What is prayer?
I believe that the glory of God is the most ultimate and supreme and majestic reason behind everything, so I want to begin a series of posts on prayer but feel I must start in seeing prayer in relation to God’s glory. So, my first answer to the question ‘What is Prayer?’ is this: prayer is the pursuit of God’s glory.
In Psalm 50:15 we read, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Similarly in John 14:13 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So, the ultimate reason we’re to call on God in days of trouble, and to come before God in Christ’s name with our requests is so that God would be glorified. When God brings us out of the day of trouble His goal is His glory. When God hears and grants our requests in Christ’s name His goal is His glory. God desires to be glorified in our prayer. One question we may ask at this point is how? God says He wants to be glorified when in prayer, that is clear, but how does He want to be glorified in our prayer? Think of like this.
Suppose you are completely paralyzed and all you can do is talk.[i] Then suppose your brother promised to live with you for the rest of your life to care for you and do for you what you are no longer able to do. Then suppose one day afterwards someone decides to visit you. So they get ready, come to the door and ring the doorbell. Your brother then opens the door, lets them in, and brings them to your room. In that moment how would you make much of your brother’s humble willingness to live with you and care for you? Would you try and get up out of bed, and clean yourself and your room up to make room for your guest? Of course not. No, you would call out to your brother for help. Help to be propped up, help with your glasses to see your visitor, help to clean up your room a bit so your visitor can sit down with you. After seeing your brother help you, your visitor would learn two things from watching this. First, they would learn how needy you are. And second, they would learn how kind and able and strong your brother is.
Prayer is very similar. By coming to God in the day of trouble, and by coming to God with your needs in Christ’s name, you are shown to be needy and weak, unable to do for yourself what you most need to do. But your neediness isn’t the only thing on display here. What else is on display? God’s power and strength to provide the help we need. So how God glorified in prayer? God is glorified in prayer because prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as strong. To not pray is like having the rooms of your house wallpapered in Target gift cards while you keep shopping at Goodwill because you can’t read.[ii] To not pray is like being a bus driver and trying to push your bus out of a ditch on the side of the road unaware that Clark Kent is on board.[iii] Remember what Jesus said to the Woman at the well? In John 4:10, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” If you knew…you would ask! Therefore those who labor in prayer are those who know two things. They know how needy and helpless they are, and they know how willing and able and strong God is in Christ toward those who believe.
Charles Spurgeon once used the famous tale Robinson Crusoe as an illustration in a sermon. He said this, “Robinson Crusoe had been wrecked. He is left on the desert island all alone. His case is a very pitiable one. He goes to his bed, and he is smitten with fever. This fever lasts upon him long, and he has no one to wait upon him – none to even bring him a drink of cold water. He is ready to perish. He had been accustomed to sin, and had all the vices of a sailor; but his hard case made him think. He opens a Bible which he finds in his chest, and he comes upon a passage, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God which marked the birth of the heavenly life.”[iv]
Spurgeon explained his use of Robinson Crusoe’s tale like this, “God and the praying man take shares…First here is your share “Call upon Me in the day of trouble…” Secondly here is God’s share “I will deliver you.” Again, we take a share “You shall be delivered.” And then God takes the final share “You shall glorify Me.” Here is a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to Him, and whom He helps. He says, “You shall have deliverance, but I must have the glory.” Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and…God gets the glory which is due to His name.”[v]
Church, see this great discovery about the nature of prayer. We do not glorify God in prayer by asking God if we can provide for His needs, but by asking that Him to provide ours and trusting Him to answer in His own wise and gracious time. Prayer is in a very real sense, giving up the effort of doing things in your own strength and hanging a help wanted sign around your neck.[vi] It is sitting back in the doctor’s chair and trusting the Great Physician to do what only the Great Physician can do.[vii] So yes, in all of life, and for our purposes here – in our prayer, if God is to get the glory we are to act as receivers and not givers. This is how God is glorified in the prayer of His people. And more so, this is how we receive great joy. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So when we come with empty hands, acknowledging our neediness and depending on God to provide in His abundance, God is glorified and our joy is made full.
You’ve probably felt his influence throughout all of this, so I’ll just go ahead and quote him now to end. John Piper concludes his chapter on prayer in Desiring God like this, “Prayer pursues God’s glory by treating Him as the inexhaustible reservoir of hope and help. In prayer we admit our poverty and God’s prosperity, our bankruptcy and His bounty, our misery and His mercy. Therefore prayer highly exalts and glorifies God precisely by pursuing everything we long for in Him, and not in ourselves.”[viii]
Lord willing, we will continue next week discussing more of the nature of prayer.
[i] John Piper, Desiring God, page 160-161.
[ii] Ibid., page 162.
[iii] Ibid., page 162.
[iv] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 105. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 161.
[v] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 115. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 162.
[vi] John Piper, Desiring God, page 171.
[vii] Ibid., page 172.
[viii] Ibid., page 182.