God is as 1 Peter 5:10 says the “God of all grace.” He chose us before the world began in Christ, gave us grace before the world began in Christ, provided the righteous life we could never live in Christ, accomplished our atonement in the death of Christ, made us fully alive in Christ at the moment He awakened our hearts to believe the gospel of Christ. And from that first day to our last day He will keep us united to Christ. Grace surrounds the Christian. Grace is the water in which we swim in, the environment in which we live, and the country we invite others to relocate into. This grace of God is ultimately more than mere unmerited favor from God. The grace of God is a Person, Jesus Christ.
And from receiving such grace, and having been united to such grace, notice that there are now habits of grace that begin to blossom within us that are all of grace, and that we’re called to fan into flame. The first of these habits we’ve looked at the last two weeks, hearing His voice in His Word. We now turn the second of these habits, having His ear in prayer.
Notice first: The Order Matters
It is not unimportant that in discussing the habits of grace, that hearing God’s voice in His Word comes before having God’s ear in prayer. This order is fitting for the following reasons.
First, the order of Word first and prayer second matters because it reminds us prayer (and praise) is always a response to revelation. We see something in Scripture, hear something in Scripture, God calls out to us, we feel an intimacy with God, are encouraged, built up in faith, filled up with joy, and the overflow of that in the soul is a response. We talk back, in prayer and praise. I include praise here too because singing isn’t like prayer, it is prayer, so it is very fitting to speak of them together here like this.
Second, the order of Word first and prayer second matters because it reminds us that the God who speaks also listens. It is a wonder of wonders that He has given us His Word, is it not also a great wonder that He desires us to speak to Him after speaking to us? Indeed it is! We didn’t start this conversation, but by speaking first He invites us to into conversation. David Mathis explains it like this, “His voice breaks the silence…our asking and pleading and requesting originate not from our emptiness, but His fullness. Prayer doesn’t begin with our needs, but with His bounty. Its origin is first in adoration, and only later in asking. Prayer is a reflex to the grace He gives to the sinners He saves.”
Third, the order of Word first and prayer second matters because it reminds us of the ‘Godness’ of God. God first spoke to us, which means His speaking created our speaking back to Him, which then means we’re reminded anew of who we’re speaking to when we speak back. Prayer is not a conversation between equals or peers. It is a conversation between Creator and creature, and more so, it’s a conversation between Creator and a creature who used to be at odds with this Creator but now because of the Creator’s work are no longer at odds but at peace. Therefore, remembering the order of Word first and prayer second, reminds of the ‘Godness’ of God, which reminds us of who we truly were and who by His grace we are now. No wonder why not giving thanks to God or honoring God as God tops the list of wickedness in Romans 1. All of prayer should flow forth from the great fountain of thanksgiving.
Fourth, all of what has come so far now leads us to remember the purpose of prayer, that prayer exists not to get things from God but to get more of God. Of this C.S. Lewis said, “Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and repentance are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.”If you don’t get this I’m afraid your prayer life will betray how you really feel about God, that He is little more to you than just a butler in the sky who exists to make our lives more comfortable down here in the den. If you get this, it will grip you, and change everything about how you pray. God is Holy, Holy, Holy, so we adore Him in prayer. God is merciful and gracious and patient and kind, so we repent. He is good and ever faithful to us, so we give Him thanks. And because He cares and has promised to see to our needs (which He knows better than us), we make requests of Him for ourselves, our families, our church, and this world.
One large application which comes from these initial thoughts on prayer is that the specific practices and postures of prayer aren’t the important matter – the important matter is why we pray and that we pray. This is why there is so little direction about how to put prayer into practice in the pages of the Bible, it just assumes prayer will be the natural environment in which we’ll live as Christians. Romans 12:12, we’re to be constant in prayer. Colossians 4:2, we’re to continue steadfastly in prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we’re to pray without ceasing. Ephesians 6:18, we’re to pray at all times, in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Prayer, really, isn’t a habit at all – it’s a life to be lived.
