If prayer is not at the centre of our lives then our best-laid plans for the coming year may be expertly managed but improperly discerned. Without prayer we might reach for (and even attain?) the wrong kind of greatness. That’s why disciples must pray. We do so on our own before God. And with others before God. We pray.
Prayer keeps us grounded. Humble. Wise.
Prayer is what we do. The bible – the disciple’s manual for life – could not be clearer about this. If you want convincing, I’ve not found a better summary of the centrality of prayer in the bible than in chapter 2 of Tim Keller’s Prayer. You can listen to it by clicking here, or you can read it for yourself by reading on in this blog. Either way, allow yourself to be stirred and challenged by the Holy Spirit to pray this year, as you see afresh how prayer has always been the way of God’s people. It is no different today.
THE CENTRALITY OF PRAYER
The Bible is all about prayer, and that is why the practice of prayer is so pervasive throughout its pages. The greatness of prayer is nothing but an extension of the greatness and glory of God in our lives. The Scripture is one long testimony to this truth.
In Genesis we see every one of the patriachs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – praying with familiarity and directness. Abraham’s doggedly insistent prayer for God’s mercy on the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is remarkable (Gen 18:23ff). In Exodus, prayer was the way Moses secured the liberation of Israel from Egypt. The gift of prayer makes Israel great: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” ( Deut 4:7).
To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule – it is a failure to treat God as God. It is a sin against God’s glory. “Far be it from me” said the prophet Samuel to his people, “that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” ( 1 Samuel 12:23 [italics mine]). King David composed most of the Psalter, God’s inspired prayer book, filled with appeals to “you who answer prayer” (Ps 65:2). His son Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem and then dedicated it with a magnificent prayer. Solomon’s main petition for the temple was that from it God would hear the people’s prayers – indeed, Solomon’s highest prayer was for the gift of prayer itself. Beyond that, he hoped those from other nations would “hear of your great name … and pray toward this temple” (1 Kings 8:42). Again we see prayer is simply a recognition of the greatness of God.
The Old Testament book of Job is largely the record of Job’s suffering and pain – worked through with prayer. In the end God is angry with Job’s callous friends and tells them he will refrain from their punishment only if Job prays for them (Job 42:8). Prayer permeated the ministry of all the Old Testament prophets. It may have been the ordinary means by which the Word of God itself came to them. The Jews’ preservation and return from exile in Babylon was essentially carried out through prayer. Their exile began with a call to pray for the pagan city and their neighbours (Jer 29:7). Daniel, nearly executed by the Babylonian authorities over his insistence in prayer three times a day, prays a prayer of repentance for his people, asks for their return, and is heard. Later, Nehemiah rebuilds the wall around Jerusalem with a series of great prayers interspersed with wise leadership.
Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying.
Immediately after their Lord’s death, the disciples prepare for the future by being “constantly in prayer” together ( Acts 1:14). All church gatherings are “devoted … to prayer” (Acts 2:42; 11:5; 12:5,12). The power of the Spirit descends on the early Christians in response to powerful prayer, and leaders are selected and appointed only with prayer. All Christians are expected to have a regular, faithful, devoted, fervent prayer life. In the book of Acts, prayer is one of the main signs that the Spirit has come into the heart through faith in Christ. The Spirit gives us confidence and desire to pray to God and enables us to pray even when we don’t know what to say. Christians are taught that prayer should pervade their whole day and whole life – they should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).
Prayer is so great that wherever you look in the Bible, it is there. Why? Everywhere God is, prayer is. Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives.
Tim Keller, Prayer (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014), pp.26-28.
May 2015 be a Happy New Year as you grow in the greatness of prayer.