Continuing this series on discipleship, we are going to look at another of the fundamental building blocks of discipleship: prayer. It is hard to underestimate the importance of this topic, and truth be told I struggled whether or not to write about it first. In the end, I chose to discuss the Bible first because when you don’t know what to say (it happens to the best of us), you can always choose to pray directly from the Word to start since there are many examples of prayers contained within the Bible. It will not take you long to find examples of prayer in the Bible so instead of giving you one, I’ll encourage you to dive in and find some yourself (hint: open up the book of Psalms). As we have seen earlier in this series on discipleship, we are concerned about what it is we can learn from the life and teachings of Jesus and apply to our lives today. So let’s start to answer that question.
If there I had to give only one thing that characterized Jesus’ life, it would be prayer. As you read throughout the Gospels, you will see Jesus praying with people (Luke 9:28), He prayer for people (John 17:6–9), and He even prayed alone (Mark 1:35). He also prayed for short periods of time (think of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:7–13) or for long periods (Luke 6:12). The point that I’m trying to make here is that as with conversations between human beings, prayer can have many different qualities. After all, when it comes down to it, prayer is a conversation between you and God. And if we follow the advice of the apostle Paul and pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), prayer will range in nature from a quick “good morning Jesus, thank you for today” to a carefully crafted declaration of thanks. It will also involve periods of silence, where we simply wait and listen for God to speak. And while it may feel awkward at times, God will definitely answer the prayers you bring (Matthew 18:19,20, Matthew 21:22).
And that brings me to the point. Jesus teaches that we are to ask God for our needs (think of the Lord’s prayer here) and that if we believe we will receive what we ask for in prayer (Matthew 21:22). But a word of caution is in order after putting forth that last verse–this discussion regarding getting what you ask for in prayer was between Jesus and the original 12 disciples. Since these men were followers of Jesus, it very likely would have been understood that “whatever you ask for” implied that what was being asked for was within God’s will. This becomes abundantly clear in Matthew 26:39–42 when Jesus is praying in the garden the night before He is crucified. I don’t know about you, but my prayer would have been something like “Ok God…so this death thing is off…show me the way out.” But Jesus, even though He asks to “let this cup pass” qualifies the request with “THY will be done.” It’s a pattern we see in the Lord’s prayer as well. We get to the point where our requests align with the heart of God through spending time in His Word and in prayer–and that is the key to understanding Matthew 21:22. We ask what God wants because we have grown to want the same thing–and it is subsequently answered (John 15:7). So no matter how much I pray for that Lamborghini, I don’t think God’s likely to grant it–unless there’s a real purpose behind me having a ridiculously expensive sports car. And even at that, the answer is sometimes “wait” or even sometimes “no” (Acts 16:6–10). After all, would a father give their child a flame thrower just because they’ve asked for it? Think in terms of Matthew 7:7–11 and we start to understand why God sometimes says “no” to our requests. We can clearly spend a lot of time here.
Finally, we can see from Jesus’ teaching that we are to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1–8, Colossians 4:2–6). I’m still working on this concept, trying to understand why it is that we must continually come to the Throne of Grace with certain requests before they are granted, but we do. Perhaps it’s a matter of perseverance. Maybe it’s a matter of having faith enough to wait patiently, keeping the request before you while anticipating an answer. I don’t know. But there is clear indication in the Bible that there are times when persistence is required.
And on that note, I will leave you with what is one of my top ten favorite passages in the Bible (Philippians 4:6):
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”