Why We Pray
I find it really amusing and much to my chagrin that God humbles me most in the moments I am most confident. In one case, it was how good I believed myself to be at praying. It’s okay to shake your head at me, I’ve done that all season long as I wrestled through what prayer is and why I should take it seriously. For in the valley of shadows God transformed my eyes to see a valley of vision through a redeemed conviction on prayer.
Imagine that if there was a banner over your life that was visible to anyone, what would it look like? What would the colors be, what styles and design would you choose? And, most importantly, what would be written on the banner? I’m writing to you, but also to myself, that Jesus should be what is written on this legacy banner.
But what should carry the banner of Jesus up and onward? No, it’s not the good works done, though they may have been good. It’s not status level, though all influence may have been used to glorify God. The number of followers, life motto and verses clung to and shared with the world are not as impactful in the long run as believed to be, though all words were used to point to Christ. What carries this banner forward is a life lived on knees in prayer.
There is a human telos or purpose to all lives as we were created by a Maker that desires a relationship with us. Psalm 73:28 says that the nearness of God is our good. The Lord finds personal delight in his faithful ones (Zephaniah 3:17) and in His presence we find “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
Consider this question: if I were to record your prayers, what would we notice on the playback?
Sadly, most recordings would show that most prayers starkly display how small and weak we believe God to be and that we see ourselves as gods. Because you don’t ask for help when you are the almighty one, right?
J.I. Packer, when mentioned by John Piper in When I Don’t Desire God, believes “that prayer is the measure of a man [or woman] spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a questions as we can ever face. How we pray reveals the desires of our hearts. And the desires of our hearts reveal what our treasure is. And if our treasure is not Christ, we will perish”.
Jesus went to the cross so that we could have a restored relationship with Father God (Romans 6:23) and so that redemption would spill over to redeem relationships with fellow image bearers. There is nothing powerful or everlasting we could do to redeem our sin-filled states. Notice that the veil that was torn in the temple at Jesus death was no paper thin fabric: the veil that separated the people from God was a man’s hand length thick. There was nothing that could easily (if at all) cut through that separation, which makes the reality of it ripping apart a spectacular feat that could only have happened by a Sovereign hand. Jesus claimed in John 14:6 that he was the only way to get to the Father. His perfect life and sacrificial death was the key to unleashing Father God’s grace on the world in the form of a torn temple veil.
Jesus fully retained his holy and perfect nature while living on earth as man, and yet continuously modeled how to pray: Jesus displayed a joy at prayer (Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12); he taught how to pray for God’s kingdom to be praised (1 Timothy 1:17); for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will be done (Matthew 6:10); to ask for what is needed (2 Corinthians 9:8); to seek renewed faith (Mark 9:24); for forgiveness of sins (Matthew 6:12); to be kept from sin (Matthew 6:13); and to pray all things in Jesus’ name (John 14:13, Hebrews 4:16).
I am claiming that the “Jesus” banner over us can only be carried by prayer because there is a redemption hope and helper.
Jesus not only died a sacrificial death, but after rising, he gave still more. He gave believers his own spirit to be near and help them approach God (Romans 8:26-27). The Holy Spirit reveals God’s character and heart while working to conform believers to the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). As the Spirit of Christ resides, the faithful begin to comprehend the deep dimensions of God’s riches in Christ: which is experiencing the beauty in being “filled with the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).
Not only do we have a holy Helper and a Gospel hope, but there is a history of saints that have left a legacy of prayer. Abraham in hope believed against hope that he would see God fulfill his promise of making him the father of many (Romans 4:18); Moses prayed to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18); David prayed for a clean heart (Psalm 51:1-2); Solomon prayed for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9); Isaiah offered to be sent (Isaiah 6:8); Mary welcomed God’s will in her life (Luke 1:38); and Paul prayed for God to take away his pain (2 Corinthians 1:3).
These “Hall of Faith” celebrities never saw the promises fulfilled completely (Hebrews 11), but that didn’t stop them from having faith. Christians have the amazing privilege of seeing God’s plan fulfilled in Christ.
We reconcile brokenness with the Gospel hope by first having faith: a settled trust and confidence in our Maker based on his character and promises (Hebrews 11:1) And second, through prayer: praying Jesus would be ruler over heaven and earth; praying for wisdom, the God-given and God-centered understanding of practical issues in life (James 1:5); praying for more faith; and praying to have a vision of joy to endure this side of heaven knowing Jesus is already seated at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2).
This is how you wave the banner of Jesus in the joyful, lonely, pain-filled, glorious, sanctifying, and messy moments of life. You get on your knees and pray. And then continue praying.
Believer, this is why you pray. Not that you may get all the things you want, though they may be good gifts from God. Not that you may be an influencer, though you may point to Jesus. You pray because you have seen the glory of Jesus (John 1:14), have experienced the goodness of being near God and from Jesus fullness, receiving grace upon grace (John 1:16), and wanting that glory and grace to be stretched and accepted by the nations of the world (Psalm 67:2).