On Prayer

It seems as though I am surrounded by this one message as of late—pray. And having finally taken this exhortation seriously, I’m beginning to understand why prayer is to be the oxygen I breathe as a Christian. In the last two or three weeks my prayer life has exploded (relative to how it was before, anyhow) and as a result I would like to start recording answered prayer on this blog. However before I begin sharing the prayers that have already been answered, I’d like to begin by discussing what lead me to this point and what I mean by “prayer.”

Several weeks ago our church announced that our small groups would be using a book called The Battle Plan for Prayer by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. In the introduction the reader is asked to set aside a specific time and place for prayer as well as to begin listing specific needs to be praying for. I was reluctant to do this at first as I often am for two reasons: 1) I often convince myself that committing to something like this will mean I might have to do something I don’t want to and 2) I’m afraid it might open me up to failure (because if you don’t aim for anything, you always hit your mark).

Nevertheless I did start making a list of prayer requests and decided to set aside time in the morning for prayer. I’m not terribly consistent about praying at that specific time, but I have been praying every day and what began as a few minutes and a short list has transformed into something much more. There are so many needs around me— in my own home, my neighborhood, my church, and my place of work. As I encounter these needs I’m adding them to my list and praying for them either weekly or daily. Already I’m seeing some of them answered, and I expect to see even more in the coming weeks, months and years because God willing I want this to be a part of my life until I die.

It’s important to understand that before all of this I was really struggling to live a life at all resembling someone committed to following Jesus and that’s been going on for years. I want to point that out because I want you to understand that while I’ve been a regular church attender during that time, I’ve only prayed when I was desperate and I read the Bible even less. My interest in God’s will was mostly whether or not he was going to make me give up something I didn’t want to, and content with my mediocrity I mostly avoided him. Even so, on those rare occasions when I would pray during that time I would ask God to change my heart and mind toward him and these last few weeks of prayer have started to do just that.

So what do I mean by “prayer”? It’s a common enough concept, but I think it can mean different things to different people, so I’d like to take some time explaining what I mean by prayer; what I think the Bible has to say about it. First of all, prayer is communication between the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible—Yahweh—and his people, those graciously protected from judgement through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and newness of spiritual life. That’s a very narrow view of prayer, I realize this, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that prayer and its close cousin faith are only as powerful as the God they are directed toward. Either he’s real and can follow through on his promises or he’s not; I don’t want prayer as a placebo effect.

Secondly, prayer is an ongoing expression of the gospel in the life of a Christian. Unlike other religious traditions, Jesus Christ did not preach a reconciliation with God by way of good works or ritualistic behavior. Freedom from the just judgment of God is given freely, paid for by the death of Jesus Christ, and received by faith. In other words, the Christian life is not foundationally one of good works, but rather one of belief in a loving God who will do the work you cannot (removing the guilt of sin) on your behalf. As the Christian life begins, so must it continue and prayer is the ultimate expression of this. For years after I became a Christian I would strive to do better, believing I could will myself to be a good man. There were two results—either I thought I had succeeded and became proud or I undeniably failed and I grew discouraged. Even now I struggle with either wanting to earn my own favor with God, or I simply give up knowing I can’t. However the answer is something completely other; the Bible teaches that when we confess our weaknesses yet walk in confidence (i.e. faith) that God can do what we cannot, we walk by faith and not by works. Prayer is the Christian’s way of saying every day, “what I cannot, you can.”

Lastly, prayer is not an empty ritual or psychological pep talk, it is a familial interaction with a living God that begins with honest and specific communication and ends with good and timely answers. Another trap I’ve fallen into for years is the belief that prayer is this intangible thing, out there in the ether, weak and paltry. Not so; prayer is powerful when it is prayed in faith to the living God. In Christ, I am openly invited into the presence of God to make my requests known and I have every reason to believe they will be answered, or at least I ought to. That’s been part of my problem; I’ve either not really wanted my prayers answered (“Dear God please change me, but not too much, I like things the way they are”) or I’ve not really believed they will be answered and so I keep them vague or timid. This is where the rubber meets the road; either God can raise the dead or he can’t. And if he can, why in the world would I pray as if helping me find my car keys might be a challenge? It’s silly of course, and yet I think myself and many other Christians are guilty of praying this way at times.

There are many more aspects of prayer and how they relate to the character of God and the everyday life of a Christian that I could go into, but I think for now this sets the stage for a type of post I’d like to feature regularly on this blog, a list of specific prayers and how they’ve been answered. Starting this next week I will post those prayers that have already been answered and then going forward I’ll follow up every so often. I’m hoping that making this a matter of public record will not only provide me with a resource of all the prayers God has answered in my life, but also as an encouragement of faith for others as well.