Over the years I’ve found much of what I’ve read about prayer to be unhelpful. Here’s why: Prayer is usually considered under the heading of ‘spiritual disciplines’ which makes it the spiritual equivalent of running on a treadmill or flossing your teeth, neither of which are attractive to me. Viewing prayer purely as a discipline drags the whole business back into the world of law, and law can never impart life.
I awakened to this when I discovered a description of prayer that warmed my heart with a fresh desire to pray. Calvin describes prayer as
“the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits.”
Then he offers this compelling picture:
“We dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon.”
Imagine walking over a field where vast treasure lies buried. To make these riches your own, you need two things: a map and a spade. Scripture is your map, and prayer is your spade.
I find this picture helpful because it delivers prayers from the austere world of law and discipline and brings it into the realm of the gospel and promise, where it belongs. Prayer is more than a duty to be fulfilled; it is a gift to be enjoyed. There is a world of difference between ‘having your quiet time’ as a spiritual discipline and drawing near to God to possess what He promises to you in Christ.
Since prayer is “the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits,” it follows that the primary gifts you will receive go far beyond ‘answers’ to items or needs on your prayer list. Prayer is the means by which you lay hold of all that God has promised in your own life and in the lives of others for whom you pray.
Question for Reflection
- What do you think about prayer?
Colin Smith, Jonah: Navigating a God-centered Life, 62-63.