Why Must We Pray?
Solemn was the atmosphere. Though neither the place nor the occasion was new to the three sleeping saints, never had they experienced a moment like this. In fact, in the history of man, never had there been a moment like this. And yes, they were fast asleep. Three times they had been warned. Three times they had been instructed what to do. Not by just anyone. They had a word from God. God Himself had been with them and had specifically asked them to a) stay awake, b) pay attention, and c) pray. They did none of the three. Instead, they, not understanding the intensity of the occasion, nor the depth of the spiritual warfare, nor the desperate labor that accompanies praying, fell asleep. All three of them fell asleep. And thus, in a moment of weakness, they taught us a lot about ourselves as well.
Prayer is hard work. And it involves intense spiritual warfare when it is done properly. It is serious business. But it is the business that we as believers are in. The business of standing before God in His own armor and resisting the onslaughts of the principalities and powers of the evil one until we enter into that secret place where fellowship with the Father is so sweet, where communication with the Father is so real, and where understanding of the Father's will is so important, that all of life is transcended by a hunger to do nothing but God's bidding, to go nowhere but where God is leading, and to have a heart so pure that anything which might come between us and Him is seen as a grievous offense against a Holy God.
Prayer. We, like those three of God's intimate circle, do not often understand our calling to pray. Thus we do not obey that calling as we ought. The purpose of this series of studies is to change that, and we trust to change us in the process. In our last study we looked at that incredible moment in time when eternity hung in the balance, as the eternal God took His band of followers to His favorite place of prayer, and leaving eight of them to watch at the gate, He took His inner circle of three with Him into the garden. There, He paused, asked them to wait a few feet from where He would be praying, and instructed them to watch and to pray. As we mentioned earlier, they did neither.
Instead, they, weary from the day and unaware of the gravity of the moment, drifted off into slumber land, totally oblivious to the fact that the God of Eternity was facing the reality of dying for the sins of the world, and that at this very moment, when He was soliciting their support, He was encountering spiritual warfare so intense that He was, as it were, sweating great drops of blood as He petitioned His Father for His will to be done. No one before or since has ever prayed like that. But He did it for us. And He did it to teach us what real prayer is all about. Sadly, this kind of prayer is not spoken of much or taught about much in our generation. By God's grace, may that change in these latter days.
Our last study was entitled, "Why Don't We Pray?", and we looked at some of the reasons we relegate this, perhaps the most important spiritual activity in the life of any believer, to the dusty, upper shelves of our lives, only to be placed into serious service when life's skies turn dark and crises hang in the balance.
In this study, we begin a long look into the positive side of the subject. "Why Must We Pray?" is the title, and it is step one in the pursuit of a set of priorities that place spending time in God's presence in intimate communication as the number one objective in the Christian life. It will take some reevaluating. But reevaluating is what coming to grips with Scriptural truth is all about. By God's grace, let's look honestly at what the Bible has to say about prayer.
On the surface, this study may seem unnecessary. As believers, we all are supposed to know the importance of prayer. But reality beckons. It isn't what we know that matters in the Christian life; it is how we obey that ultimately determines who we really are, spiritually. So how many lessons we have taught or heard on the subject of prayer; how many books we have read; how many tapes we have listened to; how many seminars we have attended, are really not the issue.
The issue is: how much do we pray? How effectively do we pray? How compassionately do we pray? How obediently do we pray? Do we even know experientally how to pray? Those are the questions that count. And statistics indicate a great disparity between the talk and the walk where prayer is concerned. There is certainly is in my own life. I pray that God will change not only my understanding but my life. And I pray that you will pray the same.
Why must we pray? Let's examine some of the key reasons. And as we do, let's promise each other that we will ask God to open our eyes to behold the place prayer is to play in our lives. Let's ask Him to honestly place our lives against the measuring stick of Scripture.
THE AUTHORITY OF GOD'S WORD DEMANDS IT.
