Christians pray, Muslims pray, Hindus pray and even unreligious Aussies sometimes pray when life overwhelms them. However Christian prayer is profoundly different from the activities of other religions that may be referred to by the same word: “prayer.”
Christian prayer, like everything else in the Christian life, flows from the wonderful message of the gospel of Jesus Christ:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14)
To reverse Paul’s logic here: it is the message (“preaching”) that makes possible believing in the Lord; and believing in the Lord enables calling on him (“prayer”). “Believing” means confident trust. The distinctive quality of Christian prayer is the assured certainty of God’s favour and goodwill towards us. It has been demonstrated in Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:8). Only those who have come to know God’s love and mercy from the gospel message can actually call on him.
Circumstances and experiences in life can test this confidence. For many, tragedies — like the terrible fires over the summer, or the pandemic that has shaken the world, or the economic devastation that many are now facing — make a mockery of the message that God is kind and merciful. That is why hearing the message is essential. The display of God’s goodness towards us in Jesus Christ is so powerful that, by the working of the Holy Spirit, we can know his love even in the face of appalling experiences (see Romans 5:7).
We therefore approach our heavenly Father with confidence, expecting to receive his kindness and help according to our need (Hebrews 4:16). Christian prayer is marked by this God-given boldness and confidence that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:12).
Our prayers arise from this confidence. We boldly ask God to have mercy on us, our community, and our world. Our boldness comes from knowing God’s love for the whole world (see John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15; 2:4).
May I encourage you again to pray — and to keep on doing so.
John Woodhouse (Acting Senior Minister)