A Call To Prayer

Prayer is indispensable in the life of a Christian and every believer must of necessity be diligent in prayer  because our Lord Jesus was. He taught on prayer during His earthly life and prayer was central to His life and ministry. He didn’t only teach about prayer. He did actually prayed and we see this replete in the gospels. One of the many lessons about prayer our Lord taught is in Luke 18:1-14: the widow and Judge, and the Pharisee and tax collector.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice , so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

What Is Prayer?

“Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.”[1] In the definition, we see prayer involves petitions–our desires–which must not be arbitrary, as the Bible says, to be spent on our passions (Jam 4:3). Prayer, therefore, must be in accordance with God’s will. Prayer must also be in the name of Christ. Simply, we approach God in prayer on the merit of our relationship with Christ. Prayer is also the means by which we confess, repent and forsake our sins. Finally, prayer is a conduit by which we express our gratitude to God.

How Must We Pray?

Now as important as prayer is in the life of a believer, not many of us give it the needed attention. If we do pray at all, we are casual about it due to a number of reasons from wrong teachings to wrong beliefs and attitudes. From the text, we glean a number of lessons about prayer which I trust will be beneficial in our Christian journey.

Persistency

Luke 18 opens with the words “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart”(v.1). Prayer is not optional for the Christian. The widow in the parable displayed persistency and importunity from which Jesus drew an analogy. “…will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?“(v.7). Scripture calls on us to “pray without ceasing and also to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (1Thes 5:17, Eph 6:18). Matthew 7:7, a popular text also tells us to “Ask…seek and …knock“. The Bible teaches persistency in prayer and we must persist in our private prayers.

Faith

At the end of the first part of the parable, Jesus remarked “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”(v.8). The whole of the Christian life must be driven by faith. Hebrews 11, popularly called the hall of fame of faith lines up all of the great exploits of many of the characters of Scripture. In verse 6 of Hebrews 11, Scripture tells us without faith it is impossible to please God. It further tells us, “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him”. God hears us when we call on Him and we should have faith. Faith is not empty optimism. Faith must be grounded in the word of God and in His promises. In the word of God, the will of God is revealed and faith is engendered (1Jn 5:14-15, Rom. 10:17).

Humility

…enters a Pharisee and a Tax Collector in the second part of the parable. They both went up the temple to pray and as is to be expected of a Pharisee, he was introduced to us as a self-rigtheous fellow. He approaches God meritoriously: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (vv.11-12). Contrary to the Pharisee, “the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’(v.13). We are deserving of nothing from God on our merit. The Bible says our righteousness is as filthy rags before God (Is. 64:6). The only merit upon which we approach God is Christ, His finished work and exalted name above all names ( Jn 14:13, Phil 2:9-10).

Why Must We Pray?

Prayer Is A Command And A Necessity.

“Prayer, with thanksgiving …is by God required of all men…”[2] Prayer is our duty; a command and a necessity. The essence of the parable in Luke 18 was “to the effect that they ought always to pray”(v.1). Prayer is an “ought”–an obligation. When the Bible calls us to prayer, it is not a suggestion. R.C. Sproul wrote  in his book Does Prayer Things? that “We are invited, even commanded, to pray. Prayer is both a privilege and a duty, and any duty can become laborious. Prayer, like any means of growth for the Christian, requires work. In a sense, prayer is unnatural to us. Though we were created for fellowship and communion with God, the effects of the fall have left most of us lazy and indifferent toward something as important as prayer”.[3] If we begin to see prayer as a command and a necessity, we will give it the needed attention. Prayer, simply, is obedience to God.

Prayer Is Dependence On God.

The widow relentlessly pleaded her case with the judge and Jesus calls attention to that moving from an argument of less to greater: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?”(v.7). The phrase “day and night” is a clear picture of dependence on God. In the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:11, Jesus calls us to dependence on God. We are to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”. We draw our sustenance from God daily–not weekly, not monthly, not yearly; we must be able to say “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). John MacArthur says it well in his book Alone With God: “Unceasing, incessant prayer is essential to the vitality of a believer’s relationship to the Lord and his ability to function in the world”[4]

Prayer Is Worship

Christians are called to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is impossible by self-effort and prayer is one of the numerous ways we yield ourselves to God. We see the contrite tax collector in verse 14 confessing his sins and pleading for mercy “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’. This is devotion from a broken spirit. It is in prayer we confess our sins and offer our  thanksgiving and adoration to God. We have to pray because prayer is our required religious duty. Prayer is Worship because it requires of us humility, reverence and faith: “Prayer is the secret of holiness-if holiness, indeed, has anything secretive about it. If we examine the lives of the great saints of the church, we find that they were great people of prayer”[5]

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

God Answers Prayer

Probably, the highest motivation for prayer is that when we pray, God answers. What is the essence of prayer if there is no God to answer or hear us? God told Jeremiah “Call to me and I will answer you”. (Jer 33:3). Again, looking back to the parable, Jesus said “I tell you, he will give justice to [his elect] speedily (v.8). “Speedily”–that is without delay. See v.7, “Will he delay long over them”? In v. 14 also, we are told the tax collector went home justified rather than the Pharisee. These all point to the biblical truth that God hears and answers us when we call on Him in prayer. Let us be encouraged in whatever situation we find ourselves to seek the face of the Lord in prayer: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession…Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:14,16).

Notes:

1: Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q & A 98
2: Westminster Confession Of Confession 21.3
3: R.C.Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Reformation Trust Publishing: Ligonier, 1999. [kindle]).
4: John MacArthur Jr., Alone With God (East Sussex: David Cook, 2011 [kindle])

5:R.C.Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Reformation Trust Publishing: Ligonier, 1999. [kindle]).

 

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