A few months ago I picked up R.A. Torrey’s book, How to Pray, and began reading with some hope that it would wake my tired spirit. I flipped through the first few chapters, letting conviction and information seep in, and, for a few days, I seemed to improve. My motivation to read Scripture and spend time with God increased. I caught a fleeting glimpse of what my life could be like when prayer took precedence. But then I forgot to pray, and I watched as motivation slipped further and further away from me, until prayer was a distant memory, and I began to feel like I could live without it.
Prayer is one of the most difficult things to do because it takes time, energy, and honesty when we don’t always want to give it. Yet prayer is one of the most important things a Christian can do. How do we call ourselves believers if, as Torrey says, prayer is the alignment of our souls with God, yet we do not pray? How can we know God and imitate him if we do not take the time to communicate with him and listen?
To say that prayer isn’t essential minimizes one of the most prominent themes in the life and ministry of Jesus. Mark 1:35 (ESV) says, “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Jesus Christ, God in flesh, felt it necessary to remove himself from the patterns of daily life in order to communicate with the Father. If we are to be imitators of Christ (Eph. 5:1), we must recognize the importance of this act. Jesus believed communication with God to be so important that, though he was God, he devoted specific time alone to it. This must be an example for us.
Christ made prayer a central component of his ministry. We know it’s important, but why? The Bible gives us a fascinating picture of what prayer does in our lives and in the world around us. Hebrews 4:16 says that by prayer we may “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” But the necessity for prayer goes beyond times of need.
In prayer, our desires can become more like God’s desires, and we may align our wills with the will of God. 1 John 5:14-15 (ESV) says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” We are therefore, according to this passage, called to pray in a way that reflects Christ’s will, not our own will.
If we pray in this manner, our desires and hopes will become more like Christ’s because we train ourselves to hope for things that are consistent with his plans. Romans 8:26 makes this clearer by introducing the Holy Spirit’s role in our prayers, saying, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The Spirit works at aligning our prayers to the will of God, and thus, when we pray, we are brought closer to right relationship with him. Prayer isn’t about making the things we selfishly want happen; it’s about making us want what God wants.
In a similar way, prayer allows us to express thankfulness, but also trains us into an attitude of thankfulness. By prayer, the apostle Paul expressed his gratefulness for the generosity of the Philippians and the faith of the Colossians. Philippians 1:3-11 paints a beautiful picture of Paul’s prayerful thanksgiving for the church in Philippi. He thanks God when he remembers these people because they have partnered with him in sharing and living the gospel. Paul then goes on to pray that they may grow further in love and become even more like Christ. What is striking about this passage of thanksgiving is that Paul expresses his gratefulness in prayer, and he immediately follows that by explaining his assurance that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). This suggests that not only does prayer allow him to communicate his gratefulness to God but it also brings him better understanding of the source of his gratefulness.
Not only does prayer tune our hearts towards God’s will and to thankfulness, but it also changes the world around us and directly affects the people and the ministries around us. Since the Spirit intercedes on our behalf (Rom. 8:26), we must then believe that prayer is active outside of us as well as inside of us. We are instructed to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:8).
When we pray with the will of God at the forefront of our hearts, we are able to intercede on behalf of the people around us. God hears our prayers and answers because we have asked those things that align with his will in the name of Jesus. The Bible instructs us countless times to pray for others, and we are to do this believing that “whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). If we align ourselves with God, then we can have the confidence to ask for the things we desire because we know those things are also the things God desires. Therefore, we do not need to fear the things of this world or the weakness in ourselves. Paul explains that we must not “be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). By laying ourselves before God in prayer, we allow him to change our hearts and work in the world around us. Fear is replaced by confidence for the believer who approaches God in prayer.
I don’t have all the answers; I speak as someone in the middle of a very dry spell in my faith. Yet I hope this will encourage, inform, and, most of all, I hope it will help you pray, even when prayer feels impossible. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).