This is, in effect, the only reason we need to do anything. This is the only reason we need to totally alter our lifestyle, totally change our habits, totally transform our thoughts. God said it. That settles it. And in the case of prayer, God said it over and over and over and over. He knew we would be likely to overlook its importance and He knew that Satan would work harder to prevent us from praying than he would anything else. He will even encourage Christian activity if it will keep us off our knees. This poem reminds us of that:
Satan says, "Christians can come to church
But I can handle this:
I'll just put them on lots of committees
And their mission perhaps they'll miss"
Satan says, "Christians can study hard
And even learn about prayer
But so long as it's only in their heads
I really do not care"
"But oh," he moans, "when Christians pray
I mean really, honestly pray;
When they enter into the courts of God
Day after day after day
When they so are consumed by who God is
That they truly confess every sin
I give up" says Satan...
"It's a battle I cannot win."
The devil isn't overwhelmed by all the jobs you have at the church or even by the prestige that accompanies them. He is overjoyed, in fact, if those activities so consume you or so elevate your spiritual opinion of yourself that you never have time to pray as you ought. That's a good trade, in his estimation. But not in God's. God sees prayer as an opportunity afforded the believer by grace and grace alone to actually enter into a kind of fellowship with His God that would normally be afforded only a chosen few in the courts of royalty on earth.
You have greater access to God's heart than the cabinet does to the President. You have opportunity for closer communion with God than any parent does with his child. You have an open door into the presence of the King of Kings. That door is never locked. Never is there a sign saying "Busy: come back later." You have instant access to His ear. Always He hears you. Always. You don't need to take a number and wait your turn. You don't need to parade a list of your spiritual accomplishments before Him so He can determine if you are worthy to be at His throne.
Of course you aren't worthy. That isn't the issue. He is worthy. That's the issue. And because He is; and because He has transferred His righteousness to your account and taken your sins as His own, there will never be a time when you cannot come into His presence and immediately have an audience. Never. The problem is, that ought to make you come more often; not make you presumptuous so you can wait until the crises of life are so great you can't do anything else.
The Bible makes prayer into more than an a great privilege, though it is certainly that. The Bible explains that prayer, to the disciple of Jesus Christ, is also a responsibility. And no responsibility He gives us is more important. Let's begin our journey by returning to Gethsemane and looking at what kind of authority those three disciples had that should have driven them to pray.
Jesus and the Three.
The trio of sleepy saints that the Master took to the garden that fateful day didn't have to wonder what God wanted them to do. They didn't have to hold a Bible study and argue theologically about the place of prayer in the grand scheme of Scriptural truth. All they had to do was...obey.
God Himself was walking with them that day. (He is with us as well, today) And as they were walking, He opened up His precious heart to them. He told them of the impending spiritual conflict in the heavenlies and of the intense sadness and grief that conflict had imposed on His spirit. And having become incredibly transparent to His closest friends, He now, as God, gives them a very simple order.
He looks at them with those penetrating eyes of love and says: "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation." In other words, "Humble yourself in the presence of your God and remain on your knees in His presence until you are so consumed by His grace that you will have the strength to endure what is about to happen and the wisdom to understand the meaning of it all." Stay awake and stay in the prayer closet until God is finished speaking to you. That wasn't all that complicated. But it wasn't all that easy, either.
The rest of the passage makes that clear. He didn't just tell them once, either. He poured out His heart to the Father then purposed to come back and fellowship with His friends and share the burden of His heart with them, only to find them sound asleep. Three times He tried. Three times they slept. And their response to the events that followed made it crystal clear they paid a great price for not simply obeying the Master's simple command.
"Watch and pray." That's not a complicated command, is it? A child can understand that. You tell a five year old, "Stay where you are and listen to every word I say" and you expect him to understand what you said. It doesn't take a degree to obey. It only takes a sensitive heart that's committed to doing the Master's will. Those three stumbled through the next few days as though they were caught up in a drama they couldn't understand. Had they obeyed the Lord that evening in the garden, they would have understood. And they would have seen all of those events in a totally different light.
