Lifting the Burden
Some time ago, I listened to a sermon on a parable Jesus told his followers with the express purpose of encouraging them “always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Alas, as the dear brother went on, waxing eloquent in exhorting us to pray more—for hours on end, for half the night, or indeed the whole night—I very quickly lost heart! And I rather fear most of the hearers that day went home dragging their feet, feeling more burdened than ever about their own inadequate prayer life.
It is tragic that (often through sermons and talks like this) many Christians, far from rejoicing in the joy and privilege of prayer to a loving heavenly Father, are discouraged and depressed with a sense of constant failure about their prayer life. So often, when you ask anyone about their Christian walk, one of their first answers is, “My prayer life is not what it should be.”
I want to try to offer some liberation from that burden, and help you see that, if you are responding to Jesus and following him, then you are praying (just as if you are walking and talking you must be breathing, even though you may not think much of your “breath life”)!
This liberating truth about prayer comes not by focusing on techniques but by understanding the joyous relationship we have with our heavenly Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is simply by examining the nature of this relationship, as Scripture unfolds it, that our faith is nourished, and therefore prayer, which is simply the “audible form of faith,” is nourished and grows naturally.
What we really need to help us pray and not lose heart is not exhortation (about why we should pray), but explanation—what prayer is, and why it is that we can pray in the first place.
1. We can pray because, in his mercy, God speaks to us and wants us to answer.
The most basic answer is that we pray because our God is a speaking God. Our God spoke all things into being in perfect relationship with himself, and he crowned creation with human beings in his image, speaking in perfect harmony to one another and to God.
The most basic answer is that we pray because our God is a speaking God.
Of course, sin ruined that relationship; man stopped listening to God, and was shut out from God’s presence. But in his mercy God kept speaking. His words of grace recreate real relationship with men—a relationship that is audible in prayer. So in a very real sense, the gospel is simply about the restoration of true prayer, the answer of our heart’s faith to the call of God’s redeeming grace.
2. We can pray expectantly because, in Jesus, God must answer.
We pray by faith in Jesus Christ, because in him we too are Sons of God. Jesus is the new and true Adam, the glorious and perfectly obedient Son of God in whom the Father delights. He is the true pray-er; he has perfect, uninterrupted and intimate access to the Father in prayer.
Amazingly, through Jesus’s work, every single believer now has the same access to the Father as he does. We are the God’s true children! So our Father’s promise to hear us depends not on our performance (as we often feel it does), but on our position. To grasp this is to know the liberating joy of what our justification really means for our prayer life. Our Father must hear us because, in Jesus, we too are his true Sons, beloved ones in whom he is well pleased.
3. We can pray powerfully because God has made us partners in his sovereign work.
Sometimes people ask, “Why pray if God is really sovereign?” In fact it is only because God is sovereign that prayer makes sense, since only a sovereign God can really answer prayer.
Certainly we cannot manipulate God by our prayers. But the sovereign God has given us the great privilege of being involved in his kingdom as partners in his work, sharing his vision and thinking his thoughts after him. The more we think his thoughts after him, the more we shall rejoice in talking about those thoughts with him in prayer.
4. We can pray confidently because God’s Spirit speaks his words to us to guide us.
Sometimes, too, people think wrongly of prayer “in Jesus’s name” as a lucky charm to get us what we want from God. But real prayer is quite the reverse: the gospel is about God aligning us with his sovereign purposes, not us aligning God with our selfish purposes.
This is the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives. Only he can make us real pray-ers. His work for us enables us to pray truly in Jesus’s name because we are adopted into his family. His ongoing work in us is what enables us to pray with real faith, as we begin to think and pray in line with his perfect will. And we can be confident because we have the certainty of the Holy Spirit’s word to us; in the Scriptures we have everything we need to lead our thinking in line with his. When his words abide in us, we will pray abiding in him and he will answer our prayers. We can trust the Holy Spirit to make our prayers like Jesus’s prayers if we are guided by his words to us in the Bible.
To me, at least, remembering that I really can pray so simply, expectantly, powerfully, and confidently is a far greater help “always to pray and not lose heart” than any number of exhortations about why I should pray and must pray. I pray you find this to be true as well.