Prayer is the measure of a man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is,” J.I. Packer said. Our prayers reveal what our hearts want. They reveal how we regard God and His power. They reveal the quality and measure of faith. Do we pray often and carefully, or not much at all? For churches, too, prayers are revealing. They reveal what a church values and where it places its hope.
Belief as mental assent seldom prays. Belief as “I know New Zealand exists but it makes no difference in my life” seldom prays. Nominal Christianity seldom prays. A person sitting on God’s throne does not pray. Thus, a failure to pray much may suggest something about who we think we are.
Genuine faith prays. Holy Spirit-given trust prays. Leaning-on-God-like-sitting-on-a-chair prays. I-need-God-like-my-lungs-need-air prays.
Prayer is to faith as breathing is to a body. It’s what the thing does to survive. So, examining your own prayer life, what do you see? And in the corporate prayers of your church?
The book of Acts shows how much the early church prayed together: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14, 24); “And they devoted themselves to . . . the prayers (2:42); “and when they had prayed” (4:31); “but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (12:5); “many were gathered together and were praying” (v. 12); “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (13:3); “he knelt down and prayed with them all” (20:36).
It was not just groups or churches that prayed. Individuals prayed privately, too: the Apostles (6:4, 6); Peter (9:40; 10:9; 11:5); Cornelius (10:2, 4); Paul and Silas (16:25; 28:8).
Good prayers need not be long. “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God . . . let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:1–2). Think of the Lord’s Prayer.
Good prayers should be honest and forthright, yet also humble and contrite. Think of the Psalms or Jesus in Gethsemane. Good prayers should begin and end, whenever possible, with thanksgiving and praise. Good prayers adhere to God’s Word (Ps. 119). Good prayers always rely on the mediating blood of Christ (Heb. 4:16). Good prayers work.
If you’re a church leader, lead your church to pray more. Every Sunday morning, my church devotes three to seven minutes to a prayer of confession, three to seven to praise, five to ten to intercession, one to two to thanksgiving. Then we spend another thirty minutes on Sunday evenings praying together. A church’s public prayers teach the saints how to pray privately.
It’s remarkable that we sometimes go through a day without prayer. What foolish self-sufficiency.
Yet, praise God, the blood of His Son cleanses us from all sin, and His Spirit intercedes for us (1 John 1:7; Rom. 8:26–27). Our confidence is not finally in our prayers but in Him. God be praised.