Prayer and trusting in Christ

I don’t know what happened exactly but my blog was down for a couple of days this past weekend. I contacted my webhosting company to find out what was wrong. They said they had to reload the blog and reset some database settings. In any event, it’s back up again. Thankfully the old posts weren’t lost.

Now that the housekeeping is out of the way, I’d like to post again on prayer. I’ve had some additional thoughts since my previous post on developing a personal relationship with Christ.

First, I said that prayer is either addressed to the Father through Christ or to Christ directly. I’d like to mention an important verse on the first of these two. It’s Hebrews 7:25 which says, “Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” There are several parallel verses in Hebrews that employ the language of “drawing near” (4:16; 7:19; 10:1, 22), but this one is unique in explicitly adding that we draw near through Christ. I think this is a helpful description of prayer. It is drawing near to God. And given our continued sinfulness and need, such drawing near can only take place as we consciously rest on the mediator, Christ. That is a helpful definition of the kind of prayer I have in mind, the kind of prayer that involves actings of faith in Christ. And this, in turn, is part of developing a personal relationship with Christ, since consciously resting on the mediator reminds us that he is our sympathetic high priest who knows us, loves us, and understands us. If Christ is praying for us, personally and individually, then surely we can pray to him.

Second, it’s important to avoid an overly activist concept of prayer. In the church group in which I was raised, we were encouraged to “wrestle with God in prayer,” using Jacob’s wrestling with the angel as a model. It was also called “prevailing prayer.” I guess the theory was that we must batter at the gates of heaven with such fervor, determination, and sheer amount of time spent on our knees, that God will eventually relent and answer our requests. The Assembly had a monthly ANOP (All Night of Prayer) where the church literally stayed up all night to pray until daybreak. We were told that the pastor had a sheepskin rug that he used with such frequency for prayer that his knees wore two holes in the rug. Such an overly activistic conception of prayer can become an intolerable yoke that will cause you to give up praying altogether. I don’t want to encourage that. You don’t have to pray for hours on end. You don’t have to pray on your knees. You can pray when you’re commuting to work or doing the dishes. Pray whenever a specific item of prayer or concern pops into your head. It is simply a matter of exercising trust in Christ. And since our trust in Christ is always weak, our prayers are also weak. But that’s okay. Our relationship with Christ does not depend on the strength of our faith or the power, duration, fervency, and frequency of our prayers. Every time we pray, we are essentially saying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). It not our faith but Christ himself, in the fulness of his merit and by his continual intercession, who saves us. The outreach of our faith to grasp hold of him is but touching the hem of his garment. Your faith may be as thin as a spider’s web, but if it is lodged in Christ, it is enough. So don’t feel that you must have an activistic prayer life. Simply rest in Christ. Simply draw near to God through Christ. 

Third, I have argued that prayers are essentially “actings of faith.” In other words, I’m trying connect prayer and trusting in Christ. We all know that we are saved, justified, by trusting in Christ alone. Yet I think we tend to forget that trust in Christ, faith in Christ, is not merely a formal state in which our minds are convinced of the truths of the gospel, but must also be experienced or exercised in the form of prayer, that is, talking to the Father through Christ or to Christ directly. We sort of know this, because we talk about the need for unbelievers to pray the sinner’s prayer as a crucial element in conversion. Most Reformed tracts provide a prayer that can be used as a model, while encouraging the sinner to use his or her own words. Of course, as Reformed people, we also stress that this must be followed by a public profession of faith, baptism, and joining a local church for discipleship, Christian growth, and attending on the means of grace. But unless I’m missing something, we do not dispense with the sinner’s prayer. Romans 10:9-13 is still in our Bibles and we still believe that conversion includes humbling yourself before God, admitting your sin and guilt, and exercising faith in Christ for the very first time via a personal, heart-felt prayer. In other words, what Paul refers to as “calling upon the name of the Lord.” Well, why does this have to end at conversion? Shouldn’t we continually call upon the name of the Lord? So we already recognize that there is a critical connection between prayer and trusting in Christ. It is necessary and vital to intellectually affirm the gospel, and I don’t want to come across as denigrating the notitia (knowledge) and assensus (assent) aspects of faith. But unless we have fiducia, that is, trust in Christ, knowledge and assent become an empty profession. And as Paul says in Rom 10:10 (”for with the heart a person believes”), fiducia is exercised not primarily with our minds but with our hearts as we enjoy Christ, rest in Christ, and talk to Christ.

May we draw near to God through Christ the mediator. May all legalistic conceptions of prayer melt away as we simply enjoy Christ, prayerfully trust in him, and walk with him day by day. 

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