In addressing of the major concerns of ministers in his time, Andrew Murray writes
In a meeting of ministers there is probably no single sin which each one of us ought to acknowledge with deeper shame- ‘Guilty, verily guilty’ – than the sin of prayerlessness.
The Lord graciously so ordered it that we were gradually led to the sin of prayerlessness as one of the deepest roots of the evil. No one could plead himself free from this. Nothing so reveals the defective spiritual life in minister and congregation as the lack of believing and unceasing prayer. Prayer is in very deed the pulse of the spiritual life. It is the great means of bringing to minister and people the blessing and power of heaven. Persevering and believing prayer means a strong and an abundant life.
Much hasn’t changed in 200 years. Unfortunately, the same can be said today of us. The sin of prayerlessness continues to be a besetting sin for many and for many; it is the root cause of a spiritually deficient personal life. This ought not to be; rather, prayer was given to us as a means of grace. Scripture explicitly teaches this to us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16
When we go before God’s throne through our great High Priest, we find grace for our times of great weakness. For this reason, we are urged to come to the throne of grace in prayer. The believer trusting in the finished work of Christ brings the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, grieved by his obvious sinfulness and weakness.
The Sin of Prayerlessness
As mentioned in previous blogs, the early church devoted themselves to all of the means of grace: scriptures, fellowship, prayers, and the sacraments. What makes prayerlessness such a great sin? It is tempting to regard it as simply as weakness due to our lack of time and various distractions, but this only pacifies our guilt. I think there are two basic reasons.
First, it is a great reproach to God. God invites us to come to Him, to converse with Him, to ask from him such things as we need, and to experience the blessedness of fellowship with Him. Yet, if we were honest, we neglect and/or abuse this heavenly privilege. We claim that we do not have time to spend in prayer. If a friend comes to visit us from out of town, we would make the time (even at the cost of sacrifice) to see them for the sake of enjoying their company. The more honest statement is that we have time for everything that personally interests us, but we don’t have time to fellowship with God and delight ourselves in Him. We choose to neglect this heavenly privilege because we know that He will always be there for us. It is a great dishonor to acknowledge that we don’t have great interest in the One who redeemed us and purchased us by His own blood. This is the sinfulness of our prayerlessness.
Second, it is the cause of a spiritually deficient life. The sin of prayerlessness is a proof for the ordinary Christian or minister that the life of God in the soul is in deadly sickness and weakness. Many complain about the weakness of the American church to fulfill her calling in the Great Commission, to deliver its members from the power of the world, and to bring them to a life of consecration to God. Although I disagree with such sentiments, a chief cause for the lack of conviction and maturity in many Christians is due to their lack of prayer and communion with God. Prayer is one of the few weapons in our spiritual warfare against our indwelling sin and we neglect it to our peril. This is particularly true of the leaders of our churches. How can an elder lead his members to a life of prayer if he himself doesn’t do it himself? A minister cannot lead a congregation higher than he is himself. In other words, he cannot with enthusiasm and experiential knowledge point out a way in which he is not himself walking or living.
A Full Knowledge of God
Not all Protestant traditions include prayer as a means of grace for different reasons. There are those who believe the means of grace should be objective, external actions and signs that communicate His grace, and thus, prayer is excluded as an ordinary means of grace because it is too subjective in nature. I will not introduce an argument here that has been discussed thoroughly already, but my experience has convinced me that the grace necessary to overcome sin and weakness is obtained through persevering prayer (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6). There is no need to reject the subjective nature of the Christian life. Knowing God is not purely based on the objective knowledge from the scriptures, but it also comes through the subjective, experiential knowledge that comes through communion with Him. Rather, both forms of knowledge inform each other. My experiential life with God is corrected and constrained by the Scriptures and my personal study of the scriptures has come alive because of prayer.