Don't expect God to write you a personal letter asking you to pray. He already has. Read it. And begin with that traumatic time in Gethesemane. The clouds were darkening overhead. The issues were spiritual. (They always are) The Master's heart was grieved over sin. (It always is) And they had the privilege of entering into His sufferings with Him. (So do we) All God asked them to do was watch and pray. And that command, beloved, has not changed.
Prayer is a private matter. So only a few times do we actually have an opportunity to hear Jesus pray. But for our benefit, at least on two occasions, He gets specific. He tells us how to pray and He shows us how to pray, as well.
In Matthew 6, He gets so specific it ought to do away with all our confusion. He said:
Mt 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Mt 6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
We will examine each of the issues this passage surfaces in a later study. The thing I want us to see from it now is simply this: Prayer was an assumed thing. It was not to be a special opportunity for the spiritually elite. God simply gave some clear guidelines, assuming that prayer was something we do and something we do often. When you pray. Not if; when. Four times in that brief passage, the Master makes that assumption. When you pray don't be a hypocrite. When you pray, enter into the quiet place. When you pray, don't babble meaningless phrases. When you pray, pray like this.
So when you read passages on prayer, remember: God is already assuming that you understand how vital prayer is; how intense prayer should be; and how crucial to the kingdom your faithfulness in this area is. What He is doing is giving you principles to make your prayer life more effective. That you have such a prayer life is a given.
Not only does Jesus tell us how to pray in Matthew 6; in John 17, He shows us. He removes the veil from His own private fellowship with the Father just long enough for us to enter into the courts of intimacy with God and experience how God's own Son approaches His Father. What a precious passage. Again we will look at it in detail before this study is over, but remember how natural it was; how personal it was; how expectant it was; and how humbly it was done. Look how He ended that beautiful time:
Jn 17:23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. "
As I mentioned, we will look more deeply into this passage later, but oh, what intimate fellowship Jesus maintained with His Father. And because that fellowship was never broken, He could know His Father's heart and agree with His Father's will and intercede at his Father's throne with perfect power.
That power was not reserved only for Him. He sent His Spirit to live in us that we might have the same access to the same insights and to the same authority as He. And when we fall asleep as it were instead of paying the price as He did to know His Father's heart, it breaks His heart, indeed.
But perhaps the most startling testimony to the priority of prayer comes not from Jesus' public prayers, but rather from the importance prayer played in His precious private life. He simply had to have quality time in prayer with the Father. No one had "less time" than He had. He had but three years to build a foundation for a church the gates of hell could not prevail against. His raw materials would be an untrained, uneducated band of twelve men, one of whom was an enemy spy, the other eleven of whom would forsake Him in His hour of greatest need. The spokesman for the group, in fact, would curse and deny he had ever known the King of Glory. So we would have convinced ourselves, (had we been Him) that with a motley crew like this to turn the work over to, having had an eternity of fellowship with the Father, we would devote our time to training this unlikely group of leaders and getting the church on its way to being somewhat established. But not Jesus.
He knew, and He wanted us to know that as God in human form, He needed to maintain that perfect relationship with the Father second by second, day by day. He could not presume upon the power or the wisdom or the fellowship of the day before. He had to maintain that relationship using the incredible vehicle His Father had provided for all men since the beginning. He called it prayer. And whenever the skies overhead seemed to darken, or whenever the enemy seemed to be unleashing his heavy artillery, the Master, no matter what else was happening, would take time, or rather would make time to pray.
Here are just a few illustrations:
Mt. 14:23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
Mk 6:46 And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
Mk 14:32 And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.
Lk 6:12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
Lk 9:28 And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
Lk 11:1 And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
Lk 11:2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
The Living Son of God, while He lived on planet earth over and over and over again went apart to pray. This was not for show. He would quietly slip away and the disciples would find Him alone on His face before his Father. He was tempted in all points like as we are. The Bible says so. The only arsenal He had with which to withstand the enemy's fiery darts was the power His Father gave Him. He said so. He said, "Apart from the Father, I can do nothing." So He stayed in such close communion with His Father that never at any time did He give in and operate, even for one second, apart from the divine energy and wisdom that relationship made possible. And He, again and again, made sure the disciples understood what they were to do as well.
