy 2:8). The early church was active in prayer (Acts 12:5, 13:3). The Apostles embodied the importance of prayer; Luke took notice of their practice in Acts 4:24-31, 6:4, 16:25. Jesus Himself, even though He embodied the character of God and was God in the flesh, prayed to His Father often (Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12, 11:1, 22:41-45, John 17:1-26).
Christians have many reasons to pray; these reasons are effectively modeled in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13 / Luke 11:2-4). Christians ought to honor God’s name and revere Him, showing proper respect in prayer conversation, and giving thanks for all the blessings with which God has blessed them in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-23, 1 Peter 2:17). Thanksgiving is important, for it contextualizes the Christian’s present difficulties in light of what God has already done and will do for them, and reinforces our hope (Colossians 3:15, 17, 4:2, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Christians should ask for God to accomplish His purposes through them and for the Kingdom of Jesus to be advanced; by necessity, Christians must seek to align themselves to the will of God in these matters, and they will need His strength to accomplish His work in the world (Ephesians 3:14-21). Christians do well to ask God for their basic necessities: God is not so preoccupied with the major issues so as to neglect our daily needs, and we should always remain cognizant of our dependence on God for all things, including the basics of life (Matthew 6:14-33, 10:29-31). Christians must not shy away from confessing their sins before God (1 John 1:9), “speaking the same thing as” what they have done, admitting wrongdoing and seeking to change their hearts and minds for the better to walk worthily of the Gospel of Christ. Christians ought to pray for strength to resist the temptations and schemes of the Evil One and of the powers and principalities over this present darkness (2 Corinthians 2:11, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8). Intercession on behalf of others for their welfare, healing, comfort, sustenance, strength, etc. are always appropriate for Christians (Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3, 1 Timothy 2:1-4); we ought to do so individually and collectively (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:14-17).
Christians will pray in different contexts for different reasons. Christians should maintain robust personal prayer lives; ideally, a Christian will orient their lives around prayer, as opposed to the other way around, testifying to their dependence on God for everything (e.g. Acts 3:1, 10:9). In the assembly Christians will pray to edify one another (1 Corinthians 14:14-17, 26). At meals Christians give thanks for the food they have received for its value and nourishment to the body (1 Timothy 4:4-5). In times of decision, grief, stress, or if driven for another reason, a Christian would do well to fast along with prayer, giving extra impetus for the need to pray (Matthew 6:17-18). Some prayer times are full of words; other times are better for more contemplation or meditation.
The Lord Jesus provided many other important exhortations regarding prayer. Christians must always remember what prayer is: communication with God: it must be meaningful; it must reflect the heart; it cannot be rote or empty ritual (Matthew 6:5-8). Anyone who prays to be seen by others has their reward; God will not hear anyone because they have droned on and on (Matthew 6:5-8). We must pray with confidence that God can and will accomplish what we ask; nevertheless, we must never imagine that prayer is a “one and done” experience, for we must persist and persevere in prayer (Luke 18:1-8, John 14:13-14).
Christians must be careful lest they allow their traditions and cultural expectations regarding prayer lead them to reject what may be good and profitable or becoming sterile. There is a time and place for spontaneous, personal prayer; there is also value and wisdom in considering the prayers prayed by people of faith throughout the generations. Praying a message written by another need not be empty of meaning; the one praying must own the meaning for him or herself. For that matter, a Christian can just as easily become guilty of rote, unthinking repetition in their “own” prayer as is possible relying on the words of others. Likewise, just because a Christian happens to pray for similar things in prayer does not mean the prayer is not meaningful; just as we tend to eat similar meals over and over again, and yet still find them nourishing, so it can be with prayer.
Christians do well to offer to pray for other people, individually and collectively, for their benefit (1 Timothy 2:1-4). There is power in prayer; the offering of prayer is not nothing. We are given the impression from Revelation 8:1-5 that the “seven trumpet” judgments are inaugurated on the basis of the prayers of the saints for justice to be done on the earth. We may not always understand how God answers prayer, yet God’s work on the earth is often activated by the prayers of His people.
And yet Christians are called to more than prayer. For Christians to just offer prayer and to believe the work is done is akin to telling a person in need to be “warmed and filled” but provide nothing to relieve their necessity (cf. James 2:15-17). Christians cannot imagine themselves as passive vessels who pray and then wait for God to do whatever He is going to do; Christians are active participants in the work of the Kingdom of God in Christ, and must diligently apply themselves to the practice of the faith while continually praying for God’s direction and empowerment to complete that work (Ephesians 3:14-4:1).
Prayer remains an extremely important aspect of the Christian’s life; we must always be in contact with “headquarters” if we will remain steadfast in the Lord and in His strength (Ephesians 6:10-18). Let us pray continually for the accomplishment of the Lord’s purposes, hastening His return, and living accordingly so as to obtain the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry