Praying to the Glory of God-Part 3

Posted by on Sep 24, 2011 in Divine Sovereignty, Prayer | No Comments

by Micah McCormick

When should we pray?

Such a question sounds a bit strange when pitted with other more natural prayer questions like why and how. But I ask this question in order to prompt specific reflection on planning to pray. We can speak in platitudes about the importance of prayer, the necessity of prayer, and the content of prayer. But unless we take definite steps toward actually spending time in prayer, we are likely to continue to let prayer slip into the background of our lives. Of course we should take seriously the Bible’s injunction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). We should seek to cultivate a spirit of prayerfulness in our lives. In one sense an answer to the question of when is whenever we can. But I wish to point out three further and more specific answers.

1. When we gather with the body of Christ

We rightly see Peter’s dramatic rescue from prison in Acts 12 as a miraculous deliverance from God. And yet we often fail to realize that something preceded his deliverance: “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (v. 5). When Peter escapes, he goes to the house of Mary, “where many were gathered together and were praying” (v. 12). Lest we think churches only prayed together in desperate circumstances, we read earlier in Acts that this was a regular pattern—believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42).

Prayer is to be a corporate exercise. Paul writes 1 Timothy in order to give instructions about “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14-15). In this letter Paul instructs, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (2:1). The assumption in 1 Corinthians is likewise that corporate prayer is taking place (1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:14-16).

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who was expressing concern about the lack of passion in his church. A few days later I spoke to him and said, “Hey, I’m going to pray with some people from your church—you should come.” He responded, “No thanks, I’m not in the mood.” Of course God can use our frame of heart to lead us to do different things (James 5:13). But I wonder—why are we so tempted to judge a church’s passion simply by the explosiveness of the music ministry, or the zeal of the preacher, or the authenticity of the people? Passionate churches are praying churches. John Calvin goes so far as to say that the “chief use of the tongue is in public prayers, which are offered in the assembly of the believers” (Institutes, 3.20.31).

Many of us would be deeply troubled if a Sunday morning service came and went with no sermon. But how many of us would even notice if there were no public prayers during the Sunday morning service? Furthermore, are we engaged in prayer while public prayers are being offered? Public prayer is not a time for us merely to listen but to participate, that our hearts would cry Amen! And for those of you that have a weekly prayer service (whether on Sunday or some other day of the week), do you make that prayer service a priority? As we grow to see more and more the importance of corporate Christianity, we begin as far as possible to structure our lives around our church calendar rather than to see where we might be able to wedge church activities into our own personal calendar.

2. When we gather with our families

I could have put this exact answer down for point number one as well, because our churches are our spiritual families. We should think of them as such and care deeply for them as such. But most of us are also a part of a physical family. I speak here of the importance of family worship, and specifically of praying together as a family. Although Scripture does not contain the same type of explicit Scripture examples of this point, there is the repeated admonition for parents to lead their children spiritually. Two passages will have to suffice: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps 78:5-7); “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

Why not simply set aside a time each day when your family will meet together to sing, to read God’s Word, and to pray? Such a time does not have to be exceptionally lengthy, but it should be consistent. This is certainly not all that it means to grow together in Christ as a family, but it is a start. And it is here that children can be taught how to pray, for they are often quite willing to pray, particularly young children. (How many pastors wish the adults in their congregations were as willing to pray in corporate worship as children often are in family worship?)

I will let Spurgeon speak even stronger admonishment: “I trust there are none here present, who profess to be followers of Christ who do not also practice prayer in their families” (Trumpet Calls to Christian Energy: A Collection of Sermons, 168). And Spurgeon was no hypocrite in this instruction, for his wife Susannah offers the following testimony: “After the meal was over, an adjournment was made to the study for family worship, and it was at these seasons that my beloved’s prayers were remarkable for their tender childlikeness, their spiritual pathos and their intense devotion. He seemed to come as near to God as a little child to a loving father, and we were often moved to tears as he talked thus face to face with his Lord.” (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon Compiled From His Diary, 4.64).

Probably the single biggest objection to family prayer is: “But we’re so busy.” How busy do you think Spurgeon was? We may need to take stock of our schedules and cut out some good activities in order that we might make time for the best activities.

To those of you who are single—use your time to be involved in the lives of others. Men, if you aren’t willing to grab a friend and pray with him, why are you so confident that you will spiritually lead a family if the Lord gives you one? Women, if you aren’t willing to babysit for a family in your church and to pray with their children, how can you be so certain you will pray with your children if God gives you children in the future?

3. When we are by ourselves

Mark tells us of Jesus, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). This type of behavior was by no means uncharacteristic of Jesus’ life. Luke speaks of how the crowds thronged to Jesus and his teaching, and yet “he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:15-16). If the Son of God humbled himself and prayed to his Father, how much more should we? If he had private seasons of prayer, should we not also give ourselves to this joyful discipline?

Jesus instructed his followers to do so: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt 6:6). In an oft-cited quotation, the Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne soberly declares, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.”

Christians pray. It’s just what they do. And the amazing thing is that God offers reward for prayer. After Jesus tells his followers to “shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” he continues, “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6)!

In all of this we should remember that we can’t even pray without the glorious gospel. Our prayers would be repugnant to God if it weren’t for the sacrifice of Christ who purifies us. He is our mediator. He ensures that we come to a throne of grace and not a throne of judgment. And even more He himself is praying for us. Despite all of our failures, he loves us and cries out to God the Father for us. Although our prayer life is often lethargic, he never grows weary of praying for us. What a merciful Savior.