Mt 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Mt 9:38 Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
Mt. 19:13 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
Mt. 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Mt. 26:53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
Mk 11:24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Mk 13:33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
Lk 18:1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
Jn 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
Jn 16:26 At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you:
Jn 17:9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.
Jn 17:15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
Jn 17:20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
In the weeks and months to come, we will be looking in detail at most of those passages. But for now, simply be reminded that the living Son of God over and over again tried to impress on His somewhat slow learning team (and on us as well) that the key to finding God's will, finding God's workers, staying out of the clutches of the evil one, gaining victory over bitterness, and maintaining the mind of the Father was the quality of time and the consistency of time they spent in prayer. He told them and He showed them.
If it was that important to Him and to them, how can we relegate it to anyplace other than first place in our plan for spiritual growth? And one thing is for sure. Jesus clearly demonstrated that He was not praying to change the mind of God or alter the plan of God. He was praying to find the mind of God and submit to the plan of God. Oh, that we would come to understand that this is what prayer is all about.
The Disciples' Commands
The disciples obviously understood the importance of prayer in God's scheme of things. Listen to just a few of the passages that confirm this:
Acts 10:9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
Acts 12:12 And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother John, who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.
Ro. 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
2 Co. 13:7 Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.
Php. 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
Col. 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
1 Thess. 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
1 Th. 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thess. 5:25 Brethren, pray for us.
2 Th. 1:11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:
2 Th. 3:1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:
1 Ti. 2:8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
2 Ti. 4:16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.
Heb. 13:18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
Jms 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Jms 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
Jms 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Prayer was, in the early church, understood to be God's prescription for spiritual growth and power. Again, we will look at most of these verses as we progress in this series. The issue now is that from the lips of Jesus and the life of Jesus came an illustration and an example of the one thing in life that must never take a back seat to anything else in life. He called it prayer.
The authority of the word of God demands that we pray. If we believe this book to be what it claims to be: the word of God, then we have no choice but to take prayer seriously. Very seriously. As we shall see in the weeks to come, God has clearly told us how to pray, when to pray, why to pray, and what to expect once we've prayed. But for now, the issue is: God has told us to pray. Jesus said we ought always to pray and faint not. Paul said we were to pray without ceasing.
That means that not only are we to set aside time to pray, we are to leave those times of prayer so consumed with the mind of God and so yielded to the will of God and so intimately entwined in fellowship with God that the atmosphere and the intimacy never stops.
You naturally praise Him as you drive down the street. You naturally meditate on His word as you wait for your next appointment. You naturally, almost without thinking, talk to Him about your deepest concerns, not just in your quiet times alone with Him but as you walk by the way, as you live out your day.
Being with Him and abiding in Him becomes all that life is all about. That's prayer. It isn't just being in a room where others are praying. It isn't even just being alone when only you are praying. It is a way of life. It is constant, unchanging fellowship that occurs when there is no barrier between you and the lover of your soul.
THE PRESENCE OF SIN DEMANDS IT
That brings us to the second reason why we must pray. The presence of sin demands it. We live in a world dominated by sin. And only as we approach the holiness of God is that sin recognized for what it is, and only as we attempt to regain fellowship with God are we going to confess that sin as we ought.
John wrote in his first epistle:
I Jn 1:8-If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
1:9-If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1:10-If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word has no place in our lives.
Unless you come to God in prayer and confess your sins, the fellowship with the Father is broken and though you are still His child by virtue of the new birth, the intimacy of your fellowship has been interrupted. You are no longer abiding in Him. Sin demands that we pray, and that we pray honestly, confessing those things we know we have done that have broken that delicate bond that exists between a forgiven sinner and a holy God.
THE NEED FOR FELLOWSHIP INTENSIFIES IT
That, of course, brings us to the final reason we will discuss in this lesson. We must pray because without that level of fellowship with our God we will wither spiritually, and our love for the Savior will diminish and die. Unless you spend time with the one you love, you eventually forget why it was you fell in love.
