The Mystery and Necessity of Prayer
Ps.27:8 - When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
Heb.11:6 - But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
We are being systematically robbed. Let us be honest at least with ourselves and with God. How often do we seek His face? If we are not seeking something from Him, how often do we recline in His presence and diligently seek Him? And when I say “seek Him” I do not mean to recite a list of our petitions before Him. I actually mean spending a lavish amount of time in His very presence and seek His face with all its glory.
Do our hearts burn within us to be in His presence and to search Him out in Spirit and in truth? We are so tempted to spend time in so many other things that we have neglected the greater part. Martha is our mentor while Mary sits at His feet alone. In fact, the church as a whole has lost the practice as well as the desire to dwell in prayer and meditation. We have allowed the cares of this world to rob us of our Master’s glorious presence. And we have even allowed the correction of falsehoods to overshadow our own private devotion to Him.
God does not redeem us so that we can preserve and defend the truth. That is a byproduct. When we are redeemed, we are grafted into God’s family and we become a child of God. Now when a baby is born to its parents it quickly begins to communicate by facial expressions, laughing, and even crying. But when it reaches the age of three, that child should be speaking with its parents. If it isn’t then there is a problem. All parents are thrilled to hear their child form words and communicate, and eventually that child tells its parents he or she loves them.
Now all through the child’s life he communicates daily with his parents. he listens to them, he receives direction and help, and he grows in his love for them through that communication. So why is it that those who have been born again into God’s family take so little time to communicate with the Father? Why can so many live the Christian life with so little prayer? And why does the church emphasize everything but prayer? It is the scourge of western Christianity that we are too busy with the things of this world and too busy with the things of church that we have almost abandoned prayer.
But those who knew Jesus best asked, “Teach us to pray.” They had watched Him and His devotion to the Father and His elongated times in deep and penetrating prayer. They saw Him separate Himself and get alone with the Father, and they heard Him teach about the worthlessness of stilted and redundant prayers. In reality, there is no way to walk in Christ without a vibrant and soul searching prayer life. And because prayer is difficult and requires a sacrifice of time, energy, and selfishness, most professing believers know nothing of its power and glory.
A professing believer is considered “mature” when he can regurgitate the cardinal doctrines and when he is a faithful tither to a local assembly. He is then a candidate for leadership. But where is the commitment to the secret life of prayer that basks in His presence and intercedes for God’s people? A professing believer can be a “voting” member of a church and never pray. And the pastor can be a great organizer with corporate leadership skills, and he can be personable and eat lunch with others several times weekly, and he can be a great golfing buddy to selected members. But given the amount of time he spends with all kinds of activities and phone calls, where are the many, many hours he should be spending in prayer? And he is the example the flock follows.
Let us be honest, we all struggle with our prayer lives. But if we surrender to the culture and what has become the painful norm, then we will continue to slog through this life with very little fruit. You cannot grow fruit in a fallow and hardened ground. And Christ cannot be manifested through a prayerless life that wholly depends on the flesh. But the church has succumbed to the dictates of a western lifestyle and rather than rejecting the dictatorship of its allurements and necessities we have cleverly incorporated them into our lives and by inference we suggest they are the Christian norm. The only problem with that is that the New Testament teaches the exact opposite.
“Without Me you can do nothing,” Jesus said. What can that possibly mean? Does it mean we take a painting of Him with us? A cross around our necks? A copy of church doctrine? Surely Jesus was referring to a devoted life that seeks Him diligently in the closet of prayer. Yes, this is a lost practice in the church. Prayer is not sensational and is not results oriented. Prayer is a great mystery but also a great gift. Prayer breaks us and also makes us. Prayer fills us with God’s Spirit and crucifies that which lives against God. Prayer transforms a surrendered life and begins a journey that allows Christ to reveal Himself through a human conduit.
Prayer is not some “Polly want a cracker” begging. It isn’t some spiritual science that when perfected allows you to get material things from God. In fact, most of us already have more than enough material things and struggle to resist being imprisoned by them. Prayer is a secret and invisible glory that allows a redeemed sinner to speak with the Monarch of the Universe. Prayer allows an entrance into God’s throne room and in a mystery we speak with a Friend as well as our Master. Prayer takes the authoritative scaffold of Scripture and infuses it with unspeakable revelation and the glory of an understanding beyond our human intellect.
