The third phase in the renewal of my prayer life was how the past met the present. It was the way in which all I had been taught yet never valued in bible college and Westminster Seminary, I suddenly understood. I understood the “why” of the gospel. I understood grace. It all became real to me. I understood more and more the nature of my priestly ministry as a Christian man and as a pastor. My burden in my life of prayer grew for my congregation who were unconverted. Many were like me who had heard the gospel for years and like me had deceived themselves. My burden grew for those of my family who were not converted, that they too would come to know such glory. After years of tearful prayer, I saw my father come to the Lord in the final weeks of his life. I am struck with the way in which being immersed in the Scriptures has shaped my prayer life in ways that will always lead me to confession and repentance; praise and glory; amazement and joy. It’s as if all three phases of my prayer life reprise and develop in ways that make me surprised by God’s grace again and again.
A Christ-centered life begins and ends in prayer and God’s Word. I see that one gift of my salvation is how my heavenly Father hears my prayer, how my Savior Jesus Christ leads me in worship in my prayer, how the Holy Spirit carries me into God’s presence in my prayer. It is the air I breathe now.
It is so important to know where the real battle is being fought in our churches today. We are in a spiritual battle. As a praying Christian and as a praying pastor, I am with Samuel: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (1 Samuel 12.23).
E.M. Bounds in another generation said it so well in Power Through Prayer:
“We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. While the church is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.”
John Owen said it this way:
“I believe that no man can have any evidence in his own soul that doth conscientiously perform any ministerial duty towards his flock, who doth not continually pray for them. Let him preach as much as he will, visit as much as he will, speak as much as he will, unless God doth keep up in him a spirit of prayer in his closet and family for them, he can have no evidence that he doth perform any other ministerial duty in a due manner, or that what he doth is accepted with God.” Emphasis original (Owen, “The Duty of a Pastor,” Works, 9:456).
“In our prayers for our people, God will teach us what we shall preach unto them. We cannot pray for them, but we must think on what it is we pray for, and that is the consideration of their condition; and therein God teaches the ministers of the gospel. If it be so with them, this is that they should teach them. The more we pray for our people, the better shall we be instructed what to preach to them.” Emphasis original (Owen, “The Duty of a Pastor,” Works, 9:457).
What a gift of God is prayer.