Robert Tansill, Associate Pastor
Do you ever find that prayer is difficult to understand? Of course, as followers of Jesus, we all know we should pray. In many books on prayer, the consistent message seems to be that since Jesus, who is God in the flesh, prayed, we should too. And that is a great point! But other than that, why should you pray? What does it accomplish? Better yet, what is its purpose?
A couple of years ago, my wife and I went through something as a family that made us ask questions like, “If God is sovereign, then why bother praying? He already knows what he’s going to do.” And “Do my prayers affect what God is going to do as Moses seemed to in Exodus 32:14?” Oftentimes, they don’t feel like they do. Questions like these are especially painful to deal with when you get a call from your doctor with a cancer diagnosis, a family member’s child is in trouble with the law, or you just found out that the company you work for is downsizing and you have to look for a new job. Once again, we are commanded in Scripture to pray. But why?
Every Sunday, my wife and I go up front to join another prayer team to pray for the needs of those who come forward after the service. On a couple of occasions when no one has come forward, I have whispered to my wife, “I guess everybody’s life is going really well. I wonder what it is like to have no struggles?” Of course, I’m being facetious! Because we live in a fallen world, we are all in need of prayer. But something is holding us back. What is it?
For me, it was the fact that I had lost sight of prayer’s purpose. Yes, one of the purposes of prayer is to ask for God’s help in times of need. However, I believe that it is much deeper than that. In the middle of what my wife and I were going through, I happened to pick up an old copy of “Trusting God” by Jerry Bridges and read these words, “Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that he is able to answer our prayers. Our prayers would become nothing more than wishes. But while God’s sovereignty, along with his wisdom and love, is the foundation of our trust in him, prayer is the expression of that trust.” And again, “Prayer is the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and of our dependence upon him to act on our behalf.”
How convicting is that?! Sometimes when I pray, I’m sure my prayers come across to God as “nothing more than wishes.” And when they do, it’s because I have lost sight of the real purpose of prayer, which is the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and more importantly of my dependence upon him to act on my behalf. Would it be wrong to say that when we aren’t praying or allowing others to pray for us, we are exposing our independence and a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty? Trusting in the sovereignty of God is just that. Trust. But it is also a dependency on our sovereign God to act on our behalf. That is why we pray!
Because of our relationship with the Father as a result of what the Son has done for us, not only are we guaranteed eternal life with them, but we have access to approach God now and lay our requests before him, confident and dependent that he will sovereignly act on our behalf. Here is how it is put in Hebrews 4:14-16 from The Message, “Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. 15 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16 So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”
Whatever you are struggling with in your life right now, instead of just walking out of the Worship Center after worship, I invite you to come and pray with one of the prayer teams available after each service. Let them support you through prayer. Please take advantage of the means God has given you through prayer to accept his help, and allow others to join you.
If you want to grow deeper in your own prayer life but aren’t sure how, I’d also like to recommend a couple of resources on prayer that have helped me. After reading a book called “God On Mute” by Peter Greig, I discovered that he also has a wonderful ministry focused on prayer called “The Prayer Course.” I encourage you to check it out and even work through it with your Life Group or some friends and family. The link for this is https://prayercourse.org, and it includes study guides for each lesson. Another great book is “Just Ask” by J.D. Greear. It’s an easy read but a very helpful and challenging call to prayer. As mentioned earlier, “Trusting God” by Jerry Bridges is a wonderful book that every Christian needs to read. It will challenge you to trust in God’s sovereignty in your circumstances.
Along with these, “The Lord's Prayer: Learning from Jesus on What, Why, and How to Pray” by Kevin DeYoung is a great study on the Lord’s Prayer and an instructive model on how we should pray. Finally, coming out in January 2023 is a book by a good friend of mine, Paul Miller, called “A Praying Church: Becoming a People of Hope in a Discouraging World.” Paul has also written another book on prayer called “A Praying Life,” which I highly recommend along with Elder Matt Heft (just ask him!).
These resources, among many others, are at your disposal to help you grow in your dependence on God and learn how to rest confidently in his sovereignty despite whatever trials and struggles you face. Please take advantage of them, and don’t let it slip through your fingers (Hebrews 4:14). As always, the elders, staff, and many others at Gateway Church are here to pray for you and with you. One final reminder, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” (Philippians 4:6) May you have a blessed week.
- In His Grace, Robert Tansill, Pastor of Care and Counseling