And as the old prayer warrior I heard in college say, “Prayer is the only attachment we have been given to God’s omnipotence.” Anything thought or done without prayer is of the flesh and does not bring God glory. Years ago a Chinese pastor was given a visa to come to America. His trip was paid for by American evangelical pastors, and he spoke at many churches. And at the conference he was the primary speaker and he spoke on prayer. He was awestruck by the buildings and books and organization of the western churches. When he returned to China the believers were anxious to hear a report.
What did he see? What kind of believers are in America? Where did you speak? How were you treated? The pastor answered all of these questions and more. And then one believer asked, ”What impressed you the most about the American believers?” The Chinese pastor replied, “How much the Americans can accomplish without God.” What was he saying? This humble Chinese pastor was taken aback at how little prayer figured into the western church. You see, prayer is the absolute core of the Chinese church and it is the main reason why they have grown more rapidly than have the western churches, even though they have operated under a brutal dictatorship.
Prayer, my friends, has been lost to us. If a believer bows his head to pray over his food in public he is considered extremely bold. Prayer takes sacrifice and humility, and both of these qualities are eschewed in a hedonistic culture. Listen to believers complain about gas prices and interest rates and economic conditions. Their complaints mimic those of unbelievers. Western believers cannot endure sacrifice, and when it involves money and inconvenience, they are quick to murmur and attempt to vote away their problems.
Humility is considered a weakness in a culture that boasts about its political accomplishments. In fact, I have heard thousands of pastors boast, “I believe the Bible is the Word of God!” Sure, but do you reflect it? And Who provided you with the grace and the faith to believe it? And why do the mixed multitude sitting in pews clap when you say it? It is nothing more than religious theatrics designed for self elevation and to entertain the gathering. But it takes genuine and even rigorous humility to discipline your life in order to pray with passion and brokenness. No one will applaud you in the prayer closet; no one will buy Cds of you praying; no one will buy a 20 dollar ticket to a prayer concert; no one will assign you a “doctorate” because you pray.
Yes, prayer is unsensational to the flesh. Many times it is a lonely practice whose rewards may come in the life to come. There are few examples to follow, and prayer will quickly require a rejection of all that is you and an embracing of all that is Him. And the flesh does not go quietly. It will bring an entire arsenal against any believer who sincerely seeks the face of God through sacrificial prayer. I’m afraid the devil does not fear our organization, nor our growing membership rolls, nor our well oiled youth programs, nor our wonderful music ministries. He does not fear the oratorical prowess of our preachers, nor our visitation programs, nor our stands against the moral decay.
But what the devil does fear is when and if God’s people commit themselves to a life of serious and devoted prayer. The devil knows that has the potential to affect the course of nations. Look into a bathroom mirror. As you turn your head to attempt to see your profile, you will notice that your eyes must remain affixed upon the mirror. You see, you yourself cannot fully see your profile, to say nothing of the back of your head. And so it is in the Spirit.
You and I can only see a limited perspective of ourselves, but the Holy Spirit can see us from every vantage point. The question is are we desirous to hear what then Spirit wants to share with us about us? Or since we have an orthodox doctrine, do we feel as though only minor alterations are necessary and we can see what needs to be done without the Spirit? Are we champions for truth or are we willing sacrifices that are personally slain daily on the altar of truth? Is God’s truth just a sword for His enemies or is it a sword indeed for us as well?
Without a revival of prayer the church will continue to meander through life, buoyed by our orthodoxy and soothed by our condemnation of others. And when a nobody like me identifies the lukewarm core of the church, or when I delineate the false teachings of others, the question is not do we see it. The ultimate question is are we driven to our prayer closets so that we can intercede for the situation and so that we ourselves can repent and be changed. And if indeed you and I do see these things, well then we are held to a greater level of accountability.
Personally, I have much fallow ground left in my prayer closet, and I am grieved over my often lack of thirst for His presence through elongated seasons of prayer. I ask God to help deepen the stakes and lengthen the cords of my commitment to prayer. And without controversy it is true, my Lord and Savior, without You I can do nothing. May I decrease and You increase with each passing day. Please, I beseech You, may You have all the preeminence in my heart and life. Lord, that is not altogether true yet.