Welcome back to this series on prayer. If you have missed any previous posts you can click here to catch up. But in this post, we are focusing on the privilege of prayer.
We take a lot for granted. Advances that once seemed like life-changers are now staples. It’s hard for us to imagine, but there was the first day with electricity, running water, indoor toilet and the internet. Now, these privileges are expected.
In the Christian’s life the same could be said of prayer. Prayer is not an inalienable right of all people, like healthcare in Canada. Instead, prayer is a blood-bought privilege for those who trust and treasure Jesus.
So let’s look at the privilege of prayer from a different perspective. Rather than, “hey, we have this incredible privilege to pray to God, so let’s get praying” let’s say, “this incredible privilege of prayer is a precious gift. What can I do to safeguard this privilege?
Let’s jump right in.
What makes prayer possible?
Have you ever been to a public event where things were kicked off with the Lord’s prayer? I know it sounds strange but it does still happen in some contexts.
The story is told of a high school basketball game between two Christian schools. Everything seemed pretty typical leading up to the game. Music was blaring from the loud speakers; students were going nuts as both teams warmed up. A couple of minutes later, the starting lineups were announced. Still your typical high school basketball game, but then, right before the teams were set to tip-off, the public address announcer started saying the Lord’s Prayer. I looked around as hundreds of people were casually reciting in a mechanical way these words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. The man with the microphone ended with a hearty amen, and the referees called both teams to center court for the game to begin. I was not certain of what had just happened, but I know what did not happen. I know that we were not praying.
Surely this experience was not what Jesus had in mind when He taught His disciples how to pray—hundreds of people reducing this paradigm for prayer to some sort of cultural rite of passage so a game could begin. Christ’s teaching was belittled with the type of mechanical jargon He warned against in the Sermon on the Mount. However, this story should cause us to ponder the prayer that had been recited by the crowd in the gym that evening.
The privilege of prayer is magnified in the initial phrase of Jesus as He tells His disciples to pray, “Our Father in Heaven.” There is so much for us to learn in these words. First, we see that what is normal for prayer is not simply personal. No, it is corporate. Jesus does not tell us to pray, “My Father.” He says, “Our Father.”
Second, we see the beauty of the gospel in this prayer. Jesus does not teach us to come to God on the basis of some lesser status. We come as children to a Father. But how can this be? How can wretched sinners who deserve the wrath of God have the privilege of prayer? How can rebels be called the children of God and invited to come to His throne day and night?
Answering these questions requires that we see the connection between prayer and the gospel. In turn, we see why saying the Lord’s Prayer, and prayer in general, misses its intended purpose when it is recited mindlessly, particularly by those who are not Christians.
When the disciples came to Jesus asking how to pray, they came to the One who gives us access to God. In fact, this is why Jesus came—so that we could commune with God. This is why He left His throne in glory. This is why the One who is holy, righteous, and just, the One through whom all things were made, humbled Himself and came to live among us.
In its description of what a kingdom citizen should look like, the Sermon on the Mount reveals our hypocrisy and our sin. At the same time, it declares where Christ succeeded. He lived the life we could not. He was perfectly obedient.
He then went to the cross to atone for our sins, absorbing the wrath of God that we deserved. At the cross, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One died for the unrighteous (1 Pet 3:18). Three days later, Jesus was raised from the dead because God’s justice had been satisfied. Christ then ascended to God’s right hand, where he intercedes for us, giving us access to the Father in prayer.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). It is this righteousness that permits us to stand before the throne of God in prayer, and to do so with boldness.
Who has the right to cry out in prayer to God? Who can come to Him in prayer? No one, in and of themselves. Only through the finished work of Christ can we pray to God, which means that the One who gives us a pattern for and an example of prayer has purchased our communion with God.
Click to set custom HTML
We now can boldly approach the throne of grace, calling out to our Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit. We can revel in the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Rome:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:12–17).