Spiritual Disciplines Series: Prayer – Part 1

Another Thing to Do?
“I’m not a good pray-er,” I once said to a mentor friend of mine. His response, “What does that even mean? What would it look like for you to be a good pray-er.” Before you read on, take a moment to answer those questions yourself. Do you struggle with prayer? How would you become a good pray-er? Does it mean praying every day? Having an hour of prayer time in the morning? Praying regularly for everyone you know?

In his book, Beloved Dust (coauthored with Kyle Strobel), Jamin Goggin describes his struggle with prayer and explains why he often neglected it, “Prayer did not offer an obvious return on investment. I didn’t feel smarter as a result of prayer. I didn’t feel better about myself as I prayed. I didn’t feel like I was getting much done.”1 Perhaps you can relate; I know I can.

When I was younger, I was what you might call “good” at reading my Bible. I was “good” at going to church and participating in all of the church activities. I was “good” at memorizing Scripture and taking notes during the sermon. But prayer? No, prayer doesn’t really give one any sense of achievement.2 It’s just kind of weird—we’re talking to someone whom we can’t see . . .

However, we are regularly encouraged in Scripture to engage with God through prayer. So, I felt guilty for not being “good” at prayer. But my only way of solving this was to think of boxes that I could check off surrounding prayer. Perhaps if I prayed for one hour every morning that would help. Or maybe if I kept a prayer journal or committed to praying fifteen minutes three times a day. If you can relate to how I felt about prayer, you probably know the rest. None of those attempts made me a “better” pray-er. More often than not, prayer time ended in my mind drifting off to some other thing I had to do that day or with me falling asleep.

The central problem here is that I was viewing prayer as just another Christian thing to do.3 Another box to check. Though I believed that God saves us by his grace, the reality was that all my practices were my attempt to win God’s favor or to make him happy. I missed what prayer is really about.

An Invitation into the Life of God
So what is prayer? In his book, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, Michael Reeves helps us to unpack what prayer really is. Prayer is nothing short of an invitation into the divine life of the Trinity. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus teaches his disciples to address God as “Our Father.” We address God as Father because being a father is central to who God is. God is not a solitary being—he exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God were a solitary being, we could not define him as love, because in order to love, one needs another person to love. This is why the reality of the Trinity is vitally important. In the Trinity the Father, Son, and Spirit have eternally been in a loving relationship.4

But how could we possibly enter into that relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit? We need an invitation. The good news is that Jesus shares all that is his with us (John 1:12-13, Galatians 4:4-5). He makes it possible for us to enter into relationship with the Father and the Spirit. For all eternity the Father has been loving the Son and the Son has been responding to that love. In Jesus we, too, are counted as God’s children, recipients of God’s great love.

How does this play out practically in our prayers? Consider the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (See John 11). Before Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb, he boldly proclaims, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me . . .” The Father always hears the Son, and if the Son is sharing what is his (Jesus’) with us, that means that when you or I pray, the Father hears! I have sometimes doubted this in prayer. Is anyone really listening? I often wonder. As the Father’s adopted children, we can have confidence that we are always heard because Jesus is always heard. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name. As Michael Reeves notes, “The Son gives us his name to pray in so that we pray as him.5

So, too, the Spirit is present with us in prayer. He fills our hearts with the love of God and reminds us who we are, giving us confidence and boldness to draw near to the Father (Hebrews 4:16). Because of the Spirit, we can cry out to God as our Abba (Romans 8:14-17). The Spirit also prays for us when we do not know what to pray, speaking to God on our behalf when we are weak (Romans 8:26).6

This is what prayer is all about. It is sharing in the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is being invited into a fellowship of love. If we want to move from viewing prayer as another box to check off on our spiritual disciplines list to enjoying prayer as a relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit, this is where we must begin. If you want to explore this topic further, I strongly recommend Michael Reeves’ short book, Enjoy Your Prayer Life.