Theme: Prayer Is a Problem
This week’s lessons remind us that because God is a God of grace, his throne is also one of grace, which is accessed by prayer through the work of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Scripture: Hebrews 4:16
I have always been interested in the things George Gallup, the founder and director of the Gallup Poll organization, has to say about the religious life of Americans. Recently I came across some remarks he made about prayer. He observed, no doubt rightly, that a great many Americans do pray, and even believe in the power of prayer, but that there is also evidence that our prayers are extremely superficial. That is, for the most part the prayers of Americans only request things for themselves and contain very little intercession for others, thanksgiving, or requests for forgiveness.
The text we come to now is about prayer. In fact, it is a great text about prayer. But it is also about grace. It contains only twenty-seven words, but in it the word “grace” occurs twice. It says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
It teaches that God is a God of grace and that we may find grace to help us in every area of need if we will ask God for it.
But prayer is a problem, isn’t it? When a person becomes a Christian, prayer is one of the things he or she is told about and encouraged to make a part of his or her life, along with regular church attendance and worship, Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, witnessing, and various forms of Christian service. But of all these important things, prayer is the hardest actually to do. We do not have much difficulty coming to church. That involves only a minor reordering of our weekends and a small amount of personal discipline. Bible study is a bit harder; we have to learn how to do it and we need the will to persevere. Fellowship is natural. Witnessing is natural at first, though often awkward. Service comes naturally. But prayer is in a category by itself. It is neither easy nor natural. Prayer really is a problem.
Why is this? There are a lot of reasons.
Many who pray are not Christians. I began this study by speaking of those who are Christians and of the difficulty they have in praying. But I need to say that the greatest problem by far is that many try to pray who are not even Christians, and that for them prayer is not merely difficult, but impossible. I have a book in my study in which one writer on prayer begins by emphasizing for the better part of a long first chapter that prayer is a natural and universal instinct, particularly when we find ourselves in some difficult spot or danger. I suppose that is true. A drowning man does not need to be told to cry for help. But the point I am making is that the cry of the unsaved person is far removed from what true prayer really is and therefore is not really prayer.
Prayer is talking to God. But the unsaved person does not talk to God. He or she does not know God. God is a stranger. Therefore, the person “says a prayer” (Haven’t you heard that expression?) or only meditates, rather than actually praying.
Many of us are too busy. Another problem we have with prayer is that we are too busy, particularly in our fast-paced, urbanized society. We use this as an excuse, of course. As an excuse it is invalid. Someone has said, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.” That is right. At the height of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther remarked that he had so much to do in a day that he couldn’t get through it unless he spent three or four hours each morning praying. He had the right perspective and had ordered his priorities well. But that is not what I am talking about. I mean only that we live in a fast-paced age and that the pressures of life keep us from thinking about anything very deeply, and certainly leave us very little time for any significant spiritual activity.
In what ways might prayers made by Christians sometimes too closely match the kinds of prayers made by an unsaved person? What is missing from a Christian’s prayer at that point?
Why is prayer for Christians only?
Reflection: Is your prayer life suffering because you are simply too busy? Given the necessity of prayer in the Christian life, what can you do to change this?
For Further Study: For a brief introduction on prayer, download the free PDF by Donald Grey Barnhouse, Prayer: Why, What and How? published by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. (Discount is applied at checkout).