Prayer is central to our Christian lives and a vital dimension of our relationship with God. Without prayer, our lives would wither. We would lose our lifeline to the source of our faith: God’s love for us, salvation in Jesus Christ, and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in us every day.
Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had much to say about prayer, and they said it very robustly. Their discussions of prayer are a rich resource for us. They show us aspects of prayer that can shape and energize our prayer lives every day.
Know that God wants us to pray. We pray because God commands it and because God invites us to pray. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-14 so that we can address God in a most personal way and sense the depth of God’s loving care for us. Prayer is a most blessed gift. God bids us, “Call upon me” (Psalm 50:15).
Pray with a focus. The Reformers saw our prayers as having two major dimensions: thanks and petition. We thank God—with all that is within us—for who God is and what God has done. We petition God, making requests for what is important to us and what we believe aligns with God’s will. The heartbeat of prayer is our gratitude and our requests: thanks and petition.
Be honest with God. There is no use trying to fool God or to be less than candid. God knows us. In prayer, we can be completely and radically honest with God, open our hearts, and cry from our hearts to the Lord. God hears and cares. As Luther said, “Regardless of what it is, just throw it in a pile before Him, as you open your heart completely to a good friend”. Tell God all. Call out to God in your grief. Identify the cry of your heart. Stop holding back the tears. Spend time on your knees. Listen to music that helps you know what you feel. Write out the words you have been holding back. Rely on the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you when you don’t know how to pray.
Trust God’s will and answers. When we pray, we pray in faith, believing God will answer our prayers according to God’s will and purposes. This is our great comfort and confidence as we face life. God knows what is best for us, and by praying we open ourselves—in faith—to receiving God’s answers. We leave all things to God. We believe God’s will can be trusted.
Watch for God’s answers. God hears and answers our prayers. We need to be open and to watch for the ways God’s answers come. God uses various means through which our prayers can be answered. If we think God should only answer in one way (our way), we may miss what God is doing and how God is working to answer us—in totally unexpected ways!
Persevere and be patient. It is so hard for us to be patient. We want everything now! But John Hopper urged two things: perseverance in prayer and patient expectation that God will act. We pray…and keep on praying! As we do, we wait patiently for the Lord to hear us (Psalm 40:1) God promises to answer our prayers, however long it takes. Persevere and be patient.
Prayer for others. It is easy for our prayer lives to become very self-focused. We are to present our needs and desires to God. But we are also to love others by presenting their needs to God as well. Our prayers can touch others, can bless others. We tell God the needs of others and our loving hopes that they will be blessed. Our love for others means we pray for others.
All our prayers are for God’s glory. Our prayer lives can be energized when we realize, as the martyr Hugh Latimer said, “the greatest comfort in the world to talk with God, and to call upon Him.” Let us pray…!