Growing in Prayer
Enjoying the Privilege of Prayer
Karl Barth: “To be a Christian and to pray are one and the same thing.” This doesn’t mean that you aren’t a Christian if you struggle with prayer. What it does mean is that prayer is our birthright as Christians: our great privilege as children of God is to walk in living communion with our Heavenly Father. Prayer, in all of its forms, is the essence of our fellowship with God and so to be a Christian is just to be someone who, through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, seeks God, worships God, depends upon God, struggles with God, listens to God, and responds to God in prayer.
In his earthly life and ministry our Lord Jesus lived in constant communion with his Father and he also taught us, his disciples, how to pray. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: Matthew 6:5-6: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Pray to Your Father
- Within this simple phrase of Jesus lies the whole secret to the great privilege of prayer. On the night of his arrest Jesus prayed: [John 17:5]: “And now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Here we get an ever so precious glimpse into the prayer life of Jesus: the eternal Son, now incarnate in human flesh, conversing with the eternal Father. In order to grasp how great our privilege in prayer is we must understand that Jesus is the one and only Son of God; He is the only one who by nature has the right to address and know God as Father.
- But Jesus said to us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” What does this mean? It means that Jesus is inviting us to share in the very same relationship with God the Father which he, the eternal Son, enjoys. The great privilege of Christian prayer is that we know God not only as Creator, King, or Judge, but also as Father, and we can know God in this loving and intimate way because God has adopted us as his children through his Son, Jesus Christ.
- When the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us He unites us to God and makes us children of God.
- Romans 8:14-15: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
- Galatians 4:6: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
- So for us, followers of Jesus, prayer isn’t the rote recitation of memorized words to a distant deity; and prayer isn’t the fearful stammering of people who are afraid of God’s anger. Instead, because Jesus died for us and rose again, and because the Spirit of Jesus the Son now lives in us, prayer is our conversation and fellowship with our Heavenly Father who loves and delights in us as his children.
- Brothers and sisters, this is the richness of the privilege of prayer which is ours as disciples of Jesus. Andrew Murray wrote in With Christ in the School of Prayer, “Prayer begins in a personal relationship with the living God as well as a personal, conscious fellowship of love with him. In the knowledge of God’s fatherliness revealed by the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer will root and grow. The life of prayer has its joy in the infinite tenderness, care, and patience of an infinite Father who is ready to hear and to help.”
Go Into Your Room and Shut the Door
With these words Christ calls us to the practice of solitude, of aloneness, for developing our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Why is this practice of solitude – of consistently seeking out time and place to be away from others so that we can be alone with God – so important to our enjoyment of and growth in the privilege of prayer?
- First, solitude centers us on God. Seeking to be alone with God demonstrates that our purpose in prayer is to know and please our Heavenly Father and not to win the praise of people for ourselves. Further, solitude shuts out distractions and enables us to focus our full attention on God. The purpose of going into our room and shutting the door is to leave the world behind so that we can direct all our heart, soul, mind, and strength to seeking God.
- Second, solitude cultivates our communion with God. Prayer is not limited to times when we are alone with God. We can also pray at the dinner table with our family before eating, at work before the big meeting, at home in the midst of caring for our children, and with other Christians in Bible studies, small groups, and worship services. We can pray right in the middle of busyness and distraction, and we can pray with and in front of other people. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we are to “pray without ceasing” and so the goal is for prayer to become a living, breathing way of life in which we are constantly practicing the presence of God. Solitude – the practice of consistently being alone with God – is the spiritual discipline which is the greenhouse of our spiritual growth: it is through the habit of going into our rooms and shutting the door to pray to our Father that we come to know our Father personally and intimately. It is through this habit that we grow into being the kind of people who are internally focused upon and attentive to God and therefore walk closely with him day-by-day.
And Your Father Will Reward You
- Now Jesus expands our privilege in prayer even further with this promise that our Father who sees in secret will reward us as we seek him. The reward for hypocrites who pray only to be seen by others is the praise of people: that is all the reward they will ever get for their prayers. But for those who pray in secret in order to know and please their heavenly Father there is the promise of reward directly from the Father himself.
- What is the reward of prayer? First, there is reality that God answers our prayers; that He acts in our lives and in the world in response to our requests and petitions. A little later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said:
- Matthew 7:7-11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
- If good human fathers can be depended upon to give good things when their children ask for them, then each and every one of us can believe, in full assurance of faith, that our infinitely good Heavenly Father knows how to answer our prayers – and will answer our prayers – according to what is truly best for us.
The highest reward of prayer, however, is God himself. Ultimately as followers of Jesus our goal in prayer is not merely to get things from God, but to grow in living communion with God. The Scriptures are clear – God himself is our all-in-all, our greatest reward.
- Psalm 145:17-18: The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
- James 4:8a: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
- Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
- Ephesians 3:17-19: … So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.