How Prayer Produces a Soul at Rest
Finding True Rest
When my children were young, we had a board book that was often selected as the bedtime read aloud. It was not the best written nor the best illustrated, but I know why I liked reading it. Each page introduced a different member of a family and explained their responsibilities in a simple rhyme. I can still quote the last line of the rhyme for Mother: “She works all day and night time too.”
“Got that right,” I used to think. Weariness validated by a story book.
Moms are not the only ones who feel they work all day and night time too. And it’s not just those who work a night shift or who are on call in the evenings. With the invention of cell phones and the Internet, we are constantly connected to our work. Is there really no rest for the weary?
Rest is a theme throughout Scripture. Between the seventh day rest of God from his creative work and the promised rest of heaven, Jesus offered himself as our rest. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30).
This is not the physical rest I imagine I might enjoy while relaxing in an Adirondack chair on the front porch, a beach chair with toes in sand, or an overstuffed chair with an ottoman by the fire. This is rest for your soul—the soul rest that the prophet Jeremiah promised to the war weary, homesick remnant of the nation of Israel (Jer. 6:16; 31:25).
Pour Out Your Heart Prayer Journal
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Primarily, this is the rest we experience when we stop working to earn our salvation and we rest in the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Yet this rest extends beyond this to a soul at rest in the busyness and fullness of everyday life. It is a rest that is developed over a lifetime of coming to Jesus. Specifically, coming to him in prayer.
We all know we should pray. For some of us, we have turned prayer into work. An item added to a to-do list. A task to accomplish and excel at. Prayer becomes an obligation, not a privilege. We pray because we should, or worse, because we think we have to if we want to experience God’s blessings. A quote from John Calvin in his commentary on Matthew 6:5–6 helped me understand prayer differently. He explained,
“Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about things unknown to Him, or of exciting Him to do His duty, or of urging Him as though He were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray in order that they may arouse themselves to seek Him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on His promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into His bosom, In a word that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and others, all good things.”
Calvin would have us know that there are three things that prayer is NOT and three things it IS.
Prayer is NOT telling God things he doesn’t know.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. —Psalm 139:4
Your Heavenly Father knows that you need all this. He knows what you need before you ask. —Matthew 6:32
Prayer is NOT encouraging God to do what he has promised to do.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?—Numbers 23:19
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. —Hebrews 10:23
Prayer is NOT urging God to do what he doesn’t want to do.
The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” —Isaiah 14:24
Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear. —Isaiah 59:1
This, then, is the truth: God doesn’t need me to explain to him what is happening in my world. He knows my needs better than I even know them myself. God is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. He is willing and able and committed to keeping his promises. I do not have to get his attention and remind him. God will do all his holy will. I am not able to get him to do something against his will nor stop him from doing anything that is his will.
The question surfaces. If this is true, why do we pray? There are careful and wise theological answers that detail the relationship between God's sovereign plan and how my prayers are a part of that1. In the end, we learn—amazingly and mysteriously—that God invites us to be a means whereby his will is accomplished. That should be enough to encourage us to pray. But God encourages us, well, commands us, to pray because of the spiritual benefits to us personally. Calvin details three of these.
God is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. He is willing and able and committed to keeping his promises.
Prayer focuses our attention on the only one who can give us rest.
Augustine said it well: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We are tempted to look in many places to find the rest our souls need. Prayer is a reminder to look to Jesus who welcomed us to come to him and find rest.
Prayer is an exercise in faith2 that leads to rest.
When Jesus walked among us, he would commend people for their faith. How did they demonstrate their faith? By asking him for help because they knew he could and he would help them (Matt. 8:10; 15:28).
A person of faith carefully studies the will and ways of God shown in his promises and says, “God said it, so I will ask him to do as he said he would.” Believing God’s goodness, wisdom, and sovereignty is trustworthy, this exercise in faith sets our hearts at rest.
Prayer subdues anxiety that hinders rest.
This truth comes straight from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ” (Phil 4:6–7).
Anxiety seems to be an expected part of our modern life filled with frantic pursuits, brokenness, endless news cycles and 24/7 technology. The only hope for a burdened heart is an unburdening by pouring out one’s concerns and fears to the only one who can be our refuge. A place where we can rest in safety (Ps. 62:8).
Ultimately, prayer is a declaration of dependence that welcomes rest.
Self-sufficient people do not pray. They don’t have to. They assume they are capable of handling anything that comes their way. Prayerlessness exposes this attitude. Kindly, God does not let his children live long in this way. He puts us in situations that force us to acknowledge our limitations, our creature frailty. He reminds us that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:4–7). Compare the wordage of the self-righteous Pharisee and the tax collector’s prayer for mercy (Luke 18:10–14). Only one was praying. Only one was heard. When we pray, we declare that we are needy. And when we are weak, we experience his strength.
Prayer, then, does not change God. It changes me.3 Praying changes me by reminding me of who God is. He is Creator, Sustainer, Savior and King. He is wise and loving and just, full of grace and truth. He is the one who decrees what is to pass and establishes the steps of my life. Only he can change the hearts and minds of those I love and direct the outcomes of their lives. My prayers change me when God lifts the burdens of my heart onto his back. And so I pray. I come dependent and expectant. I pour out my heart to the Lord and find rest for my weary soul.
- John Piper, If God Is Sovereign, Are My Prayers Pointless?, March 6, 2020, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/if-god-is-sovereign-are-my-prayers-pointless.
- Calvin called prayer the “chief exercise of faith.” https://media.thegospelcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/26152435/CH523_T_16.pdf
- R.C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?, May 12, 2021, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/does-prayer-change-gods-mind.
Lois Krogh is the author of the Pour Out Your Heart Prayer Journal: A Planner for a Life of Prayer.
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