Prayer: The Key To Christian Joy
Every Christian knows that we are supposed to pray, but I suspect, that very few Christians understand the purpose behind prayer. And because few Christians understand the purpose behind prayer we tend to fall into 2 traps: either we neglect prayer because we don't understand it, or, we misuse prayer because we don't know what we should be praying for.
Some people believe the purpose of prayer is simply to get us out of trouble when we find ourselves in a desperate situation. I am reminded of the humourous cartoon of a little boy in church. This little boy was in church and acting up very badly. The parents couldn't bring the boy under control, and so they needed to get him out of there. So the father took the boy under his arm and proceeded to leave for the foyer. But just before they reached the foyer the boy turned back to the people and yelled, 'Pray for me! Pray for Me!'.
Another humourous example about prayer came to my attention in the form of a 'mother's day' card. On the front of this 'mother's day' card is a picture of a boy writing his mother. The front of the card reads: 'This is the prayer I remember you praying for me the whole time I was growing up:'. And the inside of the card reads: 'God help you if you ever do that again!'.
Prayer, of course, is intended to do much more than just get us out of sticky situations. Prayer is, fundamentally, the way we are to communicate with God. It is our means to relating with our Creator and Redeemer. Prayer is the means to enjoying God . And since prayer is intended to help us enjoy God, our prayers must never be reduced to merely asking God for 'things'.
Imagine how you would feel if you purchased 2 tickets to a sports event or a theater production. You give one of the tickets away to a friend because you want to spend time with them. How would you feel if your friend turned around and sold that ticket to a stranger in order to gain money to spend on something else? This, unfortunately, is what we often do with the gift of prayer. God has given us prayer in order that we may learn the joy of having fellowship with Him . Prayer was never intended as a means of gaining things to delight in apart from God. The intention of prayer is to enable us to delight in God .
When we examine Jesus' teaching on prayer in John, chapter 14 through chapter 16, a twofold purpose of prayer emerges: Prayer is ultimately concerned about God's glory and our joy . The unity of these pursuits must never be broken. Our prayer for daily bread must always include prayer for God's will to be done.
In John 14, verse 13, Jesus says that, "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son ". There it is--prayer in Jesus' name, when our prayers reflect our Lord's prayers, we are promised answered prayer. And what is God's purpose in answering our prayers? "That the Father may be glorified in the Son ".
God's concern for His own glory, thankfully, is not opposed to His concern for us. Listen to what Jesus says in John 16, verses 23 and 24: "If you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full ". What a wonderful truth! God answers prayer to glorify Himself and to make our joy "full " .
Allow me to sew together for you, this biblical truth with the Westminster's answer to the question, 'What is the chief end of man?'. We clearly see, in John 14 and 16, that God answers prayer in order to glorify Himself and to make our joy full. The Westminster Confession states that the chief end of man is 'To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever'. Do you see the connection? Do you see how clear our application is? If we want to glorify God and enjoy Him, then we must commit ourselves to prayer .
Prayer in Jesus' name, praying according to how Jesus would pray, is how we glorify God. God is honoured by treating Him as the inexhaustible reservoir of hope and help. The Giver gets the glory, and the person who receives gets the joy.
We see this exact principle at work in Psalm 50, verse 15, where God urges us, "call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honour Me ". The great London preacher, Charles Spurgeon, describes this verse as 'a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and all that God getteth is the glory which is due unto His name'(Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons On Prayer , 115). In this verse, we should clearly see how God's glory, and our joy, relate--We ask God to help us. God answers with delivering power. God is glorified by being the Deliverer and we experience the joy of being delivered.
When I was a very young boy, I lost my footing in the undertow while swimming at Boynton Beach, Florida. When the ocean pulled me under, it felt like I would be permanently pinned to the ocean floor. It was a terrifying thing. I remember trying to get my bearings and trying to figure out which way was up. Anyone who has been gripped by an undertow knows the panic one feels--you wonder if you will ever break free. You feel totally helpless and, of course, underwater you can't even yell for help.