If all you have is a memory of the time you met, or the times you spent together (past tense), in due time, someone or something else will come into your life that will usurp those memories and you will lose your first love.
Only when we spend the quality of time and the quantity of time Scripture demands in prayer, will we be able to maintain our consciousness of sin and our hunger for His nature that will motivate us to rest in Him and trust Him with our lives. Prayer is not something we add on to the Christian experience so we can earn extra points with God.
Prayer is an order from God. Prayer is the solution to the sin question. And prayer is the answer to maintaining the love of our lives. It is all that and more. Much more.
The question is: What place does prayer play in your life? Is it something that has, through the years, become second nature to you? Has it grown from a discipline to a relationship? Has it become more than something you do in a place and time when the sky is falling? Is it becoming your very life? Would you rather die than do anything that will break the fellowship you have with your Savior? Do you find yourself naturally praying as you drive, as you walk, as you wait, as you work?
When someone asks you to pray for them, does your heart burn within you at the very opportunity? Or do you inwardly groan, and often forget? Do you seek out enough information to know how to pray? Do you find yourself constantly asking God to relieve your circumstances, and do you call that prayer? Is your prayer list a list of tasks for God to perform to make life easier for you or for others? When you pray, do you find yourself entering into the holy of holies where you and God find your hearts so knit together that all you care about is discerning and doing His will? Or is it something you find yourself doing so you can check off a box and congratulate yourself that that's out of the way?
As we journey these next few studies into the deeper recesses of this spiritual land of promise called "prayer", let us ask God to do some surgery on our hearts. Let us ask God to tear aside our preconceived notions and our simplistic justifications for not praying more. And let's honestly bare our souls before God and ask Him, yea beg Him to teach us how to pray.
Whether or not it is important ought to now be behind us. Nothing else is more important. God told us to pray. And He told us how. We can, like the disciples in the garden that fateful day, pretend it was just an idle suggestion and go to sleep instead. The problem is, we like they, will only awaken to find that the trumpet has sounded, the battle has begun, and we are not equipped to stay on the front lines where the Commander-in-chief wants us. We will be relegated to the cots in the barracks where sleeping saints spend their time.
Oh, Lord, teach us to pray. Teach us to become men and women of prayer. Teach us, then lead us into the deepest secret places of your heart. We do not deserve to be there. But you, in your grace have invited us in. We cannot understand it, but we need not refuse your precious invitation. Here Lord, is our hand. Take it, we pray, and hold on to it until we have learned through the miracle of prayer how you and we can indeed be one.
FOCUS ON APPLICATION
1-If Jesus Christ were to ring your doorbell, and ask to be invited into your home; and if once there, He were to tell you that the most important thing you could do for the rest of your life was to learn how to pray, and having learned, to give your life to praying, would you do it? Think carefully before you answer.
If you answered "yes", then consider this: He has. He has written you a love letter, called His Word, and in it He has told you, shown you, and made it clear He expects you to pray; not in a surface way, but the way He prayed.
2-Why do you think Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray? Was He just trying to set an example? If so, why did He go away to be by Himself? Why do you think He would stay and pray the whole night through? Have you ever prayed all night long? Have you ever prayed for an hour? Was it hard? What does Satan do to make it hard?
3-Read the passages on prayer listed on pages 10-12. See if you can come up with four principles on prayer that will serve to help you know how to pray.
4-Why does prayer bring about confession of sin? Why does unconfessed sin keep us from praying? What happens to the intimacy of our fellowship with God when we fail to confess known sin? What keeps us from confessing immediately? What can we do about it?
5-Consider the questions asked at the bottom of page 14 and the top of page 15. Based on your answers to these questions, how serious is your need to deepen your prayer life? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen? If so, tell God that. Be careful, He will take you at your word.
6-Pray for all of us that each of us might never be the same again, once we have searched the depths of God's heart for the key to His heart known as prayer.
© Russell Kelfer. All rights reserved.