“Why would God want us to speak to Him?”
William Philip’s question stopped me in my tracks because most authors of books on prayer argue from the opposite perspective: “Why should you want to speak to God?” Forever curious about the nature of God and constantly frustrated with my inconsistent prayer life, I found biblically-based and deeply thoughtful reflections in Why We Pray, which focuses on explaining rather than exhorting, and bases the explanation for why we pray on satisfying theological reasoning expressed in four points:
1. We pray because God is a speaking God. He spoke the world into being. He spoke to our spiritual forbearers audibly. He spoke salvation through His Son (see Hebrews 1:2), and He speaks today by His Spirit to all who seek his words in the inspired Word. Created in his image for relationship with Him, our highest privilege is communion with God. Thus prayer becomes “the audible form of that right relationship with God.”
2. We pray because we are sons of God. The only begotten Son of God is ultimately the only “true human being” in the sense that He maintained constant communication with God. As the God the Son, he had direct access to the Father. And no wonder the gospel is called good news, because the truth is that all who are in Christ Jesus are the sons of God and have that same access to the Father! An important point of clarification is that because “son-ship” in biblical times implied a certain status, the term “son” should not rankle the female ear. If “son” offends, a better substitute would be “heir” rather than “child,” because “everything that [belongs to Jesus] by right of birth is now ours by right of adoption.” The staggering application of this truth to our prayer life is that, as our Father, God “cannot not hear us” when we pray. Hence, our identity as pray-ers stems from our standing rather than from our merit or performance.
3. We pray because God is a sovereign God. Having taken the initiative in calling out to us, and having restored broken lines of communication with humanity in the death of his Son, God Himself is the ultimate reason that prayer is even a logical activity. John Newton poetically summarizes Philip’s argument: “Thou art coming to a King/Large petitions with thee bring/For his grace and pow’r are such/None could ever ask too much.” However, this attribute of sovereignty constantly rides the theological seesaw opposite human responsibility, particularly in relation to prayer. Why We Pray makes an excellent case for a balanced seesaw: “God is sovereign, and we are responsible.” Philip encourages his readers to view prayer as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him,” not as robots, but from a place of privileged partnership, understanding God’s goal for the universe and receiving all the benefits of a working relationship with One who is aware of, concerned for, and able to meet our deepest, truest needs.
4. We pray because we have the Spirit of God. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who aligns our desires with God’s sovereign purposes — and who convinces us that it is not in our best interest to try to align God with our selfish purposes. The indwelling Holy Spirit’s enabling us to become “real pray-ers” bears out the truth of Jesus’ insistence that it was far better for his disciples that He leave them, for the ministry of the Spirit completes a staggeringly important circle: the sovereign God who speaks abides in his true sons through the Holy Spirit’s ministry for us, in us, and to us. As a result, the believer who abides in Him and prays in line with the revealed will of God in scripture will pray with confidence.
An excellent and very relevant and realistic point for “boots on the ground” Christianity is the matter of prayer when the will of God is not clear on a matter; e.g. the prayer for healing of a gravely ill family member. When God has not seen fit to reveal his will, “to attempt to drum up lots of faith in order to be sure that God will answer our prayer is self-deception.” In fact, “often the more fervent the prayer the more pagan it is,” (see Matthew 6:7). Refusing to lay the matter out before a sovereign God and scorning the words “if it is your will” is not a mark of faith, but of presumption.
Reading Why We Pray, answering each chapter’s Questions for Reflection or Discussion, and realizing anew the nature and motivation of true prayer is an eye-opening experience. In the foreword, Alistair Begg has written, “In our Christian lives, nothing is more important and nothing more difficult to maintain than a meaningful prayer life.” I would add to that: there is no greater privilege than the challenge of becoming a praying person — because of Who God is and because of who we are in Christ.
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review.