Prayer: Undervalued and Underused

How little we appreciate the privilege and blessing of prayer. That we, sinful mortals as we are, should have access to God beggars belief. That he should even consider us, let alone countenance our requests is astounding. Yet he calls us to pray, he has opened the way of access in Christ for us to approach him in prayer. He has even given us his Holy Spirit to enable us to pray, stirring the desire and giving us words. Jesus even gives us a model prayer that helps us shape the kind of prayers we know God delights to hear. Yet we take prayer for granted and we fail to make full use of its potential. Whether it be in our own personal piety, our family devotions, or in our attendance at the church prayer meeting, we are strangely indifferent to this great blessing God has given.

How, then, are we to stir an appetite for praying and cultivate a more disciplined approach to it in all these different spheres? At a very basic level we can do this by looking afresh at what prayer is and what it entails.

This was built into the very fabric of worship from the very beginning in the Old Testament. The evidence of salvation in the family of Seth is that, ‘at that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD’ (Ge 4.26). They cried out to God in prayer, not just for salvation, but also as an expression of the worship he alone deserves.

It was also quite literally built into the furniture and fabric of worship in the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. The symbolism of cherubim and seraphim representing the endless chorus of praise in heaven was everywhere to be seen. More than this, the incense on the Altar of Incense was to burn incessantly, pointing to the voice of prayer as never being silent.

One of the most enlightening glimpses we are given of what prayer involves is found in Hebrews. Set against the backdrop of Jewish believers who had suffered serious setback through persecution and loss, the writer issues a strong exhortation to pray. Pointing to Christ as the new and living way through whom we have access to God, he says, ‘Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens…let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (He 4.14-16).

Speaking to these dejected Christians, demoralised by what they had witnessed and endured, the writer lifts their eyes heavenward and points them to the only true source of help and comfort. He points to Jesus, not simply as their true priest and mediator, but as their great high priest who ‘has passed through the heavens.’ That is, the one who has entered into the inner sanctuary of God himself on their behalf. Through all he accomplished in his earthly mission, as the head and representative of his people he has opened the way of access to God. He brings us to the Father and assures us of the warm reception we will receive from him.

The writer declares that when God’s people come to him in this way they will ‘receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ Not only are we assured of divine pardon for our all too frequent sins and failures, we will also find ‘timely’ grace for every conceivable challenge we face in life. God literally customises his grace, shaping it to each and every situation he calls us to face in life, as an expression of his favour and an outpouring of his power. So, if we choose to ignore this great privilege, we only have ourselves to blame for missing out on what could and should be ours.

Joseph Medicott Scriven expressed it well in his well-known hymn, What a Friend we have in Jesus, when he says,

O, what peace we often forfeit;

O what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer.

Jesus gives us the right of access to God, the Lord of all the universe. In him we have the right to call God, ‘Father.’ And through him we are assured of ‘all spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms.’ Let us make use of such extraordinary privilege, not just for our own personal benefit; but for the glory of God’s Name.

Mark Johnston