This post is by Daniel Davis (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Daniel serves as the content editor for The Gospel Project for Adults and student pastor at Edgefield Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Prayer and Spiritual Formation
It is my kids’ bedtime routine to brush teeth, go to the bathroom, kiss Mom goodnight, pray, and then conclude with Dad’s hugs and kisses. On one evening, my 2-year-old prayed like this: “Thank You, God, for this day—(and then dropping into his Batman voice)—Thank You for Mom, Dad, brother, and sister. Thank You for Jesus, amen.” Needless to say, there was laughter in the room from everyone—followed by some gentle correction.
As with most spiritual disciplines, prayer is subject to misuse through our own sinful tendencies, whether by rote or intent. In each case, the motivation is self-centered and selfish. For a 2-year-old, it is silly entertainment for a laugh. Growing older, we see how sinister our misuse of prayer can become—to be noticed by others (Matt. 6:5); to manipulate God (Matt. 6:7); to satisfy our evil desires (James 4:3).
If the misuse of prayer is self-focused, then the right use of prayer should draw us out of ourselves into communion with our God, our Maker, our Redeemer, seeking His glory through requests for us and on behalf of others. Consider afresh how the discipline of prayer should shape our minds and our hearts according to the pattern of the gospel:
To the Father
Jesus gave us the pattern of praying to God our Father. Like a child bringing a request to her dad, we go to our Father with our needs—daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance (Matt. 6:9-13). But in a much greater way than with a human dad, we know some certain things about our Father:
- He is the Creator and worthy of all honor, glory, and praise; so prayer is an act of humble and faithful submission to our God. In fact, the very act of prayer is an admission that we need Him—and this brings honor to our Maker and Sustainer.
- He is all-knowing and infinitely good; so we can trust Him to provide for us all that we need, even when we go without.
- He is perfectly holy, and we are not, save for the grace of Jesus’ righteousness bestowed upon us through faith. To address this holy God as “Father” is a grace too deep for words as we were once enemies in sin now adopted into His family!
In the Name of the Son
“In Jesus’ name” should be much more than a rote tagline at the end of our prayers. Rather, “In Jesus’ name” frames the totality of our prayers to our Father because without the mediatory work of our Savior, we would have no access to our holy God. When we pray in the name of the Son, we are stating our faith once again in the good news that Jesus died in our place for our sins and rose from the dead securing our life with and access to God our Father for eternity.
In the Power of the Spirit
The transforming work of the gospel is applied to our hearts through the indwelling Holy Spirit, through whom we know we belong to the Father and that Jesus is our Savior. But the need for sanctification arises because we continue to struggle with sin and find ourselves weak in the flesh. This also bears itself out in our prayers. Through our limited knowledge and tendency toward selfishness, we must come to the Father in prayer with humility and recognizing our weakness, but we also come with hope knowing the Spirit helps us in our weakness, even interceding for us (Rom. 8:26-27). In humility, our prayers are undergirded by the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit that the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God for ourselves and for others might come to pass.
Prayer is called a spiritual discipline because it requires effort, but the benefits are worth it. If we call upon God simply out of mindless habit, we will be missing constant opportunities to recall the love and grace of our great God shown to us through the gospel of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit.