Prayer is hard. Authentic prayer is very hard. It will often be broken and stammering and a lifelong struggle. The popular myth among evangelicals is that prayer is a casual conversation. This makes it far easier of course but it falls short of being authentic. We have been shortchanged if we are influenced by this myth. How do we know? The Saviour’s example shows us. He was not only frequent in prayer but also fervent and reverent. Casual prayer on the other hand, is neither reverent nor fervent.
Andrew Gray (1633–1656) powerfully explains these aspects of Christ’s prayer to us. What could be more authentic than the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ? In his youth a carefree Gray was changed forever as a result of a moving experience. One day he was walking near Edinburgh when he saw a poor man, a beggar leave the road and go into a corn-field. The boy watched him kneeling down beside a large stone and then heard him pour out a solemn confession of sin and earnest prayer with great warmth and emotion. Gray was greatly moved when he witnessed someone to be pitied “in the worst of circumstances, whose life is almost a burden to him”. “Here am I” he thought, with plenty of everything and never knew what it was to lack anything. Yet Gray had never acknowledged God free giver of everything to him as this poor beggar. The poor man never had even a tenth of what Gray himself should have acknowledged with thanks to God. Gray now came to understand the nature of real prayer by experience and in a lasting way.
He died at the age of 22 years old after a ministry of only 27 months. His personal holiness was such that he was described as a “spark from heaven”. A powerful preacher, he left behind various sermons on prayer including four on 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”.
The following is extracted and updated from Gray’s book A Door Opening into Everlasting Life. Here he sheds valuable light on the practice of prayer from the Lord Jesus Christ’s unique example.
If Christ was in prayer often, will you neglect prayer altogether, or pray very rarely? Prayer is the daily duty of every child of God. It was said of the converted Saul of Tarsus: “Behold he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). We are commanded: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is a special part of the adoration of God and acknowledging of God’s supremacy and sovereignty over His servants.
Prayer is the foremost means of communion that we can enjoy with God on earth. It is the way to prosperity, peace and happiness. “Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee” (Job 22:21). Our prayers are letters of request. They are written on the inside with supplications, but on the outside with plentiful answers (Psalm 126:5-6). The prayerful heart is the gracious heavenly heart. Why do you not pray? Are you so rich that you need no supplies of grace. Or are you or so careless that you do not desire them?
O learn from Christ to be frequent, and fervent, and reverent in prayer!
1. Learn from Christ to be Frequent in Prayer
Christ prayed early and late, night and day. “In the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). “He continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). If Christ spent nights in prayer, will you not spend hours in prayer? Why do you pray in fits and starts, and not consistently? Why are you so seldom in God’s presence, pouring out your hearts to Him? Are you afraid of coming to God too often? You may come too seldom, but you can never come too often to God. Are there not reasons for prayer to God early and late in a day? Are there not sins early and late to be forgiven, mercies early and late to be obtained and distresses early and late to be prevented. Are there not duties early and late to be performed, afflictions early and late to be endured and temptations early and late to be defeated? Where does your health and strength come from? Is it not from heaven? How do they come from heaven except by means of prayer? Remember the morning and evening sacrifices of the Old Testament. The ceremony may be abolished as only a type. Yet the moral requirement, the basic principle and righteousness of this duty remain. Daily offerings of prayer and praises are our unquestionable duty (Psalm 141:2). O above all things, seek God often! You have the very key of heaven if you have the gift and grace of praying.
2. Learn from Christ to be Fervent in Prayer
Christ’s prayers were earnest, fervent and painstaking. “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). If Christ prayed fervently, will you pray in a superficial and cold way? Will you pray in a drowsy way, as if you were asleep, or as if you did not care whether you prayed or not? In this way you expose yourselves to the unmistakable danger of losing your prayers. Cold prayers speak a denial. They are mere carcasses of duty. The Lord detests and will never accept such carnal and sinful services. The greatest liveliness well becomes us, when speaking in the ears of the living God.
O do not let your prayers be superficial and unthinking but have the strength of your heart and soul in them. The more earnest you are in prayer, the more you resemble Christ “who in the days of His flesh…offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).
3. Learn from Christ to be Reverent in Prayer
Our Saviour Christ was God. He was equal and one and the same in substance with God His Father. Nevertheless, He was also man. As such He was accustomed to kneel down and pray with all humility (Luke 22:41). He even cast Himself flat upon the ground before Him (Matthew 26:39). We owe to God a twofold devotion, internal and external. The first must be done and the second must not be left undone. Servants show respect before their masters. Even pagans have kneeled to their idols and will Christians not kneel to the true God? “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). What bodily posture is more fitting when coming into God’s presence to receive grace from the Giver of all grace? This is the posture of humble suppliants, meekly kneeling upon our knees. God indeed is “a spirit” to be worshipped “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). He is to be worshipped primarily in spirit but not in spirit only. Learn from Paul who said “I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:14).