We continue our series on the spiritual disciplines with the practice of prayer. By way of reminder, the spiritual disciplines are essentially practices that Jesus incorporated into his life-rhythms, and these practices are tools to help us grow in our journeys as disciples of Jesus. They are tools to help us grow in our love for God and in our love for others, and can often be practiced individually or as a group. They are a means to the end of loving God and loving others—not an end in and of themselves. By this, we mean that these disciplines are not items to check off a list as we seek holiness—they do not make us holy just by practicing them, but rather are ways to help orient our hearts toward Jesus, what he has done for us, and what he calls us to do as his followers.
Prayer is something that we see throughout all of Scripture, so there is far more to say about it than could be packed into a single lesson, so this is very selective. We looked at three qualities that we should exhibit in our prayers. First, we should pray with humility. We see this modeled as Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:5–15. They, and we, should not pray hypocritically, using grand public prayers to boost their own reputation, but should rather pray humbly, caring to be heard by God alone. Jesus then moves into what we call the Lord’s prayer (vv. 9–13), which I believe also exhibits humility as we honor the Father, pray for his will to be accomplished (rather than our own), ask him to provide for our daily needs, ask him to forgive our shortcomings (and help us forgive others’ shortcomings), and finally to remain faithful to him and be protected from temptation. This whole prayer takes the posture of humility before our God, who alone can give us the strength to walk rightly before him.
Second, we saw that we should pray with boldness. In Luke 18:1–8, we see a story about an unjust judge who provides justice to a widow simply because she did not stop asking him. Luke tells us that Jesus’ whole point in telling this parable is that his disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (v. 1). Praying boldly and continually does not guarantee that our prayers will be answered the way that we want them too (sometimes we pray boldly for things that aren’t good for us), but the Lord wants us to bring our requests to him with this boldness.
Lastly, we saw that we should pray with honesty. The book of Psalms is full with what are called Psalms of Lament, or psalms in which the authors cry out to God about the injustice and trials that they are facing. Psalm 13 is a good example of this, in which we see David crying out to God about how he feels forgotten and forsaken. Yet, even in this lament, we see David remember that the Lord is faithful and gives steadfast love and salvation (vv. 5–6). The Lord wants us to bring our honest concerns, fears, etc. to him, and as we pour them out, to remember his faithfulness and character as well.
We then ended with a short discussion about what kinds of things we should pray for. Again, there are a thousand things to go on the list, so here are a few highlights. First, we should pray for wisdom, and trust that the Lord will grant it (James 1:5-6a). Second, we should pray for boldness (Acts 4:29), as the church in this passage prayed for boldness to be faithful in spite of persecution. Third, we should pray for opportunities to share the Gospel. Paul, while in prison, asks the church at Colossae to pray that God would open doors for him to share the Gospel, making clear what he should speak (Colossians 4:3–4). If Paul, perhaps the greatest missionary ever, needs prayer for this, how much more do we! Finally, we saw that we should pray that we would know God more deeply, and in order that we may know God more deeply. On the night that Jesus is arrested, John records Jesus praying for his disciples. Toward the end of the prayer, Jesus says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus prays for all who will come to faith after the Twelve (which includes us!), that they may share in the unity that Jesus and the Father share. What an incredible thought, that Jesus prays that we today might know the Father as deeply as he did!
Prayer is such a privilege. But it’s hard sometimes. We don’t always know what to say, or how to say it. In the wake of sin, we may feel unworthy to come to God in prayer. But the Father wants us to come to him. He wants our honesty, our humility, our faith, our trust. Just as we talk with a close friend, or with a parent, so the Father wants us to talk to him and to be with him, even if this is sitting in silence before him. Prayer is something that we will always be growing in, but it is absolutely worth the effort to pursue.