Then Abraham approached [The Lord] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?…far be it from you to do such a thing…Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven….”O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name….”
(Neh 1. 4&11)
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I…
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
what is prayer?
Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.
(Shorter catechism, Question 98)
Jesus taught his disciples about prayer both in formal exhortation, and also through his own example – he gave them what we now call ‘the Lord’s prayer’, and they were present on many occasions when he prayed aloud. They could also testify to his habit of spending prolonged hours alone in prayer. They learnt that when they spoke to God, they came as beloved children to a Father who cherished them; they learnt that prayer could be short and confident – as when Jesus spoke before the raising of Lazarus – and also that it could be prolonged, agonised pleading – as in Gethsemane. They heard for themselves the final words addressed to God from the cross, prayers for forgiveness, of lament and cries of desolation.
It is clear from the record of the Acts of the apostles, and from their letters, that the disciples embraced prayer as integral to their lives as believers – and the foundation for the work which God called and anointed them to do. They prayed for one another’s faith and witness; for the work of God in far off lands and also close at hand; they prayed against the power of evil, and faithfully offered sacrifices of thankful prayer no matter what their circumstances might have been.
We don’t really need to know much about how they prayed – sitting, kneeling or standing; eyes shut or open; hands raised or clasped before them; aloud or silent; in a group or alone. The point is, that within a very few weeks of Jesus’ death and resurrection, these uneducated men were praying – fluently and confidently, in the face of attack and in times of rejoicing. We have much to learn from their example, if we too desire to honour God and bear fruit for him as faithful, obedient disciples.
If we have not learned to submit ALL our desires to God in prayer, and to share with him everything that is on our hearts, then we may find it hard to begin when we face severe trials. If we have never practiced prayer in the easier times of life, then the crises may find us woefully inadequate, unable to articulate our thoughts, and more seriously, unable to call to mind the promises of God, the teachings of scripture about his character and plan for kingdom building, and new-creating. We may find ourselves unable to echo Christ’s words in Gethsemane – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”(Luke 22.42)
Cultivating fluency in prayer is not about eloquent speeches, but is about knowing by experience how readily we can bring all our thoughts, fears and hopes to God – and doing it. Prayer is not some emergency helpline for believers, which we call on only when we can’t cope ourselves, it is the language of the kingdom, and one of the primary means by which we grow in faith and dependence on God. Failure to grow in prayer, leaves us stunted and vulnerable as believers – with only ourselves to blame for the trouble that may bring upon us.
I fear that I have yet much to learn about persevering, faithful prayer; but I rejoice in the ways that God has taught me through godly friends and leaders. May I not give up, but rather press on earnestly, growing more fluent in prayer, that I might fulfill what God is calling me to be and do for his glory in our world. Lord, teach me to pray!
(photograph courtesy of Peter Geddes, 2019: Carloway, Lewis)