Our church is currently studying prayer. We had a guest speaker, Rick Gamache, last Sunday who spoke from Colossians 4:2. (All that follows is a record of my sermon notes, not my original thinking!) He began with the question, "What is prayer?" Pretty much any person - Christian or otherwise - knows that prayer is asking God for things. Rick offered this definition: Prayer is an expression of our dependence on God through asking him to satisfy the desires of our heart.
One translation of Col. 4:2 reads, "Devote yourselves to prayer." Devotion is an unwavering commitment. Think of what it means to be devoted to a spouse; I don't spend every moment with Aaron, but he is a significant priority, frequently occupying my thoughts and time. Likewise, I should dedicate myself to prayer. In this world, I have to battle to devote myself to prayer. I have to watch against those things that want to crowd prayer out and resist the temptation to think that I am too busy to pray. Spurgeon says that "prayer is a saving of time... for if God has given us time for secondary duties, He must have given us time for primary ones, and to draw near to Him is a primary duty, and we must let nothing set it on one side."
So we are clearly commanded to persist in prayer. But why? First and foremost, we pray because Christ has made a way for us to do so. We cannot take for granted that we, sinfully depraved people, have constant access to the presence of a perfectly holy God, through the merit of another, namely Jesus Christ. The command to devote ourselves to prayer is really a lavishly gracious invitation! The infinitely powerful, wise, loving and good God of the universe calls us to ask him for the good things that he desires to give us as his sons and daughters. We pray, also, because God promises to act when we pray. Spurgeon again: "[W]e believe that, into the ear of the eternal God, we speak our wants, and that His ear is linked with a heart feeling for us, and a hand working on our behalf." There should be a rhythm of desperation and deliverance in our lives as Christians. We ask, God gives help, we get help, and God gets glory.
One practical suggestion is that we intermingle the Word and prayer. John 15:7 records Jesus saying, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." We need to pray our Bibles, not just read them. God's Word produces the faith that we need for answered prayer and transforms us to ask rightly according to God's will. Plan to pray both structured (set time and place to pray through Scripture) and unstructured (spontaneous cries of desperation, thanksgiving, and praise) prayers this year!