Prayer, as simple as it sounds, is not simple for the vast majority of Christians when it comes to actually doing it, because everyone struggles to pray. I sometimes struggle to have prolonged periods of prayer times unless I strongly sense the leading of the Spirit. I do habitually pray silently while in the train, workplace or leisure. Though early morning prayers are still a struggle, the best time spent with the Lord is at dawn. I can’t stress this enough: nothing is as revolutionary in the Christian life than to become a person of prayer.
One of the many things that have always captivated me about the life of Jesus is His constant communion with the Father. In one instant, Luke 11: 1 writes:
“When Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples came and said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
“Jesus was praying in a certain place.”
He chose a place to pray. He had a habitual communion with the Father. If Jesus (who knew no sin) needed to pray “in a certain place,” away from the distractions around Him, how much more do fragile and weak people like us in a modern society with all of its distractions need to pray. Prayer wasn’t a religious to-do check-list for Jesus. Prayer was like breathing. This was not an isolated event. Elsewhere Matthew 14: 13 tells us: “[Jesus] withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” And Mark 1:35 says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Or Matthew 14: 23, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Again Luke 6:12 says, “he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Prayer was communion with the Father. Jesus lived a prayer-saturated life during His life and ministry on earth. And when the disciples saw this communion with the Father, they approached Jesus as if they wanted this more than anything.
“Lord teach us to pray.”
Looking upon the Lord as a much better or more qualified teacher than John the Baptist, they said, “Lord teach us to PRAY.” The disciples had seen John teaching his own disciples to pray, and they had seen Jesus praying to His Father earnestly. Therefore, when they saw the deep communion that Jesus had with the Father through prayer they wanted that more than anything else. They did not ask, “Lord, teach us to preach, teach us to lead, teach us sing or to do ministry” though these are all important. Everything else that they would do later–i, e, preaching, teaching, ministering, casting out demons, healing, would flow out of this relationship with the Holy Spirit in prayer. And the first thing Jesus taught was this, say: “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed by your name.” Jesus taught His disciples big prayers. He taught them to pray for the hallowing of God’s name. And that His Kingdom come, “Your Kingdom come.”
Why aren’t most of us confident in prayer? We are by nature sinful, skeptical, ignorant or a disobedient people. In Matthew 7: 9-11, Jesus gets at the disciples’ faces and ours. He says,
“…which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Our idols prevent us from praying.
Sadly, most Christians do not feel the need to pray until disaster strikes in their homes; or unless a cancer or physical debilitation or a great destruction shatters their pride to their great need of God. Sometimes, it’s our idols that prevent us from praying earnestly, because idols distract us from the more important things like prayer. The greatest barrier to living a prayerful life is not bad things, but good things. Bad things make us pray, but not the good things because bad things are not our idols–good things are. And good things are blessings from God that we’ve turned into idols, like comfort, security, safety, convenience and ease. Prayer is spiritual and we find it the hardest to do, while we can pull off all our organizations with managerial skills because we are a pragmatic people. Sometimes, we don’t know how unspiritual we are until we start to pray. And until and unless we punch in prayer times as part of our daily schedule in our calendar, it will become harder for us.
There is a common widespread misconception on prayer. In times of trouble, I’ve heard people say: “The least we can do is pray.” Prayer is not the least we can do, but the most we can do. What does prayer do? Prayer tears down our self-reliance and it increases our reliance and confidence on God. As Martin Luther said:
“None can believe how powerful prayer is, and what it is able to effect, but those who have learned it by experience. It is a great matter when in extreme need to take hold on prayer.”
And he goes on to say,
“I know, whenever I have prayed earnestly, that I have been amply heard, and have obtained more than I prayed for. God indeed sometimes delayed, but at last He came.”
Grace frees us from legalistic praying.
Again, we pray not to become a righteous person but because we are already declared righteous by God in Christ. Resisting legalistic praying comes from an overflow of our confidence in Christ. And grace frees us from legalistic praying. Grace frees us to pray for the hallowing of God’s name, as opposed to Pharisaical praying who prayed in public that they would be seen by men (Matt. 6: 5). We pray not to become accepted by God, but because we are already accepted by Him in Christ. We pray not to feel better about ourselves and look down on others who don’t pray; but we pray so that we can lift up others who are in need, in love and in humility.
Furthermore, we pray not because we have to, but because we want to as God’s children. In Luke 9: 40 a father who had a boy with an unclean spirit approached Jesus with a great sense of helplessness. He said, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” The disciples couldn’t do anything with this particular case and nether can we. Later on in Mark 9: 28, 29 the disciples asked Jesus in private why they couldn’t cast it out, and Jesus replied: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” The point is this: we are helpless and powerless over the kind of work that God is calling us to do. We’re in the middle of warfare. That’s why: in all that we do, praying is the most we can do.
What is the purpose of earnest prayer?
I Peter 4: 11 says, “..whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything [i.e: in our speaking and serving] God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
The purpose of prayer is that we may tear down our self-reliance and that God may be glorified in all things. And so that we may guard ourselves from saying: we did it; we were clever and bright; or we had the credentials and the educational qualifications or background. Or that “we were smart and gifted” or that “we had the money and power backing us up.” Or that “we had cleverly devised ideas borrowed from the corporate business world.” Or that “we had the latest strategies on how to grow church.” We would never say that out loud but our actions and words can often betray us and reveal where our confidence really is. So the ultimate purpose of prayer is that we may serve, speak, sing, teach and lead with the strength that God supplies; so that in everything God alone may be glorified.
As Jonathan Edwards said,”There is no way that Christians, in a private capacity, can do so much to promote the work of God and advance the kingdom of Christ as by prayer.” The goal of my prayer is that God be glorified in sending many into His harvest field among the unreached people groups. God’s purpose for us is that we get the joy of seeing Him at work in Japan and the rest of the world through all of our work and prayers so that He along gets the glory.
Prayer is God’s means of recruiting and moving workers for active service. Jesus said in Matt. 9: 37, “….The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” And His solution in verse 38 says, “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” There is still a need for more workers; because so great is the harvest of souls around us that no single church, no single denomination; neither a single organization nor a small network of Christian workers can accomplish the task. There is a need for unity for a Citywide, Nationwide Gospel-centered movement in Tokyo and Japan. And prayer is a God-ordained means for birthing that kind of unity and movement.
And we must also feel desperately in our prayers because there is a desperate need all around us (and because desperate situation requires desperate measures; prayer is God’s means for us to feel desperate before Him). But when we pray we also rejoice with confidence knowing that Jesus is Lord of the harvest. He’s the Great Farmer. It is His harvest field. And the Japanese people belong to Him.
And due to the state of our times, prayer is essential more than ever:
“The state of the times extremely requires a fullness of the divine Spirit in ministers, and we ought to give ourselves no rest till we have obtained it. And in order to [do] this, I should think ministers,above all persons, ought to be much in secret prayer and fasting, and also much in praying and fasting one with another. It seems to me it would be becoming the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighborhood would often meet together and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves, earnestly seeking for those extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven, that we need at this day” (Jonathan Edwards).
All of us may not go to cross-cultural missions, though I hope many or most of us would. All of us may not be preachers, but all of us can pray. We have been given the privilege to pray.
We’re told in James 5: 16, “…..The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” As a person who has been declared righteous in Christ your prayers have “great power as it is working.” How comforting it is to know that some of the most effective prayers were prayers prayed by men with nature like ours, and God answered with power.
v. 17. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
Would you join me in praying for the mission fields to bear much Gospel fruits this year?