I’ve yet to meet a follower of Jesus who feels like they pray enough! A survey was done asking committed Christians why they don’t pray, or pray more. The number one reason stated was that it doesn’t seem like prayer really changes things.
As someone who struggles with my prayer life, I have a couple of responses to this conclusion. First, I totally get that it sometimes feels like I pray about something that’s near and dear to my heart with no perceived effect. For instance, the health of someone close to me; a weakness, or sin, that I would like to overcome; or, a choice that our nation is making that is patently against God’s prescription for human flourishing. I pray, sometimes ardently, about these things and my friend doesn’t improve, I still struggle with my problem and our government enacts laws that are not in keeping with God’s design for us. So, I can see how, if you follow on this track, that you’d be disappointed in God and prayer and feel like things happen more randomly and arbitrarily than you’d like to admit, given your conviction about a Sovereign, All-good, All-powerful God.
My second thought on this issue is to ask the question, “What is the purpose of prayer?” Why does Jesus assume that his followers will pray? You remember, he instructed his disciples saying when you pray don’t do so to impress people with your piety, rather pray in secret. He didn’t instruct them to pray, rather he gave them the right attitude in which to pray. That they would pray was a given.
So, why do we pray? I found a very helpful answer in John 15:16 (NIV), where Jesus made an audacious promise to his disciples:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
John chapter 15 is a very potent passage. This is where Jesus instructs his followers to abide in him, to have his words abide in us. This passage can be summed up in one phrase: intimacy with Jesus. This is what Jesus is looking for in his followers – heart to heart relationship with him based on faith, love and obedience. His promise is that when we are in relationship with him in this way, our lives will be fruitful. Fruitfulness is defined as Christ-likeness: the nature of Christ being borne in us as we remain in intimate relationship with him.
It is in this context of intimacy and bearing the nature of Christ in us that he promises whatever we ask will be given to us.
So, why DO I pray?
- I am continuously pursuing relationship with Jesus. I can’t pursue relationship with him by only listening to sermons from my favourite preachers, listening to worship music from my favourite worship bands, paying my tithes and supporting a needy child overseas. Suppose I only did good things for my wife, how much depth of relationship will I have with her? She wants me to do good things, but she also wants me in the room with her. I must make the time to sit with Jesus and have quality time with him. Then I must obey what he tells me because His love language is obedience.
- I also pray because I’ve come to the conclusion that God is my Good Father. I know that from studying his Word to me. These are the lenses through which I interpret the events of life. My certainty about who God is and his love for me no longer wavers dependant on how my prayers are answered.
- As I commune with God by his Spirit and in his Word I find that I am being transformed into the nature of his beloved Son. When prayers are answered the way I expected then I am filled with joy! When answered “No”, or “Wait”, I get to grow in trust, humility and patience … Jesus has those qualities in bucket-loads.
Spirit of God, I ask that you would release a new anointing and grace for us to pray, to seek your face, to commune with you like lovers do. Father, this is your desire for us, your sons and daughters. Jesus, help us to overcome all the resistance in our soul and the distractions of the world so that we would be diligent to do what you’re calling us to do. Lord God, we want to co-labour with you to bring about all that you want to do in this earth as we overcome the work of the enemy. Amen!