Early in my pastoral career I would ask parishioners, “How is your prayer life?” The standard response was, “I could be praying more.” I no longer ask this question, having learned that it’s quite useless to urge people to pray. Prayerlessness is merely a symptom of something far deeper, and unless this root is dealt with no amount of information or exhortation to pray will heal the problem. So let’s start by looking at why Jesus prayed.
Sharing with the Father
Christ’s bold statement, “I and the Father are one” (John chapter 10 verse 30) means that he and God were relational inseparable. His prayers were a perfect reflection of what he knew the Father wanted in each and every situation. Living to echo the Father’s desires Jesus could confidently say in prayer, “Father....you always hear me” (John chapter 11 verse 42). As a faithful Son Jesus only ever wanted what the Father wanted, and to know and perform this he grew to become a man of earnest prayer (Luke chapter 2 verse 52). His prayers weren’t a device to bring God into play when things became tough, but a sharing of the deepest part of his being with the Father so God could share the deepest part of his being with us. This relational understanding of prayer recognises it to be an expression of “glory” (John chapter 17 verse 22).
Listening with Jesus
Even in his heavenly humanity Jesus was “given” revelation from God (Revelation chapter 1 verse 1). For to receive from the Father is essential to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Today he is constantly interceding for us his people in prayer (Hebrews chapter 7 verse 25). This opens up the exciting possibility that as Jesus continues to listen to the Father about the things of his kingdom we can listen together with Jesus. By praying in faith, “Our Father in heaven...” (Matthew chapter 6 verse 9) we are communing with Jesus in his prayers. There’s nothing more wonderful than sharing with Jesus in his devotion to his Father. This is a core expression of Paul’s delightful description, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans chapter 8 verse 15). Enclosed in the circle of love between the Father and the Son who would not want to pray constantly?
Listening with Others
Paul exhorts his fellow believers to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians chapter 3 verse 16) and Peter wants us to speak as the “oracles of God” (1 Peter chapter 4 verse 11). I have found that when the Holy Spirit is working in a prayer meeting I can sense Jesus speaking through the prayers of others. This “prophetic praying” build a wonderful sense of community because it consolidates Christ’s own promise to be present “in the midst” of his people (Matthew chapter 18 verse 20). There’s nothing more wonderful than to belong to such a family of God. And prayer is integral to such a great identity.
Just as God gave dreams and visions throughout scripture Jesus has dreams, visions and revelations he wants to share with us. For the maturity and growth of the Church, including our own, we can’t afford to go without this sort of communion with Christ.
These few observations lead us to a grievous conclusion; the Church in Australia today is in a state of severe spiritual impoverishment. As it was said of the people of God in the time of the Judges, “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” (1 Samuel chapter 3 verse 1), so it is true for us. Our prayerlessness and infrequent supernatural communications are signs of a deep unbelief. Unbelief is our root problem. We are grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians chapter 4 verse 30) by failing to believe that God is a Father who through Jesus wants to totally share with us all his thoughts and purposes. If this insight is true our response can be simple. Let’s ask the Lord to forgive our unbelief and let’s commit to join with Jesus, and others, in prayer. You will never be disappointed.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html