In studying prayer recently, I have a few more thoughts that did not find a home among the other writings on prayer. I have captured them below in no particular order other than the sequence in which they were brought to mind.
Pray for Your Enemies
Let us not forget that we are called to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Notice a couple of things here. First, let it sink in that we are called to pray for those who hate, malign, and persecute us. This is a high calling! We are to be pleading before God for salvation of all men; even those who hate us. Second, notice that there is a parallel structure to Jesus’s statement. The phrase “love your enemies” is parallel with “pray for those who persecute you”. I surmise from this that prayer is an act of love. Another way of saying “love your enemies” is to say “pray for those who persecute you”. Who is our enemy but the one who persecutes us and how can we love them but to pray for them. Keep this in mind; prayer is a powerful, effective act of love.
The Role of the Holy Spirit in Prayer
Throughout scripture, the Holy Spirit is closely related to prayer. In my discussions on prayer, I have left this point largely unexplored and would be remiss if I did not discuss it at least once. I’ll start in the Old Testament. The prophetic promise of the Holy Spirit to Israel in Zechariah 12:10 is tied to prayer:
… the Spirit of grace and of supplication…
In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is also tied to prayer for Christians. After teaching His disciples to pray in Luke 11:1-4, Jesus then proceeds to give an analogy emphasizing the goodness and willingness of God in giving “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:1-13). Romans 8:26 says that the Holy Spirit, through whom we have intimacy with the Father (see Romans 8:14-15), “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words”. Both Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 encourage believers to pray “in the [Holy] Spirit”. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is involved in helping us to pray in a way that aligns with God’s will and glorifies Him. In fact, it would be worthwhile to consider how each person of the trinity is involved in prayer, but that is a topic for another time.
Prayer is Often Practiced in Community
In modern, western culture, we are extremely individualistic and independent. This has a number of effects on our spiritual life and growth as well as how we relate as a body of believers. One particular manifestation of our independence is that when we think of prayer, we usually think of a solitary individual praying to God. There is nothing wrong with praying to God while you are alone and I strongly encourage it, but we must not forget that the early church primarily prayed as a church. Cooperate prayer is powerful and important for the spiritual growth of believers. Doing so is not only a way to mutually encourage one another, but is also a way to grow in unity.1 Sadly, cooperate prayer has been sacrificed on the alter of individual independence and autonomy. Consider how you can get involved and get fellow believers involved in praying together on a regular basis.
Prayer Changes our Hearts
The very act of prayer changes your affections. I have not mentioned very much in this regard because this is the benefit of prayer that is normally emphasized, but I would be remiss if I did not mention it. As Jonathan Edwards put it:
“[W]e are not appointed, in [prayer], to declare God’s perfections, his majesty, holiness, goodness, allsufficiency, and our own meanness, emptiness, dependence, and unworthiness, and our wants and desires, to inform God of these things, or to incline his heart, and prevail with him to be willing to show us mercy; but suitably to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask.”2
Prayer does things to be sure, but it also effects our affections.
1. As stated in RetroChristianity: “Prayer indeed is a fundamental means of promoting unity” - Michael J. Svigel, RetroChristianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 210.
2. Edwards, Jonathan, Perry Miller, John E. Smith, and Harry S. Stout. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Religious Affections. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, 114-115.