Earlier this morning I went to my first preschool meeting with the Math Coach at my new middle school. (yes, summer is officially over!—in case you hadn’t noticed, this newsletter is about PRAYER!) A main emphasis of the school district this year will be on increasing the rigor of our classes. In an effort to do this I’ve seen some colleagues in education print out long lists of tougher questions and post them around their room to make sure their minds are jogged into asking the higher level inquiries of students throughout the course of the school day. Though this technique may be helpful, perhaps the best way I have discovered to ensure that I am increasing the rigor of the class is wrapped up in asking one tiny question, that of “why?” Show me someone who can answer the question of “why” and I’ll show you someone who not only understands the foundation of a subject, but who also has a better chance of approaching the material with purpose and of correctly anticipating the next phases of study. Before we look at four biblical answers to the question of “why do we pray?”, it might be helpful, if you have a minute, to take some time and think about “why do you pray?”.
We Pray Because We Are Hopeless (Luke 18:10-14)…Imagine a little league team going up against the New York Yankees (or perhaps here in Lee County I should have used the Boston Red Sox for this illustration!). Now think about Pee Wee Herman in a boxing bout with Iron Mike Tyson (okay, maybe not the most pleasant thought, just hold on to your ears!). One more and then we’ll be done. What about me (a driver who may occasionally cut it close on running red lights but nearly always obeys the speed limits) racing against Jeff Gordon (who I hear is one of the best Nascar drivers of all time winning 90 races in his career as of last Sunday). What do the little league team, Pee Wee Herman, and me have in common in the preceding illustrations? Most would say that none of us have a prayer against our opponents!…Now let’s move from made up scenarios to ones that are very real, very spiritual, and very personal. Imagine yourself against the temptations of the world and the wiles of the devil. Think that’s a daunting image?! How about the scarier thought of your thoughts, words, and deeds being weighed in the balances against the standard of God’s righteousness?! Truly hopeless indeed! However, I’ve got good news for you and for all of us sinners. We DO have a prayer! Just ask the tax collector from Luke 18. He knew he was a sinner deserving of death, hell, and condemnation. He was so convicted of the exceeding sinfulness of his sin that he would not even lift his head towards Heaven. Yet, he still knew he had a prayer. It wasn’t vocally fancy. It wasn’t poetically impressive. No one would have included such a simple offering in their published book of prayers. Still his words, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”, contain the content of the first prayer any of us ever have answered from Heaven’s throne, a prayer that confesses our sins and pleads for God’s mercy and grace. Why do we pray? Because we know that we are sinners who have no hope apart from the mercies of the Lord!
We Pray Because We Are Needy (Matthew 6:9-13)…At first glance this may seem a repeat of our first point. However, the distinction I’m making here is that the unbelieving sinner under the conviction of the Holy Spirit prays because he is hopeless, but the believing Christian who has their name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life with their eternal destiny secured continues to pray because we realize that we are still needy. What do we still need? Many things, but we can list three needs by simply looking at the pattern Jesus gave us in the Lord’s Prayer. Christ told believers to petition that God would give us our daily bread. Those listening to the Lord’s words 2,000 years ago were very acquainted with the sinking feeling of not knowing where their next meal was coming from. To pray for God to meet their need for daily sustenance made imminent sense to them. For most of us in 21st century America, to pray for food on an everyday basis seems an unnecessary request to make from God. We might not always have the meal we want but nearly all of us either have or have access to enough food to keep us from any real threat of starvation. However, as my wonderful wife reminds our son on the occasions when he’s not paying good enough attention during grace at dinner time, we must lift our voice to God to request the meeting of our daily needs and in gratitude for His gift of this night’s food because apart from Him we would have nothing. We who often times take for granted our ample pantries need to be reminded that apart from the Lord’s providence we would not have the ability to
work to buy our food nor would there be fields or farms capable of producing the food. Anyone who thinks they don’t need God for the meeting of their need for “daily bread” is only fooling themselves. We are needy; therefore we pray. The next need presented in the Lord’s Prayer is that we be forgiven of our debts. When we become born again, having repented of sin and placing faith in Jesus, we are seen as having the sinless record of Christ in the eyes of God the Father and are secured a place in Heaven, but we still find ourselves sinning in this life here on earth. None of us presently drawing a breath from Earth’s atmosphere or walking around in a body of flesh and blood go for very long without sinning in either word, thought, or deed (or perhaps the trifecta, sinning in all three areas at once!). Any believer who grows numb to the fact that they stand in constant need of repentance and forgiveness needs forgiven for the biggest sin of all, that of pride! We are needy; therefore we pray. The final need presented in the pattern of prayer given to us by Jesus is that of being lead out of temptation and delivered from evil. The Christian who loses sight of the truth that our human proclivities are sinful and that if at any moment we were separated from the power of the Holy Spirit we would again be as sheep who have gone astray has placed too much confidence in their own strength and abilities and has an overly elevated estimation of the human condition. We are needy; therefore we pray.
