Why do Christians bother to pray?
It’s a good question to be asking at the start of Lent, a time traditionally set aside for contemplation and prayer. For many of us, prayer is something we know that we ought to be doing as Christians, but it can be surprisingly difficult to motivate ourselves to get on and do it. So why should we bother?
At the heart of the Bible’s answer to that question is the fundamental relationship that we enjoy with God. For the Christian is someone who has been adopted – by rights we are far from God and deserve absolutely nothing from him, but by his lavish grace, through Jesus, not because of anything we’ve done, we can be called God’s own children. What a remarkable truth that is – if only we would really grasp it!
As God’s children, it’s only natural that we should want to talk to our heavenly father. Prayer, then, is an expression of our complete dependence on him, our helplessness to do things by our own strength. No wonder, then, that straight after giving his disciples that most famous of prayers, the “Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus turns to this relationship we enjoy with God to motivate them to pray:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
If you then, who are evil, will give your children good things when they ask for them, how much more will our gracious God! Of course God will be gracious to us if we ask him – it’s in his very nature. He’s hardly going to be less generous than a human father is towards his children!
That’s the motivation that Jesus gives for his exhortation to pray:
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Ask, because you know that God wants to give it to you. It’s not saying that absolutely everything I ask for will be given immediately in exactly the way I was hoping for – this isn’t a promise for the gift of a new laptop just because I fancy one. The specific example that Jesus gives here is “the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – so this is in the context of God-centred prayer that is described to us in the Lord’s Prayer itself, praying for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. But we shouldn’t let that diminish the force of this promise – God will answer our prayers, if only we’ll get on and pray!
A little extra help
Even given this wonderful encouragement to pray, there are still many distractions and temptations in the world. Personally, I find I need all the help I can get, so that’s why I built the PrayerMate mobile app, now on iOS and Android. This Lent, I am going to be running a series of blog posts under the title of PrayerMate Amnesty Week. I know that getting going with PrayerMate takes a bit of an investment of time, and I’m hearing from a lot of people that they have downloaded the app and are full of good intentions, but just haven’t quite got around to setting it up yet. PrayerMate Amnesty Week is an opportunity to put that right. Starting from Monday 10th March, I’ll be posting a new blog post each day, with a bit of encouragement to pray, along with some practical tips on getting going with the app. At the end of each post I’ll give you some homework to go away and do by yourself with the app.