What is prayer? This is a crucial question for us to ask. It was a question the disciples had. It is a question that has been asked by faithful Christians in every generation. Understanding prayer and growth in prayer remains a need for all Christians today. I think prayer is kind of like eating well and exercising. We know we ought to do it. When we discipline ourselves to do it, we feel better. If we’re in the habit of doing it, we feel it when we don’t do it. But more often than not, it’s something we don’t do very well. We don’t do it because we either don’t know how, don’t know why, or don’t really believe it is necessary (at least not right now…maybe later). And like eating well and exercise, sometimes the only reason we get serious about it is because something drastic happens.

We are most likely to pray when the crises and difficulties of life fall upon us. I routinely get prayer requests from people when loved ones are suffering or major issues have intruded upon life. I think that is because in those moments of crisis, just like when a health scare leads us to change our diet or exercise, we become aware of our need for a change. With respect to prayer, it is a recognition that help is needed. We simply don’t have the resources necessary to change the dire situation. In truth our situation in crisis is not altogether different from our situation in regular times, but our perception of our need is more acute. The illusion that we can do this all on our own is shattered. This probably explains why I’ve never received a request for congregational prayer because someone’s spiritual life seems dry. That need is every bit as important as any other need, but it seems less so. And because it seems less so, our practice of prayer is often unhealthy and lazy.

The Scriptures are the primary source of teaching about prayer. And as those who have walked this pilgrim journey before have examined, studied, and explored the Scriptures, they have a lot to tell us about prayer. If we begin to understand how prayer works, why prayer works, and the necessity of prayer for even the mundane moments of the Christian life, then we will, Lord wiling, begin to change our habits regarding prayer. This series of reflections will attempt to work through some of the biblical passages about prayer, specifically the Lord’s instruction on prayer that we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer. This series will also look at how some of the great Fathers of the faith have addressed the issue of prayer in the Christian life. Hopefully, we will be able to apply this truth to our lives in order to see our practice of prayer more closely align with what you probably already think it ought to be like.

As we begin these reflections on prayer, perhaps we ought to begin with a prayer. The following prayer is taken from The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. This prayer is titled, The Prayer of Love[1].

Gracious Lord, thy name is Love, in love receive my prayer. My sins are more than the wide sea’s sand, but where sin abounds, there is grace more abundant. Look to the cross of thy beloved Son, and view the preciousness of his atoning blood; Listen to his never-failing intercession, and whisper to my heart, ‘Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer, lie down in peace.’

Grace cataracts from heaven and flows forever, and mercy never wearies in bestowing benefits. Grant me more and more to prize the privilege of prayer, to come to thee as a sin-soiled sinner, to find pardon in thee, to converse with thee; to know thee in prayer as the path in which my feet tread, the latch upon the door of my lips, the light that shines through my eyes, the music of my ears, the marrow of my understanding, the strength of my will, the power of my affection, the sweetness of my memory.

May the matter of my prayer be always wise, humble, submissive, obedient, scriptural, Christ-like. Give me unwavering faith that supplications are never in vain, that if I seem not to obtain my petitions I shall have larger, richer answers, surpassing all that I ask or think. Unsought, thou hast given me the greatest gift, the person of thy Son, and in him thou wilt give me all I need. Amen.

[1] Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 270–71.