A Call to Prayer
By Jonathan & Beth Collord
Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. – Mark 15:37–38.
The curtain in the temple, separating the common worshiper from the presence of God, was torn in two. No longer was it only restricted to priests to go to God on behalf of the people. Jesus’ death on the cross removed the barrier between our infinitely holy God and his finite sinful people.
We, in faith, have been granted access to the throne of grace.
Friends, who but God, would not only make His enemies His friends, but adopt them as sons and daughters? We, as believers in the gospel of Christ, have been brought in. We are not merely told “the charges are dropped,” and that we “are free to go,” but we are told “the penalty has been paid,” and we are invited “to stay, and to eat, and to be family.” This salvation is an invitation to converse with God. This is a call to prayer.
However, there are days we do not want to converse. We do not want to stay, or to eat, or to be family. I know that. I have felt that.
But know this: we have been invited as adopted children to sit at the table of the God of creation. Do we have nothing to say? Have we no adoration? No praise? Have we no words of thanksgiving? Is it possible we have nothing to confess? Do we already have all wisdom and are left without any questions of the mysteries of the universe? Have we no friends or family or enemies for whom we could intercede?
There are days our sin makes us want to go and hide like Adam and Eve did. We do not want to converse with the Almighty. But the conversation we avoid is exactly the cure that we need for our sin.
One of my favorite pep-talks on the subject of prayer is A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle. He begins this way:
I have a question to offer you. It is contained in three words, “Do you pray?”
The question is one that none but you can answer. Whether you attend public worship or not, your minister knows. Whether you have family prayers in your house, your relations know. But whether you pray in private or not, is a matter between yourself and God.
I beseech you in all affection to attend to the subject I bring before you. Do not say that my question is too close. If your heart is right in the sight of God, there is nothing in it to make you afraid. Do not turn off my question by replying that you say your prayers. It is one thing to say your prayers and another to pray. Do not tell me that my question is unnecessary. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you good reasons for asking it.
I ask whether you pray, because prayer is absolutely needful to a man’s salvation.
... No man can eat, drink, or sleep by proxy. No man can get the alphabet learned for him by another. All these are things which everybody must do for himself, or they will not be done at all. ... Each must attend to these things for himself. Each must repent for himself. Each must apply to Christ for himself. And for himself, each must speak to God and pray. You must do it for yourself, for by nobody else can it be done.
To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven.
On the days when I have my head on straight, I am persuaded to find my identity as a child of God seated at His table by His invitation, and I converse – with praise and thanksgiving and confession and so many, many questions about the promises and the mysteries, and also about my worries.
On other days, when I want to go and hide, the Father pursues me. He calls to me and asks “Where are you?” as though He does not know. He brings me back.
When this relationship is right and worship is restored, one of the great joys of prayer is in intercession for others. This reorientation of the heart is not only necessary but sure to make profound and lasting changes.
As J.C. Ryle says:
We are all selfish by nature, and our selfishness is very apt to stick to us, even when we are converted. There is a tendency in us to think only of our own souls, our own spiritual conflicts, our own progress in religion, and to forget others. Against this tendency we all have need to watch and strive, and not least in our prayers. We should study to be of a public spirit. We should stir ourselves up to name other names besides our own before the throne of grace. We should try to bear in our hearts the whole world, ... This is the highest charity. He loves me best who loves me in his prayers. This is for our soul’s health. It enlarges our sympathies and expands our hearts. This is for the benefit of the Church. The wheels of all machinery for extending the gospel are moved by prayer.
This has worked itself out in life in surprising and delightful ways. Jesus, recorded in Matt 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” Often, we think of this verse in terms of our treasure – or our time, money, and attention, as an indicator of where our heart and affections truly lie. This is surely true. But also, we discover that our treasure can be a steering wheel to direct our affections. Intentional investment can steer our love. Think of the way God loves us. He loves us so completely, investing the very life and death of his Son in us, not because we were lovely, but his investment in us makes us lovely to him.
Our investment in the lives of others steers our hearts and makes them lovely to us. We have discovered that intentional ministry, and in particular the investment of intercessory prayer, has made us to love others in ways we never planned or imagined. Personal shepherding ministry to and praying regularly for a family in need gave us a life-long affection and care for their souls. Praying regularly for acquaintances for their needs, worries, and spiritual growth has made us truly care about their needs, worries, and spiritual growth. This was not our plan. We wanted to do our thing and move on. God chose to move our hearts with compassion, a compassion that caused us to stay and be family.
Praying regularly for a new church plant that we had heard of eventually made us want to go and see, experience, and eventually covenantally commit to being part of Soma Church because you had become so affectionately dear to us [in our prayers] that we wanted to share with you not only the Gospel but our lives as well.
Test God in this. Invest in prayer for others, especially others with whom you have thin or strained relationship, and see if He does not give you opportunity to be a conduit of His grace.
We so often like to pray for health or new jobs or such when we intercede but we may not have specific details on all of the lives God places on our hearts for intercessory prayer. Consider praying for the spiritual growth of others. This is more vital than any matter of this life anyway. The apostle Paul has given us a couple of great model prayers which we go to often when praying for others:
For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name, I pray that out of His glorious riches, He may strengthen you with power though his Spirit in your inner being so that
Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know that this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order the you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14
Reciting these prayers like they were magic words is not what we are to be after. However, it is reasonable that when we run into the throne room, going to God on behalf of others, we are to be armed with and informed by the Word of God. These prayers of Paul shape how I think about intercessory prayer in ways that result in me caring more deeply for those for whom we pray.
Prayer is so vital. Lately I have been praying about prayer. What are you praying about?
Do you pray?