Notice second: the Source Matters
Therefore, we pray in Jesus name because this life of prayer isn’t possible without Him. He came as one of us, He lived for us, He died for our sins, He rose and ascended to rule and reign at the Father’s right hand and, though He has no needs, He now ever lives to make continual intercession for us as our faithful High Priest. And be certain of this: just as sure as Jesus has God’s ear in prayer for us, all those in Christ have God’s ear because of Christ. We pray in Jesus name, because all that God is for us comes to us through Jesus. So if you don’t say ‘in Jesus name’ or ‘for Christ’s sake’ or ‘because of Jesus’ or something like that giving voice to the ground and sure foundation of all our prayer, we better be thinking of it, loving it, enjoying it, and knowing the hope in it!
That’s the foundation of prayer, from here on out we’ll speak of the particular practices and customs that help define what this looks like in our daily lives.
Particular Practice 1: Praying in Private
In Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
There are two lessons to draw right off the surface of this passage. First lesson, if we are those who only pray when we’re in public or when we’re with others we can conclude that we pray for the praise of men. Of course we cannot overcorrect and stop all praying in public, we can’t avoid it as Christians. But we must be aware of how easy it is when we pray with others to slide into the snare of praying for the sake of applause. Second, we must devote ourselves to and develop a habit of private prayer. The English Puritan John Owen said, “What you are in private, that you are, and nothing more.” Tim Keller says, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life. Many people will pray when they are required by cultural or social expectations, or perhaps, by the anxiety caused by troubling circumstances. Those with a genuinely lived relationship with God as Father, however, will inwardly want to pray and therefore will pray even though nothing on the outside is pressing them to do so. They pursue it even during times of spiritual dryness, when there is no social or experiential payoff.”Francis Chan said this very week in a Desiring God bog post, “There is no substitute for being alone with God. If you don’t have time, you need to quit something to make room. Skip a meal. Cancel a meeting. End a regular commitment. There is literally nothing more important you could do today.”
We all have the same amount of time in the day, you have time for God. The question is, will you make time with Him a priority? If Jesus, the Son of God, even made it a habit of getting away to spend time with His Father, shouldn’t we? Private prayer and devotion to God when no one is looking is a test of our true spiritual state. It’s a test of whether we are real or fake, and makes it plain whether the praise of man or God Himself is our real treasure.
But ironically, private prayer is not only the measure of our true spiritual state, it is the means by which we grow spiritually and foster a deeper desire to pray. If we don’t feel like praying, have no desire to pray, should we therefore not pray? Of course not, rather than letting the absence of desire for prayer lead us to not praying, let the absence of desire for prayer lead us into prayer. And guess what? You’ll not only find yourself praying, you’ll find yourself growing in your desire to pray. At times, we all must confront the hardness of our own hearts, take the Bible’s words about the corruption of our hearts seriously, and get to work on our hearts by doing what it doesn’t want to do so warm up it’s coldness before the fireplace of grace.
Five Suggestions for Private Prayer
First, Create a Time – It is often said that the best place to begin, is right at the beginning. So for some of you the steps to take is the first one. Make a time in your schedule to do this, and do whatever it takes to keep that meeting. This can be everything from a clean desk to a bedside devotional space, to an actual closet or location you visit to be with God.
Second, Begin with Scripture – Remember, prayer isn’t a conversation we begin. It is a response to revelation, to Scripture, so prayer ought to begin by reading Scripture. And once prayer begins to flow in response keep Scripture open and pray Scripture back to God, in context, with your soul’s deepest need in view.
Third, Divulge and Develop Your Desires – Be honest with God about how you truly are, what you’re truly feeling, what sins you’re struggling with, what measures of obedience you’re having a hard time with…and pray with boldness while you’re exposed, guilty, and ashamed for God to create in you what you so desire to be present in you! This is what the Psalmists did, and this is what we must do.
Fourth, Use Helps – I usually have some kind of prayer help with me in prayer, whether it’s a list of all the church members, the valley of vision, a hymnal, or a journal at times, these helps can stoke the fires of our hearts and jump start us off into wonderful directions. (A.C.T.S.) (Piper’s I.O.U.S. – Psalm 119:36, Psalm 119:18, Psalm 86:11, Psalm 90:14)
Fifth, Use Variety – In regard to helps the only thing I always have with me in a list of all our church members, other than that I am always using a variety of things to keep my soul feeling fresh in prayer and moving forward in different ways.
If you give yourself to this, you’ll find your time of private prayer quickly becoming more a time private worship!
David Mathis, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016) page 94-95.
C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (New York, New York: Mariner Books, 2002) page 8.
Mathis, page 96.
Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God (New York, New York: Dutton, 2014) page 23.