Prayer is the interactive work of the Word, Holy Spirit and human intellect that God uses to build a relationship between himself and individuals. Through prayer God molds human hearts and minds into Christ’s likeness and allows us individually and corporately to participate with Him in his work in the earth. Prayer is the appointed means of unleashing the transformative power of God in both the physical and spiritual dimensions of human existence.
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,” Jesus told us in John 4:24. Because God is an invisible spirit, one of our great challenges as human beings is to trust what we cannot see. We have even greater difficulty building a relationship with the unseen and inaudible, with one who transcends all the parameters of our physical existence. Yet God is also a person who desires to have a relationship with us. The very foundation of saving faith is knowing God personally, as Jesus also told us: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).Prayer is the means of unleashing the transformative power of God. - Loren Gjesdal Click To Tweet
Prayer Builds Relationship with God
So how do we build a relationship with someone we cannot see and whom we cannot usually audibly hear? Jesus answered the question when he told us to worship God in spirit and truth. Prayer is the means of connecting our intangible consciousness (our spirit) with the consciousness of God (his spirit). Jesus also reveals that this relationship is mediated and regulated by scripture (truth) and Jesus himself. Paul succinctly tells the Ephesian church that “through Him [Jesus] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18).
That God is a person we can know and relate to personally is clearly exemplified in Moses’ experience with God as related in Exodus 33:11: “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” Although Moses had the unusual distinction of conversing with God audibly, his experience demonstrates that God is not an impersonal force but a personality that we can know relationally and interact with. It also gives us a definition of prayer that any child can understand: Prayer is speaking with God. “Prayer is continuing a conversation that God started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.” 1Prayer is speaking with God. - Loren Gjesdal Click To Tweet
Beyond the awesome possibility of a personal, interactive relationship with the eternal creator and only living God is the amazing truth that somehow our prayers participate with God in the spiritual realm with effects visible in the physical realm. James tells us that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months” (James 5:17.)
The spiritual weapon of prayer has results in the world around us. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor 10:13-14). D. A. Carson in his book Praying with Paul writes, “Paul understands real praying to include an element of struggle, discipline, work, spiritual agonizing against the dark powers of evil.” 2
Prayer is Interaction
The interaction between the spiritual, physical and intellect in our prayer with God is not to be unidirectional, however. If God’s primary desire is to build relationship with us, then some component of the interaction must be directed back to us. Although our prayers participate in and produce results in the spiritual and physical realm around us, God’s greatest work through prayer is to produce transformative work inside us—“Not change in physical circumstances but a deepening of relationship—to take hold of God,” 3 according to Keller.
Or as Carson puts it, “Part of this business of prayer is getting to know God better; part of it is learning his mind and will.…” 4 This is the point at which the written Word becomes an anchor tying our prayers to the revealed will of God and ensuring that God does not become a genie granting our every wish. This is why John puts a caveat in his encouragement to pray: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14, emphasis mine).
Pray through Scripture
For me personally allowing scripture to be the inspiration and guide to my prayers has been powerful. Not only am I led to know who God is better and praise him appropriately, I am also led to know what to pray about. By praying through scripture, I am allowing his spirit to align my heart and will with his. Paul’s examples of prayers for the churches have given me a rich list of priorities for prayer that are the revealed will of God. Many of Paul’s prayers for the church center on growing in knowledge of God and in Christ-like character, as in Colossians 1:9-10, Ephesians 1:17 and Philippians 1:9-10. The direct fruit of such prayers, in accordance to his will, is both my transformation and an improving church.
Prayer has also become the catalyst of discerning and obeying God’s leading more fully in my life while trusting his sovereignty and experiencing greater peace. “Biblical faith sees submission to the will of God coming after the attempt to discover his will through heartfelt supplication.” 5 The process through which God responds to my prayers are teaching me to trust God. As Carson puts it, “…God may not answer immediately, that is part of his wisdom to wait, even to resist us, so that we may exercise our faith and pursue him with sincerity.” 6
Pray to a Loving Father
Carson uses the picture of a father to help illustrate how God shapes our character, teaches us about himself and deepens our relationship with him through his response to our prayers. “If a boy asks his father for several things…the father may give him one of them right away, delay giving him another, decline to give him a third, set up a condition for a fourth.” “…the wise father is more interested in a relationship with his son than merely giving him things.” 7
The picture of a loving father gently shaping the character of his child is probably the most powerful revelation of the relational purpose of prayer intended for all believers to experience. “…You have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15). The word abba is highly significant in describing the intimate relationship God desires with his children, one in which we are privileged to call God “daddy.” “…Abba is so personal, so familiar a term that no one ever dared use it in address to the great God of the universe—no one until Jesus.” 8
Watch for Part 2 coming soon!
Still have questions about how you fit into Christian leadership? Check out these resources:
- How You Can Clarify Your Calling
- Fulfilling Your Purpose: How “The Call” Can Clarify Your Focus
- Why Jesus-Followers Should See Themselves as Leaders
Want to dive even deeper into discovering your vocation? Download our free guide to Discovering Your Leadership Strengths and consider taking Artios Christian College’s five-week introductory course, Essentials of Vibrant Leadership (LEA 111).
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- Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. (New York: Penguin Group, 2014) 45. ↩
- D.A. Carson. Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014) 188. ↩
- Keller, 19-20 ↩
- Carson, 201 ↩
- Walter E Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 2001) 947. ↩
- Carson, 96 ↩
- Carson, 13 ↩
- Foster, 134 ↩