If you want to make the average Christian feel guilty, ask them about their prayer life. We all have this sense that we should be praying more and that when we do pray, we should be getting more out of it. All too often, we reduce prayer to reciting a to do list in the presence of God or just firing requests His way like He’s a hyper competent concierge. Although, if we’re honest, we often have little to no confidence that He’s actually going to come through on anything we’re asking. Then we read passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing” and we throw our hands up in frustration. Most of us are just trying to find meaningful time with God on a daily basis. Many of us are wondering if it “counts” if we get that time on the Metro. Pray without ceasing seems like a cruelly absurd joke.
All of that adds up to a tragic short selling of the way the gospel impacts our prayer lives. We think the goal of the gospel is to get us to pray. Prayer becomes evidence of saving faith. The frequency of prayer becomes a measure for our spiritual health. And the whole conversation is limited to getting us to pray. But the gospel does much more than compel us to pray. It opens the door for prayer and shapes our prayers.
Apart from Christ, prayer isn’t possible. You can meditate, talk to yourself, or fling requests in the direct of a fictitious higher power. But you can’t connect with God. You can’t “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) That confidence only comes through a relationship with Christ that allows us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22) But in Christ, we’re welcomed into the very presence of God Himself. Not as beggars but as children. Not as someone who needs to take a number but as someone who can feel His embrace.
The most significant evidence of the gospel’s work in our hearts isn’t that we pray, it’s what we pray. This is where I’m frequently convicted – I often pray for the exact same things my non-Christian friends would pray for if they believed in Jesus. Listen, there’s nothing radical about praying for a raise, a good night’s sleep, a bigger house, a vacation, or a Red Sea like parting of traffic on the beltway. It’s not even particularly Christian to pray for a date, a child, a spouse or the healing of a sick family member. Should we pray for those things? Of course! Every good and perfect gift comes from God, so ask Him.
But we’ll know the gospel has grabbed hold of our hearts when we start to pray for things that wouldn’t even be on a non-Christian’s radar. Our prayer lives should be marked by requests that God would kill our pride, give us opportunities to share the gospel, allow us to give more generously to His work, fight for the oppressed, lovingly stand for truth, die to ourselves, take up our cross, consider others more important than ourselves and use us for the sake of His name. When those prayers flow from our souls, we’ll know that God is doing a deeply transformative work.
Here’s the funny thing – when we start praying that way, we start seeing God move in powerful ways. We become, at times painfully, aware that God hears and answers prayer. We realize how utterly dependent we are on His grace and His power. We run to Him without even realizing we’ve slid into prayer. Duty becomes delight. Pray without ceasing starts to make sense. And we connect with the One who made us for His own glory.
Want to upgrade your prayer life? Allow the implications of the gospel to work their way into the depths of Your heart. You’ll pray more. But you’ll also pray differently.