Prayer is one of the basic duties of the Christian life and has been described as the breathing of the pious soul. There are many descriptions and examples of prayer in Scripture which provide a clear view of what it is. To pray is to seek God (Dan 9:3), to lift up the soul (Ps 25:1) or to pour out the heart to Him (Ps 62:8), sometimes it is to wrestle with God, yet in the most basic sense prayer is to ask of God (Jam 1:6). Nobody reading this should have a difficultly understanding what prayer is, however, prayer remains one of the most difficult and neglected disciplines of the Christian life. There are many obstacles that stand in the way of our praying effectually and in this post we want to address three of these.
Jesus says ‘Ask and it shall be given you’ Matt 7:7 and while this is a wonderful invitation to faith it is also a challenge because people do not ask for things they don’t desire or need. Prayer is fundamentally an expression of need where we, who are all necessity, go to God in total dependence on Him. Too often however we are like a poor man who knows only the theory of his poverty and so we are not pressed by our need to go to God. If we are to pray properly this perverted sense of self-sufficiency must die and at the same time a sense of necessity must grow. To overcome this first obstacle to prayer we cannot remain strangers to ourselves and so it lies on us to make a close a close study of our weakness until we feel poor, needy and beggarly (Ps 86:1) and become convinced that our ability is as dead as the womb of Sarah (Rom 4:19). When a Christian is convinced of this, the dead womb of his own ability will then give birth to prayer.
Christian’s don’t have a problem with God’s ability on paper. We easily pass the theory test of prayer because we know there is nothing too hard for the Lord, but too often we fail the practical exam. Like Sarah and Abraham much of our prayerlessness laughs at the power and promise of God so that when Jesus says ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do’ John 14:13 we fail to take up his invitation because we place our own unbelieving limits upon God. To scale this next obstacle to prayer we therefore need to meditate on God’s power. Paul says that God is able to do ‘exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’ Eph 3:20. It is like he is tripping over his tongue trying to find words to convince us of God’s power and ability! The God who created all things out of nothing, who preserves all He has created; the God who saves sinners in Christ and keeps them unto glory; this God has power to do all that we ask or could even think of asking him to do and we need to be convinced of this. Can God restore His Church, convert sinners, change your heart, save your children, heal your marriage? You say yes, but do you pray as though this were true? We need to be convinced of God’s ability.
Not only does Jesus invite us to pray but he promises us an answer. Twice in John 14:13-14 Jesus makes this point, saying in v14 ‘If ye shall ask any think in my name, I will do it.’ This is a large invitation but at this point most Christians know enough of their Bible to say ‘Yes, but we must pray according to the will of God,’ and of course we must; but it is easy to hide behind the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in such a way that we disarm the force of what Christ is saying. We can conveniently resign our prayers to the will of God because we are not persuaded of his Goodness and Love to give us the things that we ask. To overcome this obstacle to prayer we should spend time considering the willingness of God to give good gifts to His children and this is nowhere more apparent in the gift of His Son to us. Indeed, what Paul says of God’s ability in Eph 3:20 could equally be said of his willingness – that He is willing to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think. If you had not heard the Gospel and had to think of a way in which God would save sinners, it would never have entered your head to think that God would give his Son to die for us. Or suppose that thought had somehow entered your mind, it is unlikely you would have dared to ask it! Yet this is exactly what God did and if God has not spared His Son, the greatest gift that he could give to us, why should we doubt his Goodness and love to give us any lesser gift?
Let us not trip over these obstacles to prayer. God is sufficient for all our necessity, able to do all that we need and willing to give good gifts to His children. Therefore ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door will be opened unto you’ Mat 7:7.