One of the major criticisms that Reformed believers receive is that our walk with God is purely an intellectual one that may not affect our passions, emotions, and overall lifestyle. I would agree that there are some believers who understand the doctrine of God properly, yet live a life that would contradict that due to their arrogance and carnality. I know this because I saw myself drifting in this direction. However, when I became convicted on my own prayerlessness and began to devote myself to prayer, this completely changed. I knew then that the experiential knowledge of God and the objective knowledge of God was a false dichotomy; both are essential and both inform each other. Prayer, in its subjective nature, is just as much of a means of grace as the Lord’s Supper. The character of persevering prayer is just as much of an external sign of His grace and a communication of His grace as the other ordinary means of grace.
It was through prayer that my theology became the grounds and motivation for proper worship. It was through prayer that I understood the full ramifications of my radical depravity (cf. Romans 3:9-19) and by which I was radically humbled by God (which comes through grace; cf. 1 Peter 5:5). It was through prayer that I saw the full sovereignty of God in the scriptures and developed great awe of Him (cf. Job 42:1-6). It was through prayer that I understood the love demonstrated towards me in election, not based on my merit, but by His decision (cf. Romans 8:29-39). It was through prayer that I marveled at the wisdom of God in salvation (cf. Romans 11:28-36). It was through prayer that I understood the cross of Christ and I identified with this verse from a popular hymn
Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.
Because of God’s grace given to me through prayer, the doctrines of the scriptures and my theology became doxology. The objective knowledge of God cannot be separated from the experiential, subjective knowledge of God. For this reason, the grace received from Christ Jesus is deeply connected to a full knowledge of God (cf. 2 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 3:18). Moreover, the grace of God was not meant to be a solely objective doctrine that one finds eternal security, but it is also meant to be experienced so that our lives are marked and transformed by it. Consider the words that Paul wrote to Titus
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
Typically when a Christian becomes convinced of his sin in this matter, his first though is that he must begin to strive, with God’s help, to gain the victory over it. However, he soon experience that his striving is worth little, and the discouraging thought comes over him that such a life is not possible – he cannot continue being faithful. Andrew Murray has words of comfort and encouragement for us
… and this indeed is the condition of many Christians when called on to persevere in prayer as intercessors. They feel it is certainly something entirely beyond their reach – they have not the power for the self-sacrifice and consecration necessary for such prayer; they shrink from the effort and struggle which will, as they suppose, make them unhappy. They have tried in the power of the flesh to conquer the flesh – a wholly impossible thing. They have endeavoured by Beelzebub to cast out Beelzebub and this can never happen. It is Jesus alone who can subdue the flesh and the devil.
We have spoken of a struggle which will certainly result in disappointment and discouragement. This is the effort made in our own strength. But there is another struggle which will certainly lead to victory. The Scripture speaks of ‘the good fight of faith’, that is to say, a fight which springs from and is carried on by faith. We must get right conceptions about faith and stand fast in our faith. Jesus Christ is ever the author and finisher of faith. It is when we come into right relationship with him that we can be sure of the help and power he bestows. Just, then, as earnestly as we must, in the first place. say: ‘Do not strive in your own strength; cast yourself at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and wait upon him in the sure confidence that he is with you, and works in you’; so do we, in the second place, say: ‘Strive in prayer; let faith fill your heart – so will you be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’
In essence, there is no “secret” to prayer. There are no super holy men and women who have ascended the heights and know the secrets of prayer. God does not tell us to find spiritual masters with secret, esoteric, prayer techniques to train us on how to pray properly. The key is perseverance under the power of the Holy Spirit. Murray continues
Do you not begin to see, my reader, that there are two kinds of warfare – the first when we seek to conquer prayerlessness in our own strength. In that case, my advice to you is: ‘Give over your restlessness and effort; fall helpless at the feet of the Lord Jesus; he will speak the word, and your soul will live.’ If you have done this, then, second, comes the message: ‘This is but the beginning of everything. It will require deep earnestness, and the exercise of all your power, and a watchfulness of the entire heart – eager to detect the least backsliding. Above all, it will require a surrender to a life of self sacrifice that God really desires to see in us and which he will work out for us.’
There are many individuals who have written books (see here) and spoke wonderful sermons (see here) to encourage us to be devoted to prayer. Let us follow the example of the apostles and the early church in devoting ourselves to prayer, knowing that God will do perform the extraordinary with the ordinary practice of prayer.