After a few seconds of struggling underwater, I felt my grandfather's hand take hold of my upper arm like a vice grip. My grandfather, with the hand strength only a farmer could possess, pulled me, almost effortlessly, to the surface.
When my grandfather grabbed my arm, I remember yielding completely to his strength. I did not resist. The thought never entered my mind that I should show him that things aren't so bad; or that I needed to add to my grandfather's strength. All I thought was, Yes! Thank you!
This is how it should be when God grips us. We should not pretend that everything is under control. We should never think we need to add to God's strength. God does NOT help those who help themselves, God helps those who are helpless--He helps those who "call "(Ps. 50:15) to Him and those who "cling " to Him(Ps. 63:8). Prayer is no t about manipulating God's strength. Prayer is about yielding to God's strength .
Jesus reminds us in John 15, verse 5, that "apart from Me you can do nothing ". Prayer then, is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. It has been rightly said that the difference between the army and Jesus Christ is that the army won't enlist you unless you are healthy, and Jesus won't enlist you unless you are sick. Patients do not serve their physicians, they yield to their wisdom. Patients do not place orders for the medication they prefer, they must trust the doctor to provide good prescriptions. Jesus says that the Father is "glorified " when we trust in Him, and "abide in (Him) "(Jn. 15:7, 8).
Prayer is about depending on God--it requires yielding to His strength . When we yield to His strength, we become the beneficiary of God's strength. Prayer unlocks God's power, and God's power, executed on our behalf, becomes the source of our joy. And by enjoying God, we in turn, glorify God. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him(John Piper).
God is glorified when we enjoy Him, and prayer is the key to unlocking Christian joy . Knowing this, Jesus tells us "ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full "(Jn. 16:24).
At this point, it is necessary for me to address what is obvious--God does not always give us what we ask for. How are we to reconcile our experience of unanswered prayer and Jesus' promise to do "whatever (we) ask "?(Jn. 14:13; 16:23).
The apostle James reminds us that there is a type of prayer that dishonours God. If one of the purposes of prayer is to glorify God, it follows that God will not answer prayers that do not seek to honour Him. If our prayers are self-centred rather than God-centred, James warns us not to expect answered prayer(Jas. 4:3, 4).
There are other times, I suspect, that our prayers are not answered because they are not in our best interests or in the best interests of others. Quite often, in our shortsightedness, we ask for things that would actually be detrimental to us. In such cases, God in His grace does not answer our prayers.
There remains, however, those unanswered prayers that, from a human perspective, seem noble and consistent with the nature of our loving Lord. Why they remain unanswered--that is, unanswered from our limited human perspective--I do not know. What I will say is, remember that our vision is limited. God does indeed answer prayer . Not always in ways we would expect, and not always as quickly as we would hope for, but He does answer prayer. And when God answers prayer, He is glorified and our joy is made full .
If prayer is the key to Christian joy, if prayer is the way to experience lasting joy, why do so many Christians lack a significant prayer life? Most people would answer that they are 'too busy'. But let's be honest here--as busy as I am, seldom am I too busy to play hockey on Monday nights. Seldom are we too busy to do that which brings us tremendous joy. Our problem, at its root, is not busyness--our problem is a skewed understanding of prayer. We have yet to comprehend how much we need prayer. We have yet to grasp how essential prayer is to experiencing lasting joy.
The temptation is for me to tell you all to stop being so busy and to pray more, but this is not the best approach. The best approach comes to us from King David who says, "taste and see that the Lord is good "(Ps. 34:8). When you commit yourself to prayer, when you taste for yourself that the Lord is indeed "good ", when you taste and see that fellowship with God in prayer is the only reliable source of joy, only then will you prioritize prayer above all else.
Make today a day of turning to God in prayer--for His glory, and for the fullness of your joy. Amen.