We Pray Because It’s Effective (James 5:13-16)…You flip the light switch as you enter a dark room. You know nothing of the physics of electricity or about the details of wiring a house. You simply know that when you flip the switch the light comes on. A driver turns the key in the ignition of her vehicle. She may not know any more about a car or its parts than I do (which is next to nothing—when I need car help all I know to do is call 1-800-DAD!), but she keeps turning the key because it’s worked so many times before. A child begins to cry when he wants a toy. They cause a scene in the store that upsets their parents and hinders the shopping experience of all of those within the 5 mile or so radius their lungs can extend to (okay, maybe 5 miles is stretching it, perhaps I should have lowered it to only 4!). Why do they do it? Partly because they haven’t learned any better yet and perhaps partly because they have learned that it works! We humans do many things not because we know how they work, but simply because we know that they do work…As little as I understand about the electrical wiring of a house, the mechanical operations of a car, or the wisdom of us parents giving our children at times what they want (instead of what they need—a spanking!) when they misbehave; I understand even less how the prayers that come from the lips of frail and finite human beings could avail anything of consequence in earthly realms, much less how these prayers avail anything in the heavenlies. Yet, we have God’s Word on it that the effectual and fervent prayers of the righteous accomplish much. Now, we should not view prayer as a means to get our own way from God or as an opportunity to tell the Almighty what to do. Also, praying simply because “it works” shouldn’t be our primary motivation to talk to our Lord. However, we must never diminish the power that comes when we lift our prayers in trust and faith to our Heavenly Father!
We Pray Because God Tells Us To (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)…Perhaps one of the greatest theologians of our contemporary day is R.C. Sproul. He tells a story of something he learned while studying the biblical doctrine of election in seminary. (note: how the doctrines of divine election, the concept that we do not choose God but He chooses us, and free will, the concept that we genuinely have a will that God commands us to use to repent of sin and put faith in Christ as a requirement for salvation, interact could be the subject of several newsletters.) One of Sproul’s difficulties with the doctrine of election was that, if it were true, he could see no need for evangelism. He struggled with it for some time before he went to his professor and asked him point blank, “If God chooses who will be saved, then what is the point in preaching the gospel to unbelievers?” The response of his instructor was succinct and profound; he simply replied “because God tells us to!”…The same lesson that R.C. Sproul learned with regards to evangelism, we can apply to our study of reasons why we pray. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 the Word of God tells us plainly that we should “pray without ceasing.” This is the Lord’s will for us. Ultimately there can be no higher reason for praying or doing anything else in the Christian life than for the simple fact that the one and only Almighty God of the universe has told us to do so!
Let me end this article on “why we pray” by asking two questions. If you remember, at the end of the introductory paragraph I asked you to consider why you pray and to ponder those reasons for a moment before we dove into the reasons I was going to talk about. The four responses we spoke on in the newsletter as to why we pray are all scripturally based. There are certainly more biblical reasons than these four as to why we pray, but the one challenge I have for you is this, are the reasons you pray biblically based? It is important in regards to prayer and indeed in regards to every concept we have as a Christian that it be biblically based, otherwise our thoughts, motivations, and actions, though sincere, may be wrong and misguided. The last question I have for us is this, why don’t we pray? Let me offer some closing thoughts for our consideration. If we do pray because we are hopeless and needy, then perhaps we don’t pray because we don’t really believe that we are hopeless and needy. If we do pray because we believe it is effective, then perhaps we don’t pray because we don’t think our prayers are effective. If we do pray because we are simply being obedient to God’s command, then perhaps we don’t pray because we think being willfully disobedient is okay. With all that being said let me encourage us all, “let us pray!”