If you are like me, you probably find yourself more consistently confused or failing in prayer than in any other area in the Christian life. Why is that? Talking to the God who chose us, saved us, and sustains us should be the most natural and delightful thing in the world, shouldn’t it? Perhaps it should, but more often than not, it isn’t.
We all know we should pray more. The guilt within reminds us. But if we are honest, we neither want to pray more, nor are we really convinced we need to. Why? Perhaps we don’t really understand what prayer is — or we’re prone to forget.
Let God Speak First
The most important thing to do when it comes to thinking about prayer is to let God speak. Our approach to prayer (and our practice) is often an amalgam of platitudes, folk religion, and basic biblical truths, rather than an exegetically rigorous and theologically rich account of the teaching of the Bible.
When we actually look at what the Bible teaches about prayer, it is surprisingly simple: to pray is to ask God to do what he has promised to do through Christ.
Cast All Your Cares
The core of the gospel is that we have nothing, contribute nothing, bring nothing to God. Prayer, which is made possible by the gospel and shaped by the gospel, works the same way. God gives to us; we don’t give to God. We ask; he gives. Prayer depends on what he has done in us and for us, and on what he will do in us and for us.
Jesus teaches us to pray and to freely ask our Father for the desires of our heart:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9–10)
We can ask for whatever we want, knowing that God will not give us anything bad for us, but only what is good for us (Luke 11:11–13). The apostle Peter exhorts us, “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7) — all your anxieties, even your mundane and material ones. Don’t be afraid to ask him for anything, and don’t hold back any burdens from him.
But our everyday expressions of need are not the burden of the New Testament when it comes to prayer. While Scripture encourages us to pray for all manner of things, God also clearly exhorts us to focus our prayer lives.
God hears and answers every prayer, but there are a precious few to which he always says, “Yes.” The prayers always answered positively are the prayers which explicitly ask God to deliver on his promises to us. God will always say Yes when we ask him to do his work through his word.
I have found at least six basic prayers God will always answer.
1. Glorify yourself through me.
The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
2. Forgive me.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
3. Reveal more of yourself to me.
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:33–34).
4. Give me wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).
5. Strengthen me to obey you.
As you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12–13).
6. Spread your gospel to the lost.
This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
How do we know God will answer these six prayers? Because he says he will in the first place, and then, even more, because these prayers sum up what God has promised to do through the gospel. This is what God has said he would most surely do.
Ready to Answer
If we want to grow and mature in prayer, we don’t need to set a timer. We don’t need to learn new contemplative methods, or build a prayer closet in the woods. But we do need to become better ask-ers. We need to realize that we are all walking disasters apart from grace, men and women who need God every step of every day. We would all make a shipwreck of our life and the lives of those around us if God did not intervene.
The gospel yells at us, You are weak and sinful, flawed, and needy — but God is strong, gracious, and good — and ready to answer. Ask him to do what he has already promised to do for you. And keep praying, until that day when we won’t need to pray anymore from a distance, because we will see our great Promiser, Provider, and King face to face.