Most agree that prayer is essential to the personal and corporate life and well being of the church.
“Prayer,” Walter Marshall writes, “is such an important responsibility that if it is done, everything else will be done well. In fact, nothing can be done without prayer,” (Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 209).
Moreover, it is also true that a prayerless church is a powerless church. Though it is important to note that prayer does not change God’s sovereign will and purposes. God does not change (Ps. 55:19; Ps. 110:4; Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17) and He will accomplish His will (Isa. 46:10-11). God has designed prayer as the means to accomplish His will. But the fact remains that a prayerless church is a powerless church.
When we look in Scripture, we find that God requires His people to be devoted to prayer, to remain alert and to pray frequently (Matt. 26:41; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17).
However, no believer or church will be motivated to a life of prayer out of guilt, constant exhortations or manipulation. Testimonies concerning answered prayer are certainly edifying but even they are not sufficient to create and sustain a life of committed prayer.
Tragic events like 9/11 (or really bad turbulence on an airplane) certainly motivates people to pray. However, as time passes and the initial shock of the event wears off (or the turbulence ceases) prayer also wanes.
What then is it that creates and sustains and motivates a believer or church to sustained, affectionate prayer?
The answer is the Gospel. The Gospel effectually calls, enables and motivates (drives) believers to pray.
Walter Marshall writes,
“It is the gospel that makes prayer possible. Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant, by whom justification and sanctification are promised, is also the Mediator who makes your prayers accepted by the Father (Hebrews 4:15-16). The Holy Spirit, who gives you the new birth, who unites you to Christ, who sanctifies you, and who shows you the things of Christ, is a Spirit of prayer (Zechariah 12:10, Galatians 4:6). He is like a fire inflaming your soul, and He makes you mount upward in prayer to God. Prayerless people are dead to God,” (The Gospel Mystery, p. 209).
Without the Gospel, true prayer is impossible. Without Christ, our prayers are not even heard (Ps. 66:18; Jn. 9:31). Now, it is true in one sense that God hears nothing but sinners and in another sense that God does not.
John Calvin commenting on Psalm 66:18, writes,
In one sense, he hears none but sinners; for we must all conform to the great rule of applying to him for the remission of our sins. But while believers make an unreserved confession of guilt before God, by this very thing they cease to be sinners, for God pardons them in answer to their supplications…Besides, to regard iniquity in the heart, does not mean to be conscious of sin, for all the Lord’s people must see their sins and be grieved for them, and this is rather praiseworthy than condemnable; but to be bent upon the practice of iniquity, (Commentary on the Psalms, p. 477-478).
Our prayers are heard by and acceptable to God only because they are mediated through Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Apart from Christ, our prayers would be no different from the hypocrite and pagan (Matt. 6:5-8).
Thus, the Psalmist, in Psalm 66, concludes by proclaiming,
“19 But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His lovingkindness from me.”
It is God’s lovingkindness given to us in the Gospel and mediated through Christ that makes true prayer possible. God does not turn away our prayers because He does not turn away His lovingkindness from us. Blessed be God!
Many believers at the beginning of each New Year have a desire to become more committed to prayer. To be sure this is a noble and commendable desire. Yet quite often the focus is wrong.
True prayer, as previously stated, flows not from a set of rules or vows or self-discipline. A more committed prayer life does not come from focusing on becoming a more committed prayer warrior because the focus is self.
Rather, a more committed prayer life comes from a heart saturated by the Gospel. A heart saturated in the Gospel will be driven to prayer (like giving, cf., 2 Cor. 9:7) not by compulsion or duty but Spirit wrought desire and delight (Ezek. 36:27).
In Ephesians 3:12, Paul sets forth a great Gospel truth regarding the believer’s privileged position before God. He writes, “in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”
No man will desire to draw near to God in prayer until he is assured of His access to God. Such assurance and confidence is born of the Gospel. Only those who have come to know that they have peace with and access to God will be truly motivated to boldly draw near to God with confidence in prayer.
No man will be motivated to pray who believes God to be an angry and condemning judge. It is in the Gospel that we come to know and are reassured that God will not always strive with us or keep His anger forever (Ps. 103:9). It is through the Gospel that we are assured that God will not deal with us according to our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities (Ps. 103:10).
A heart saturated in the Gospel will be driven to prayer not by compulsion or duty but Spirit wrought desire and delight.
In the Gospel, believers are reassured that their lawless deeds have been forgiven, their sins have been covered and that the Lord will never take into account their sins (Rom. 4:7-8).
It is this kind of Gospel assurance that produces confidence, boldness and a desire to approach God in prayer. Gospel assurance creates a desire for and delight in coming to God in prayer.
Prayer is not the duty of a slave but rather the privilege of a son!
In Romans 8:14-15, Paul writes,
“14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
Again, in Galatians 4:4-7, Paul writes,
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Prayer is not the duty of a slave but rather the privilege of a son!
Christ, Himself, taught us to begin our prayers with the recognition that God is “Our Father…” (Matt. 6:9). As adopted sons, beloved of God, we come in prayer to our Heavenly Father, who loves us and has sent His son to be our Mediator and Redeemer (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:4; 1 Jn. 4:10). We do not come to an angry judge. Rather, we come to one who by the Spirit leads us to cry, “Abba! Father!”
As the Father’s beloved children, we can now draw near to Him without any fear (1 John 4:18). His love to us, because of Christ our Mediator, is never ending. It is never failing. He will never leave or forsake us. And because it is “our Father,” there are no family favorites. No one will be left out or less loved!
To pray effectively, we need the Spirit of God to guide and empower us. Since the Gospel is the ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:8), the Gospel is essential for believers to experience the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. A spirit-filled believer is a Gospel-saturated believer.
It is the Spirit of God who continually draws believers to Christ (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:4-7). The Holy Spirit teaches, guides and enables believers to pray correctly (Jude 20; Eph. 2:18).
Paul writes in Romans 8:26-27,
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
A spirit-filled believer is a Gospel-saturated believer.
The good news is that God is eager to hear His people’s prayers (Psalm 65:2; 66:19-20). Indeed, God is more eager to hear and answer our prayers than we are to ask and pray!
And so it is out of heartfelt affection (gratitude) that is born of the Gospel that drives us to draw near to our Heavenly Father with confidence to the throne of grace (not throne of law!), so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). Because of Christ, our Mediator, we have access in one Spirit to the Father (Rom. 5:2; Eph. 2:18; 3:12).
As His adopted sons, we can come before God at any time with confidence, knowing that He is no longer our judge and no longer condemns us (Rom. 8:1) but rather is our gracious Heavenly Father who desires to forgive us and pour out His blessings upon us and accomplish His will in us through prayer (Matt. 7:7-11 [Lk. 11:13]; James 1:17).
19 But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His lovingkindness from me. (Ps. 66:19-20)