For the last 18 years, one verse in Scripture has particularly shaped why and how I pray. Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” This has informed my perceptions of God and given me three convictions about prayer.
Jesus’ death and resurrection, these powerful hinges of history, happened for our eternal salvation. But they also happened so we can have true communion with God while we are still in this body. Jesus showed us the path to the Father as well as how to walk with the Father.
Because of Easter, we can approach his throne in prayer with a type of confidence, knowing the One who died and rose still has concern for us. He listens, responds, and sits with us in our time of need.
I’m Human (and That’s a Good Thing)
My second reason for praying points to my humanity—to the joy I have in being a created human as well as the longing for something beyond myself. In the moments when my heart engages with the invisible kingdom and the reality of our King, I am doing the most supernatural and spiritual thing I can do prior to death. I am no longer just walking across campus, sitting in my office, or running a trail. I am at the seat of heaven, speaking to the Father, through Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. And I know that God is faithfully listening. These truths have kept me praying in the midst of doubts about his existence or his goodness, seemingly unanswered prayers, and dry spiritual seasons.
Prayer also reminds me that, even in my human frailty, I can still be part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. This is the same heaven I step into as I pray. I become a bridge of sorts, asking God to come into the places I am at and people I am with every day. Jesus’ death is proof that this is exactly what he wants to do, and the resurrection tells me he has the power to do it.
But prayer is more than just a spiritual act; when I pray I am also participating in the most human thing I can do. I’m engaging my physical body, willing it to kneel or stand, willing my eyes to close. I’m also engaging my brain, moving it to stop focusing on the clutter and instead sift for the important and the eternal. My heart and soul become vulnerable as they open up to love. I exert more effort than normal so that I can hear the whisper of the Spirit and begin to pray in unity with the Father’s heart.
Basically, when I pray, I feel alive. There is no other activity that so fully engages the senses of my body, mind, and soul. (This is perhaps why it’s so tiring!)
I Don’t Want to Fail
I also pray because I just need it. I don’t do it before a Bible study or meeting because it’s the good Christian thing to do. It’s because I know that, without prayer, I’ll fail at my chief goal: to bring greater attention to God’s name and goodness.
When my wife and I started dating, we had good conversations about the boundaries we wanted to keep in place so that our relationship could rest on a spiritual foundation, rather than a physical or lustful one. And to keep these promises, we prayed—specifically at the end of every day we spent together, as we knew that was the time when it would be easy to compromise our convictions.
I don’t think we were being super holy in this decision. On the contrary, I knew what God would do if I invited him in and what he was calling me to as a grown-up man who was trying to love a woman well. But I also knew how easy it is for me to give into temptation for gratification, to indulge and be rebellious and not rely on God’s strength. When we were dating, I was in the middle of these two realities and felt supremely weak. We knew we needed help outside ourselves. When we sought God in prayer, he changed us and gave us strength outside ourselves to be faithful to him and one another.
This has left me with deep gratitude for and trust in God’s care for us, as a Father looks out for the best interests of his children. In our prayers we asked our Father to move us and change us so that our relationship could point back to him. Looking back on those years, I see just how foolish I would have been to try to keep that commitment to my wife without speaking on a regular basis to the One who led me to the convictions we shared.
I haven’t always been as wise since that time. I’ve found myself in seasons where, from every appearance, it looks like I’m praying, but my heart and spirit are far from it. And I start to believe I don’t need prayer. After all, I’ll think, I’ve done okay praying this little. Do I really need to pray more? But if I stay in that place, I’m admitting that I am taking Easter for granted. I’m telling God I don’t think I need him. Or I’m in the dangerous place of communicating that I don’t want him here.
All the Smart People Pray
Maybe there’s a fourth reason I pray: I like to think I’m not stupid. The One who calls me to live like him also gives me the power to do so—and I would therefore be a complete idiot not to take him up on it.
You can hear from God. I bet no one’s ever sat you down and explicitly (and bravely) said that out loud, to your face, because no one wants to look bad if you take a risk to listen for God’s voice and then don’t hear anything.