Recently, during an open prayer session in church, a man prayed like this:
Lord, it is only at the foot of the cross that we can be forgiven of our sins and know you as our Father. We deserve your condemnation, but in your love you sent your Son to die in our place. Your Word says that you are creating a people from every nation as they come to you at the foot of the cross.
Lord I thank you for people you have brought today from other nations [a new family from overseas had moments before walked into the church!]. Please make us a church that wants to reach people from every nation with the gospel of Jesus and that welcomes them, so that together we might come to you at the foot of the cross. Amen.
My “amen” was loud. This prayer was a response to the love and the plan of God for his people and his world, a plan revealed in the Scriptures with its climax in Jesus Christ and his death. In short, this man’s prayer arose from a heart informed by and captured by the gospel. As I look out on my city, state, and world, I ask God to raise up more people to pray and live like that.
We tend to think prayer is a ‘gift’ given to some and not others. Not so. Prayer is a privilege given to all adopted by the Father through the Son and the Spirit (Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-7). Moreover each believer may approach the “throne of grace with boldness . . . to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Here we also see how it is that the gospel that rescues is also the gospel that shapes our prayers. “Mercy” and “grace” are “gospel” words. We don’t need to make up new words or ideas when we pray; we just need to follow along the path God has already laid down. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is Jesus’ guide to effective prayer.
Another example of gospel-shaped prayer is Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 9:37 to ask the Father to “send out labourers into the harvest”. We rightly see this as preparation for the disciples (and the readers of the gospel) for the great commission in Matthew 28:16-20 to “go and make disciples of all nations”. But what should our motive be in reaching out to the nations with the gospel? According to Matthew 9:36, Jesus’ prayer exhortation arises from his compassion for the crowds: “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Gospel-shaped prayers and ministries come from mercy-shaped hearts. We know how to pray because “once we were lost and now we have been found”.
Our brother was moved to pray in church for the lost who have come to Perth—including those in the building. We may be moved by God to pray for the lost and needy in our local context. At the present time we are also very aware of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world undergoing severe persecution. With the saints above we are crying out “How long?” (Revelation 6:10). Whatever our focus, let us pray confident that the Father who loves us also hears us when we ask in his Son’s name.
Rev Dr Donald West is Principal of Trinity Theological College, Leederville. His article, which was first published in Trinity News (Spring 2014), is reprinted by permission.