Christians have the great privilege of coming boldly before the throne of grace and talking with God. This communion between us and God is called prayer. That believers have the ear of God and are invited to cast their cares upon the Lord because He cares for them is the most remarkable of all blessings. Yet, prayer is one of the most neglected disciplines of Christians in our day. J.C. Ryle once said: “Yes: few pray! It is just one of the things assumed as a matter of course, but seldom practiced; a thing which is everybody’s business, but in fact hardly anybody performs.” If this assessment can be made of our age as well, what are the consequences of a prayerless Christianity? Is the church’s mission suffering today from a lack of prayer? Are Christians stifled in their holiness because few are asking God for help in sanctification?
Almost universally, people complain of the busyness of their lives. Families are pulled away from the dinner table to sports practices, music lessons, and a variety of other activities. We have the best of modern conveniences, and yet we run ourselves ragged with never-ending “appointments.” The restlessness of our age is an indication of priorities gone wrong. We spend time doing what we value the most, but prayer is not at the top of the list. We do have time, however, to openly talk about the many problems our society faces. Social media is not in want of Christians who use their time to express to the world their disillusionment with the “state of things.” Yes, we are living in distressing times. From the moral bankruptcy of society to the spiritual decline of the church, the problems are endless. Everyone is speaking, but who is taking these things to the Lord in prayer? If Ryle was at all correct in his assessment a century and a half ago, what can be said of our times? Is “hardly anybody” praying to our God of all deliverance?
This would be a difficult article to write if we had no assurance of the Lord’s help through the means of prayer. However, the Scriptures everywhere assure believers that God hears the prayers of His people (e.g., Gen. 16:11; Ex. 2:24; Ps. 4:3). The remarkable truth about prayer is that God desires to give His grace and Holy Spirit to us when we depend on Him through this means. Prayer is a means of grace through which the Spirit works in our lives. Since God has promised to us an open ear, prayer should be a top priority in the Christian life. A prayerless Christian is a powerless Christian. For this reason, every generation needs to be challenged to make prayer a priority in their lives.
CALLING ALL CHRISTIANS TO PRAY
When we speak of the means of grace, it is important to make a distinction between the narrower means of grace as what God gives to us through Word and sacrament and the broader means of grace through our act of praying. This distinction is important so that we keep in perspective that prayer is our response to the grace we receive from God’s Word. This does not, however, lessen the call for Christians to pray, since God gives His grace to those who pray. When the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him to teach them to pray, Jesus answered by saying, “When you pray . . .” The Lord expressed that prayer would be a normal discipline in the Christian life. The great need for Christians in our day is to recover the conviction and motivation to pray.
The Scriptures call us to pray for many different reasons. In 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth to pray by using his own life as an example of suffering. Paul was given a “thorn” in his flesh that caused suffering in his life. We are not told what the thorn was, but Paul wanted the Corinthians to think about their dependence on the Lord. A thorn could be anything that takes away our human strength: cancer, conflict, pain, loss—all that and more. As Paul cried out three times for deliverance, Jesus answered Paul by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). Yes, Paul received actual grace from the Lord through prayer. In his weakness, the grace of Christ rested on him, and he received strength.
Tabletalk: Prayer as a Means of Grace