On Prayer

How God’s silence in the face of our prayers may be an invitation to draw closer

Let me provide some important theological guidance for praying. You don’t have to be eloquent to pray. Our prayers should be simple, honest, from the heart, and informed by Scripture. This is what Timothy Keller calls “intelligent mysticism,” a phrase he borrowed from another theologian, John Murray. “It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…. That means an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind” (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God). In other words our prayers must be heart-felt (from the heart) but also from the mind, which means they need to be informed by Scripture! 

The great missionary and theologian of the church says, Pray for me! Pray for those who are working with me. Pray for all of us. Paul was asking that people pray for God to open doors so that the gospel of Jesus Christ could be preached. He was asking them to pray for him personally as he was in prison. He was asking them to pray that he could be clear and bold in proclaiming Christ. In short, he was asking them to be concerned for him and those who were working for the gospel andto be concerned that the gospel message spread to more people. We need more of this kind of praying in our churches!

Paul tells Christ-followers to be watchful and thankful in prayer. First, while praying, we should remember our own weakness. We are sinners, weak and in need of God’s help to live this life. (Plus, the Evil One is out there setting traps that we’ll need wisdom and discernment to avoid.) So we need to pray for wisdom, pray for discernment, pray for caution, and pray for guidance. We must watch our step on this journey and rely upon the Lord.

The expression “devote yourselves to prayer” could be translated, “keep on praying.” And while Paul is certainly not opposed to having set times that you sit in your favorite chair and pray, what he is talking about here is prayer as a way of life. There is a classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, by a 17th century monk who has become known as Brother Lawrence. Now I don’t agree with all of Brother Lawrence’s theology (especially as it relates to marriage), but what I do like is his emphasis on being in the presence of God through the day. He would not only pray at the times set aside from prayer within the monastery, but also when peeling potatoes in the kitchen or working outside. He wrote, “We are content with too little. God has infinite treasures to give us, he says. Why should we be satisfied with a brief moment of worship?” Why should you be content to worship God only on Sunday mornings? Or only pray to him during specific times? God wants you to enjoy his presence so much more.

As Paul comes to the closing of his letter to the Christians in Colossae, he encourages them to pray, both for themselves and for the spread of the gospel. I don't think the placement of this prayer in a coincidence. Nor is it an afterthought. After hundreds of words spent explaining to these Christians how their lives had changed because of Christ, and how much more God had for them in spiritual growth and Christ-likeness, in one little line (verse 2), Paul reminds them that they are not alone in this. “Devote yourselves to prayer.” How else can you be the person God wants to be except with his help?

Timothy Keller wrote, “Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him” (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God). God wants to hear my heart, my desires, my wants, and my needs. He is the giver of all things, and to fail to pray is, to quote Keller again, “failure to treat God as God.”

The Athletic Director at Valparaiso University is a faithful member of Calvary Church and a good friend.  He is also kind enough to bless his pastor with tickets to VU basketball games throughout the year – and I receive these “offerings” with gratitude and joy!   Last year I took a pastoral friend with me down to Lafayette to watch VU go up against the big boys at Purdue.  I told my friend I had tickets for us from the AD – but I didn’t tell him where we were sitting.  (I wanted it to be a surprise.)  We walked into a packed out Mackey Arena just before the game started, walked down past at least two security checkpoints, on to the main floor, past the ESPN cameras, and then sat down right behind the player’s bench.  We were so close we could smell their sweat!  My friend was elated.  For two guys who love basketball – this was a little taste of heaven. Being friends with the Athletic Director is pretty nice!