Let the Church Pray Prayerfully
Pray without ceasing...1 Thessalonians 5:17
“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”1That was John Bunyan’s remarkable definition of prayer in the opening sentence of his classic book on prayer. In that single sentence he packs in at least ten essential qualities of authentic prayer. Even then Bunyan only scratches the surface of the profound comprehensiveness of prayer as an intimate manifestation of our relationship with God as believers.
After studying the prayer lives of the Reformers and Puritans, I am convinced that the greatest shortcoming in today’s church is the lack of such prayerful prayer. We fail to use heaven’s greatest weapon as we should; and to be sure, prayer is spiritual work and spiritual warfare, and involves trials, warfare, and the enabling Spirit of God.
Does our personal use of the weapon of prayer bring us shame rather than glory? Is prayer the means by which we storm the throne of grace and take the kingdom of heaven by violence? Is it a missile that crushes satanic powers, or is it like a harmless toy that Satan sleeps beside?
Why do the giants of church history, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Welsh, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, and Charles Spurgeon dwarf us in true prayer? Is it only because they were more educated, were less distracted by cares and duties, or lived in more godly times? No; undoubtedly, what most separates them from us is that prayer was their priority; they devoted considerable time and energy to it. They were prayerful men possessed by the Spirit of grace and supplication. They were Daniels in private and public prayer. For us, prayer is too often an appendix to our lives; for them prayer was their life.
The time factor alone is not the primary problem we have. Our greater problem is the lack of quality praying. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses of faithful men and women whose prayers rebuke our prayerlessness. We must confront our prayerless praying, confess it to God, and plead for the Spirit of grace and supplication to revive our souls. But prayerlessness is a tragedy and an offense to God in any man. Every excuse not to pray — “I am too busy to pray; I am too tired to pray; I feel too dry spiritually to pray; I feel no need to pray; I am too bitter to pray; I am too ashamed to pray; I am content with mediocrity with God; we already pray as a family; God already knows what I need” — is an abomination in God’s sight.2
Prayer is difficult and demanding work. My aim is not to discourage you but to encourage you despite your convictions about your own lack of prayer. Ask God to make you a praying Elijah who knows what it means to battle unbelief and despair, even as you strive to grow in prayer and grateful communion with God. Isn’t it interesting that James presents Elijah as someone quite like you and me? He prayed in his praying, but he could also despair in his despairing. If we truly believe these things, we have sufficient motivation to undertake the journey from prayerless to prayerful praying, becoming contemporary Elijahs who truly pray in our prayers to our worthy, triune God of amazing grace, who is always worthy of being worshiped, feared, and loved — even to all eternity.3
Luther’s prayer life was legendary even in his own time, and Luther was a legend in many other ways as well. Such men were indeed Daniels, but Daniel stood head and shoulders above any other man of his generation. And all of them Daniel, Luther, or whatever giant we may have in mind — had to start somewhere and grow into what he eventually became, often through long and hard experience. But make no mistake about it, there is tight association between the courage and work of the Reformer with his healthy prayer life as a prayer warrior. If we truly want reformation in our day, we must begin with the hard work and battle on our knees.