“I’m not very good at prayer.”
So Christians often criticize themselves, perhaps comparing their prayers to the flamboyant offerings of the preachers they see on television or YouTube. Jesus had harsh words for the flamboyant pray-ers of His day, the Pharisees. “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” (Matthew 23:5). In one of his parables (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus approved of the humble, repentant prayer of a tax collector, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” compared to the audacious prayer of a Pharisee, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.”
Prayer acceptable to God is prayer offered in humility, repentance, and faith. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17). The effectiveness of prayer is not dependent on well-polished words, dramatic gesture, pain-inducing postures, or manipulated emotions. Prayer is not effective because of our efforts, but because of the effectiveness of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. There is no secret formula of words, repetitions, or phrases that can make your prayer more powerful. Christ’s invitation to pray, coupled with his promise to hear and answer our prayers, empowers our prayers. 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 4:16).
Whether you realized it or not, your prayers offered in faith in Christ have always been powerful and effective. Your prayer may be simple and hurried, like Peter’s prayer as he began to sink below the waves: “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). But that little prayer was immediately effective! Answering those three short words, Jesus took Peter by the hand and saved him from drowning.
The hardships of living in our own weakness-of-flesh sometimes makes conscious prayer impossible. You sleep through the night without consciously praying, yet God still watches over you. The day may come when dementia, Alzheimer’s, coma, or the hour of death will make you physically and mentally unable to pray, but even then, prayers persist on your behalf. Scripture teaches that the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, and even when we do not know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). And because Jesus has risen from the tomb and ascended into heaven, you have an Advocate with the Father who constantly intercedes for you (Romans 8:34).
You do know how to pray. You can be confident that God loves to hear your prayers and He promises to answer. And best of all, behind and beyond all your prayers you have God the Holy Spirit praying for you. You have Christ, your Advocate with the Father, interceding for you in heaven, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Take comfort in that knowledge!
Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which at the mercy seat of God
For ever doth for sinners plead,
For me, e’en for my soul was shed.
Reverend Karl Anderson
Heritage Lutheran Church
Apple Valley, MN