The Gift of Prayer
Prayer is one of God’s sweetest gifts to us. The command to pray is itself a sweet and loving gift from a gracious and caring heavenly Father. Prayer is where God welcomes his children to talk with him, commune with him, abide with him. It’s that holy place where the deepest of worship, the deepest of needs, and the most honest of confessions all intersect with the grandeur and glory of divine love. Prayer only works when worshipers are invited into the presence of one worthy of their worship. It only works when the one being prayed to is amazingly patient, boundless in love, constantly forgiving, and sovereign in power. For prayer to be prayer, God has to be God; without this, prayer is an act of religious futility.
But God is God, and he has invited us to bring our true selves to him. It’s not an invitation to bring him a catalog of our self-oriented desires, as if he were little more than a cosmic delivery system for whatever cravings consume us at the moment. No, the heart of prayer is worshipful submission to him, which produces gratitude, humility, vision, and willingness in us. Without adoration and submission, prayer is reduced to a set of demands that make it look as if we are gods, and God’s job is to submit his almighty power to our lordship. It is shocking to consider that what appears to be our most conscious Godward act can actually be evidence of our ongoing idolatry.
So prayer is spiritual warfare. To pray we need rescuing grace that will free us from the dominion of our own selfish hearts. To get our hearts to that counterintuitive place of adoration and submission we need the help of the one to whom we pray. It’s hard to pray true “Your kingdom come, your will be done” prayers and even harder to pray these kinds of prayers on the fly. It’s counterintuitive to confess that what I need most is not all the things my heart tends to desire. It’s hard to confess that what I need most is redeeming grace. So prayer is a fight. Prayer takes work. Prayer calls us to go to places we don’t often go and give our hearts to do what we do too infrequently.
Of course you should take ample time to pray every day. Prayer is a powerful weapon in the spiritual war for your heart that wages every day of your life on this side of forever. But it is also good to give yourself to seasons of prayer. Lent could be one of those seasons where you take time to meditate, examine, and consider. Here are four categories that can organize this season of worship for you.
Ways to Pray
Adoration. Give yourself to meditate on all the reasons the Lord is worthy of your worship. Make time to take in the full grandeur of his majesty, the amazing extent of his love, the unending zeal of his grace, his incalculable power, the completeness of his sovereignty, the extent of his patience, his ever-operating mercy, the depth of his wisdom, and the pristine perfection of his holiness. As a preparation for adoring prayer, study his word again and let your heart be taken up once again with his splendor. Here you let him loom large in your eyes and place the shadow of his glory over your heart. Here you pray his glory back to him in words of praise that you know fall short of capturing his glory even as you pray them. Adoration stimulates the kind of worship that is not just a sacrifice of words, but the offer of your life to this glorious Lord.
Confession. Confession follows adoration, because the more you gaze upon God, the more you will see yourself with accuracy and the more you will mourn what you see. When Isaiah in his vision stood before the holiness of the Lord, his first words weren’t, “Wow, this is amazing!” No, his first words were, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). It takes a vision of God to have a true and reliable vision of ourselves. We are so often blinded by our own righteousness that it takes the unblemished righteousness of God to expose to us the true degree of our own unrighteousness. Prayer doesn’t just include studying our Lord so that we would be overwhelmed by his glory; we also examine ourselves and the many reasons we have to confess our weaknesses, failures, and sin. And confession only works when the one receiving the confession is forgiving and has the power and willingness to rescue and restore. So come in confession, because the cross assures us of our Lord’s willingness to forgive.
To pray we need rescuing grace that will free us from the dominion of our own selfish hearts.
Submission. “Not my will, but yours, be done” is the heart of true prayer. Prayer is submitting the desires of your heart to a kingdom greater than your own. Prayer is submitting your requests to a plan that is greater than the one you have for yourself. Prayer is giving yourself to a set of rules you didn’t make up. Prayer is surrendering your gifts to the glory of someone else. Prayer is so much more than asking; at the center is submitting. So we ask for the grace to submit because, as we have already confessed, we do not have the desire, willingness, or power to do so on our own.
Supplication. Finally, prayer is where limited, weak, and failing worshipers bring their needs before the one who is with them, in them, and for them, and who is delighted to meet those needs. Having already submitted ourselves to the mission of his kingship, we now bring before our Lord prayers that are consistent with that heart of submission. And because we have submitted ourselves to plans and purposes that are bigger than us, we don’t pray just for ourselves but also for others. Our supplications are not individual and narrow, but are as wide and as huge as his kingdom is.
How about giving yourself to forty days of this kind of prayer, with all the study and meditation it requires? And know that as you do, God is tender, gracious, and understanding. He receives our messy prayers. He hears those brief prayers on the fly. He doesn’t reject prayers that reflect inaccurate theology or those prayed in moments when we really don’t know how to pray. Weak, faltering prayers are received by him and warmly answered. But he invites us into something deeper and better. He invites us into something that we could never earn or deserve on our own. He invites us into willing, adoring, restful communion with him. Why wouldn’t you accept that invitation?
This article is adapted from Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional by Paul David Tripp.
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