God’s glorious salvation is a multifaceted wonder! God has seen to every aspect of that salvation, from the election of the church in Christ and the redemption in His cross, to the full working out of salvation by the Spirit. The goal and culmination of this salvation is life within the everlasting covenant of grace in the new heavens and earth.
Thus, those whom God saves are not only delivered from sin and death, they are also incorporated into the covenant. That covenant life is blessed, intimate fellowship with God. God draws near to His people by His Word, revealing Himself and His salvation. He dwells in them by the Spirit of Christ, who through the same Word testifies to the elect of their adoption unto sons. But this covenantal communication is not all one sided, that is, only from God to His people. Rather, God gives to His people the blessing of prayer, enabling them to commune with God.
Since prayer is part of covenant fellowship, it is important to understand the nature of the covenant. The covenant is a relationship of love and friendship that God sovereignly establishes with His chosen people in Jesus Christ. It is established with believers and their seed—not all their natural children, obviously, but the children of the promise. The covenant is with Jacob, not Esau. Thus it is with those children of believers who are chosen in Christ.
That covenant of grace flows out of the covenantal life in God Himself. The triune God is eternally active within Himself. Father, Son, and Spirit dwell in perfect communion. Being one essence, they three are of one mind in all things. However, being three distinct persons, they have personal interaction and fellowship.
In that life, the Father eternally begets the Son of His love in His own image and ever delights in Him. The Son reflects the perfections of the Father with filial delight. And the Spirit, searching the deep things of the Father, proceeds with that knowledge from the Father to the Son as the Spirit of love. Then, the Spirit, knowing the mind of the Son, returns to the Father, breathing the Son’s love. This is an intimate life of fellowship, of sharing secrets, of mutual delighting in one another.
The covenant God determined to bring a people into that covenant life for His own glory and delight. He willed to share His secrets with His people (Ps. 25:14). He would dwell with them in time (Ex. 25:8) and in eternity (Rev. 21:3). God determined to make His people active in His covenant life, causing them to know Him and enjoy His friendship.
What an astounding relationship! On the one hand is the sovereign God. He is the God of infinite fullness, needing nothing to complete Him. Eternally self-sufficient is He, and no creature makes God more glorious or blessed than He is eternally in Himself. Then there is man—a rational creature of the dust. God formed man in His own image so that fellowship might be a possibility. Man, unlike all other creatures of this creation, can know God. Man can also think and will, hope and dream. Man can love and enjoy friendship with other creatures, that is, with other men and women. But how can carnal, earthy man fellowship with the invisible and infinite God?
God bridges that gap, as already stated, with the gift of prayer. With prayer, God gives His people the right and ability at any given moment or place, to pause in the earthly activities, and by a profoundly spiritual activity to enter the presence of Almighty God, there to speak to Him. Man fellowships with God in prayer! Astounding!
Since prayer is a reality only in the covenant, the nature of the covenant determines the nature of prayer.
It is commonly held that the covenant is conditional, and that God establishes the covenant but both God and man are responsible to maintain it. Not only is that conception of the covenant unscrip-tural, it ruins prayer. Where both “parties” have stipulations to meet for the covenant to be maintained, the covenant creature would soon avoid prayer. For what could such a man pray? He could not honestly pray that he had kept the conditions. Besides, if a man truly believes that the covenant relationship depends on his activity, he will be out “doing” not praying. That notion that the covenant, and thus God’s blessing, depends on man was the error of Job’s friend Bildad. He insisted that only if Job were pure and upright would God hear his prayer (Job 8:5, 6). This view would soon lead the child of God to despair, since he knows that he cannot measure up to God’s demands. The alternative is hypocrisy. This was the sin of the Pharisee who came in prayer thanking God that he was not as other men, and therefore God must surely hear him (Luke 18:11).
But thanks be to God, the covenant does not depend on us in any way. God, the sovereign God, establishes His covenant with us in Jesus Christ, the covenant Head. In Him, and because of Him, the covenant is never broken off—never. Knowing that, the believer draws near to God only in the blessed name of His Son. There is no other way to the Father.
And God delights in the prayers of His people. Jehovah draws His own to Himself with bands of love. By His Word He reminds them of His infinite love, the love that was demonstrated beyond doubt in the sacrifice of His Son. “You are forgiven,” He assures us. “I am thy Father, and you are My people. Come ye and let us commune together.” By the power of God’s Spirit, His people respond in prayer.
Prayer is, therefore, thankful praise—it is worship. The believer recognizes that he is but a creature of the dust and vile. Consciously entering into God’s presence, he drops to his knees in humble adoration. Prayer enables the believer to commune with God, but never as an equal. Prayer should be intimate fellowship, but it is never casual. Believers worship God through prayer.
Prayer is thankful worship. It is the chief means of expressing thanks to God. By means of words, the believer conveys something of the true thankfulness that floods his soul. He is able to put into words the reasons for which he gives thanks, why he is grateful, and to what degree, though even these words are inadequate. The redeemed sinner does not go though life tongue-tied and frustrated, forced to wait until he arrives in heaven to express his profound appreciation for the multitude of heavenly blessings that he enjoys. He is able to communicate his thankful praise in his own words every day of his life.
Given that the covenant relationship is between God, the overflowing fountain of all good, and His dependent people, the believer of necessity also makes requests in his prayers. God gave prayer for this purpose, though not because He needs to be informed of the needs of His children, for He knows all. