Many of us are dissatisfied with our prayer life. It could be that we never really got started on one. It may be that we are not entirely convinced of its importance. Most do not pray like Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, or George Whitfield. We don’t give four hours a day to the discipline. If you’re dissatisfied with your prayer life, then jump in the boat with me and learn its importance, because that’s what I’m learning right now. I, too, am dissatisfied. And if you’re like me, we’re in good company. We’re sitting in the same boat as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He confessed in Preaching and Preachers, “I approach the next matter with great diffidence, much hesitation, and a sense of utter unworthiness. I suppose we all fail at this next point more than anywhere else; that is in the matter of prayer.”
Why do we feel this overall sense of failure with our prayer life? It could be that in spite of our best efforts, we never seem to see results. We or our friends still suffer, we are still under the same vice, that relationship does not improve, and we can’t seem to find a (better) job or favor at the job we have.
So rather than pray, we distract ourselves with new toys or projects. We turn to other relationships for help, rather than that single most important relationship with our Creator. We tell ourselves we don’t have enough time. What we need to do is keep working, take control, and find our own solution. If nothing else, we insulate ourselves from all this failure.
This is a result of our fallen condition. We live in a tension where we are prone to revert back to depending upon ourselves rather than God. But if we believe the gospel, we’ll devote ourselves to the discipline of prayer, but not just any kind of prayer—extraordinary prayer.
Extraordinary prayer is when we pray with our brothers and sisters in Christ that prayer of most importance—to see the Kingdom explode. Jonathan Edwards discusses this in his book, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People, in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. Sheesh, that’s some title! And it says it all. Edwards looks at Zechariah 8:20-22 and discusses that the primary vehicle God uses to fuel people for Kingdom work is prayer. Here are those verses:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.”
This passage is packed with a little systematic theology. We have a word from the Lord, “Thus says the Lord.” We have a word about salvation, “People will yet come.” We have a word about evangelism, “The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying…” We have a word about prayer, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord.” We have a word about the Church, “Many peoples and strong nations shall come and seek the Lord.” All of this is built within the context of a still future time, a time that you and I long for even now.
Imbedded in the essence of Zechariah 8:20-22 is the driver of prayer, a relationship with God, and union with the Creator. Zechariah 3:8-10 and 6:12-13 talk about a Righteous Branch, who is God’s servant. All people will be united with one another under His vine. They will all be grafted together. That Branch will build the temple of God with the help of those who are far off. The days will come when there will be nothing but praise and worship, peace and joy. How will this come to God’s people? Zechariah 4:6-7 answers, “Not by might, nor by power, but my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts…And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” O glory! That Branch is Jesus Christ and that temple is the Church.
And in the midst of it all, God calls His people, who are united to Christ and to one another, to the extraordinary task of prayer. We’re not talking just about you praying in your closet, or you praying with a couple friends. We’re talking about all nations coming together towards one end—to praise and pray to the Lord of all.
A Sobering Thought about Our Lack of Prayer
If prayer is a symbol of our unity with Christ and one another, could our lack of enthusiasm about prayer be a symbol of a lack of unity with Christ and one another?
Now, I’m not trying to cause you to question the assurance of your salvation. And I’m not saying that struggling from time to time in our prayer life is a sign of no faith. Certainly, it is a sign of weak faith, and it is a sign of needing repentance. Therefore, we should repent and start practicing prayer.
But, my question for you is: do you desire to repent about your prayer life? If you wish to put forth no effort whatsoever to rescue a shipwrecked prayer life, you may not have ever believed the gospel. Our unity with Christ will, of necessity, produce certain fruits. Prayer is one of those fruits.
If that’s you, then listen closely again. Listen to the gospel as told by Psalm 102:16-22. We are spiritually poor and destitute people. God has heard our cry. He wishes to set free we sinners who are doomed to die. He sent the Righteous Branch, Jesus Christ, to die in our place. Jesus suffered death on a cross, but rose from the grave. That death he suffered was for us sinners, and He offers eternal life to all those who repent of their sin and believe that He is Lord. If that’s never clicked for you, then appropriate these truths and walk in newness of life. Believe that Jesus is God, and confess that He is Lord. And get to practicing extraordinary prayer.
Everything in this life is a rehearsal for eternity. That includes our prayer life now. Christians have the deep pleasure of being united with Christ. We have the blessing of sonship. Galatians 4:6 explains, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba Father!” That union drives us to cry out to God; it moves us to prayer. And as sons (and daughters) we are not just united to Christ in prayer, but we are united to one another in prayer. Matthew 18:19-20 exhorts: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This should be stimulus enough for our prayer life. Our union with Christ makes prayer a discipline where we show utter dependence and helplessness. It is where we express deep affection for Christ and His ways. In prayer with our brothers and sisters we demonstrate union with them.
Extraordinary expressions of public prayer allow us to take responsibility for our Church family. When we pray together, we ask for protection from our dual enemies: sin and Satan. Public prayer is a visible expression of our love for one another. It is a vehicle for stimulating passion for an explosion of the Kingdom.
If you are not in the habit of a personal prayer life, I encourage you to get into practice. If your church is not in the practice of demonstrating extraordinary prayer, I encourage you to exhort the leaders of your church to put that in place.
The kind of extraordinary prayer that Jonathan Edwards encouraged may happen in small groups, Sunday school, or in corporate worship. But primarily, Edwards had in mind regular times of people from many denominations coming together for a concert of prayer. In other words, there was a coordinated prayer meeting movement. If your church has never had, or stopped having, regular or occasional prayer meetings, perhaps it is time to evaluate that decision.
One day, we will all be praying together, regardless of our theological nuances, socio-economical distinctions, or cultural origin. We will all seek the face of the Lord and entreat His favor. Robert Murray McCheyne said, “O believing brethren! What an instrument God hath put into your hands! Prayer moves Him who moves the universe.” May we be moved to pray extraordinarily!
Joey Cochran (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) follows Christ, is the husband of Kendall, and the father of Chloe, Asher, and Adalie. He is the pastor of middle school discipleship and communication at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois and a PhD student in Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.