When should we pray?

Such a question sounds a bit strange when pitted with other more natural prayer questions like why and how. But I ask this question in order to prompt specific reflection on planning to pray. We can speak in platitudes about the importance of prayer, the necessity of prayer, and the content of prayer. But unless we take definite steps toward actually spending time in prayer, we are likely to continue to let prayer slip into the background of our lives. Of course we should take seriously the Bible’s injunction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). We should seek to cultivate a spirit of prayerfulness in our lives. In one sense an answer to the question of when is whenever we can. But I wish to point out three further and more specific answers.

1. When we gather with the body of Christ

We rightly see Peter’s dramatic rescue from prison in Acts 12 as a miraculous deliverance from God. And yet we often fail to realize that something preceded his deliverance: “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (v. 5). When Peter escapes, he goes to the house of Mary, “where many were gathered together and were praying” (v. 12). Lest we think churches only prayed together in desperate circumstances, we read earlier in Acts that this was a regular pattern—believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42).

Prayer is to be a corporate exercise. Paul writes 1 Timothy in order to give instructions about “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14-15). In this letter Paul instructs, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (2:1). The assumption in 1 Corinthians is likewise that corporate prayer is taking place (1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:14-16).

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who was expressing concern about the lack of passion in his church. A few days later I spoke to him and said, “Hey, I’m going to pray with some people from your church—you should come.” He responded, “No thanks, I’m not in the mood.” Of course God can use our frame of heart to lead us to do different things (James 5:13). But I wonder—why are we so tempted to judge a church’s passion simply by the explosiveness of the music ministry, or the zeal of the preacher, or the authenticity of the people? Passionate churches are praying churches. John Calvin goes so far as to say that the “chief use of the tongue is in public prayers, which are offered in the assembly of the believers” (Institutes, 3.20.31).

Many of us would be deeply troubled if a Sunday morning service came and went with no sermon. But how many of us would even notice if there were no public prayers during the Sunday morning service? Furthermore, are we engaged in prayer while public prayers are being offered? Public prayer is not a time for us merely to listen but to participate, that our hearts would cry Amen! And for those of you that have a weekly prayer service (whether on Sunday or some other day of the week), do you make that prayer service a priority? As we grow to see more and more the importance of corporate Christianity, we begin as far as possible to structure our lives around our church calendar rather than to see where we might be able to wedge church activities into our own personal calendar.

2. When we gather with our families

I could have put this exact answer down for point number one as well, because our churches are our spiritual families. We should think of them as such and care deeply for them as such. But most of us are also a part of a physical family. I speak here of the importance of family worship, and specifically of praying together as a family. Although Scripture does not contain the same type of explicit Scripture examples of this point, there is the repeated admonition for parents to lead their children spiritually. Two passages will have to suffice: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps 78:5-7); “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

Why not simply set aside a time each day when your family will meet together to sing, to read God’s Word, and to pray? Such a time does not have to be exceptionally lengthy, but it should be consistent. This is certainly not all that it means to grow together in Christ as a family, but it is a start. And it is here that children can be taught how to pray, for they are often quite willing to pray, particularly young children. (How many pastors wish the adults in their congregations were as willing to pray in corporate worship as children often are in family worship?)

I will let Spurgeon speak even stronger admonishment: “I trust there are none here present, who profess to be followers of Christ who do not also practice prayer in their families” (Trumpet Calls to Christian Energy: A Collection of Sermons, 168). And Spurgeon was no hypocrite in this instruction, for his wife Susannah offers the following testimony: “After the meal was over, an adjournment was made to the study for family worship, and it was at these seasons that my beloved’s prayers were remarkable for their tender childlikeness, their spiritual pathos and their intense devotion. He seemed to come as near to God as a little child to a loving father, and we were often moved to tears as he talked thus face to face with his Lord.” (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon Compiled From His Diary, 4.64).

Probably the single biggest objection to family prayer is: “But we’re so busy.” How busy do you think Spurgeon was? We may need to take stock of our schedules and cut out some good activities in order that we might make time for the best activities.

To those of you who are single—use your time to be involved in the lives of others. Men, if you aren’t willing to grab a friend and pray with him, why are you so confident that you will spiritually lead a family if the Lord gives you one? Women, if you aren’t willing to babysit for a family in your church and to pray with their children, how can you be so certain you will pray with your children if God gives you children in the future?

3. When we are by ourselves

Mark tells us of Jesus, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). This type of behavior was by no means uncharacteristic of Jesus’ life. Luke speaks of how the crowds thronged to Jesus and his teaching, and yet “he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:15-16). If the Son of God humbled himself and prayed to his Father, how much more should we? If he had private seasons of prayer, should we not also give ourselves to this joyful discipline?

Jesus instructed his followers to do so: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt 6:6). In an oft-cited quotation, the Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne soberly declares, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.”

Christians pray. It’s just what they do. And the amazing thing is that God offers reward for prayer. After Jesus tells his followers to “shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” he continues, “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6)!

In all of this we should remember that we can’t even pray without the glorious gospel. Our prayers would be repugnant to God if it weren’t for the sacrifice of Christ who purifies us. He is our mediator. He ensures that we come to a throne of grace and not a throne of judgment. And even more He himself is praying for us. Despite all of our failures, he loves us and cries out to God the Father for us. Although our prayer life is often lethargic, he never grows weary of praying for us. What a merciful Savior.


Micah McCormick received a Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Micah is a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

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