Spiritual Disciplines: Why Pray?
Prayer, like many Spiritual Disciplines, is difficult to engage without it becoming a task to check off the list rather than a discipline which changes us, connects us to the Lord and affects the world. For this reason, it is important to remind ourselves of what we are doing and why we do it. At times quick answers such as the “Bible says to pray”, or “Jesus prayed, and I want to be more like him” help reinvigorate our prayer life. At other times, while we agree with these truths, our prayers continue to be a struggle. Below are three things to consider when wrestling with the purpose of prayer.
Concept 1: Prayer is Reorienting
The natural state and pull of man is to turn away from God to other things like when Peter shifted his attention and faith from Jesus to the waves. (Matthew 14:29-31) From the beginning of creation, Satan has worked to convince man that God is not good, and we ought to do what we want rather than what God wants. Prayer is an avenue to audibly or silently remind ourselves of the wonder, mercy, and awesomeness of our Great God. Prayer is an avenue to reorient our hearts toward him. This is modeled for us over and over in the Psalms. The Psalmist is distracted with questions, pain, and circumstances yet then shifts from those difficult struggles to viewing and recalling truths about God. (Psalm 73) This same practice of reorienting through prayer is needed in times of rejoicing as well. When things go well, we can easily shift from worshipping God to getting overly focused on positive circumstances. (Philippians 3:4-8, Luke 10:20) Prayer can continually reorient our hearts toward God’s character rather than our circumstances.
When your car breaks down, who do you reach out to? Maybe you call a trusted mechanic, friend, or parent. As we walk through life, the more time we spend in prayer, the quicker our minds turn to God through joys, challenges and the everyday occurrences of life. Prayer is an avenue through which we can spend time with the Lord. Better said, prayer is a time we can become more acutely aware of the reality that God is always with us. Prayer can be a faithful reminder of this reality not because we hear an audible response from God, but because we are consciously reminding ourselves of God’s presence. One way to demonstrate our faith in God is by coming before his throne in prayer. The very act of prayer shows an acknowledgment of His authority. Through prayer we are acknowledging there is someone beyond us we need. Prayer is an avenue where we can grow a right view of God and a deeper relationship with him.
Concept 2: Prayer Builds Connection with God
Psalm 145:18 “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.”
As with any relationship the time spent together is an important factor to consider regarding the health of the relationship. While the amount of time spent with someone is an important factor in growing or maintaining a relationship, it is not as important as how the time is spent. For example: you can spend a 1-hour car ride next to someone but not get close to the individual. Through prayer we build relationship with God as we contemplate who he is and openly express hopes, fears, questions, joys and so on. When we feel stuck, we seek help from those we trust. As we walk with the Lord, we hope to grow as we find hope and comfort in him. This requires relationship with him, time with him, and trusting him even with things we don’t understand.
Concept 3: Prayer Changes Things
Two common, faulty beliefs about prayer’s impact are: 1) viewing prayer as a free ticket to change anything we desire or 2) viewing prayer as merely a formality that has no real impact on anything. The first error leads to viewing God as an all-powerful being who always gives what we ask him. Viewing God through this lens, flips the script and turns the person soliciting God into a god themselves. The second faulty belief comes from the idea that since God is in control of all things and He knows the outcome of all things then I don’t need to pray. Just think if this had been Moses’ thought process in Exodus 32 when the Lord was angry with the Israelite people for their idolatry. They had made and were worshiping a golden calf. The Lord was ready to destroy them, but Moses interceded on their behalf and the Lord extended his mercy.
Prayer changes things but not always the way we want or in ways visible to observe the change. Consider some of the effects of Moses’ prayer in Exodus 32. How did Moses’ prayer affect Moses, God, and the Israelites? Moses’ prayer influenced that moment in time but also countless individuals since. Moses’ prayer is still affecting us today as it shapes our view of important topics such as prayer, God, leadership, and so on. Prayer is one of the means through which God has invited his people to participate in his grand story of redemption. Through petitioning the Lord we are taking direct action which makes a real impact on our hearts and the world around us. Through prayer God allows his people to take part in his work both in the places they live and far beyond. Prayer is an avenue through which God’s people can be a part of what He is doing. Jesus certainly believed prayer has impact. Consider his prayer in John 17 where he interceded on the behalf of all who are his. Jesus taught and lived the importance and impact of prayer.
- What questions do you have about prayer and what might those questions reveal about your view of God or prayer itself?
- What beliefs or questions do you have that hinder you from praying (i.e., God already knows before I pray. God is going to do what God is going to do no matter if I pray or not. ….)? Are these beliefs faulty or accurate?
- How have you found prayer to be reorienting in your life?
- Describe the difference between being God-oriented and circumstance-oriented.
- Many of the Psalms are prayers. What can the Psalms teach us about being open with God in our prayers?
- Are you able to be open with God in your prayers? Why or why not?
- How do you view prayer’s ability to change things?
- What does Matthew 26:36-46 reveal about prayer that is both open about desires while also yielded to God?
- Scriptures to Consider: Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13, Luke 11:5-13, 1 Chronicles 16:7-11, 1 Kings 18:37-38, James 1:5-8, John 17
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For Further Information:
Prayer: Placing Your Hope in God
ACCFS article on prayer, let the main reason for prayer be that our hearts might be changed and refocused on God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
IVP Bible Study on Prayer
Topics included in this study: Conversing with God: Abraham, Discovering God’s Will: Moses, Answered Prayer: Nehemiah, Prayer & Spiritual Conflict: Daniel, Praying for the Nation: Ezekiel, Praying for Everyone: Paul, Relying on God: David, Being Honest with God: Hannah, Thanking God: Mary, Blessing Other People: Paul, Praying Together: The Early Church, and Praying with Confidence: Jesus.
Sermon on Prayer
Joe Gerber speaks on prayer in this sermon.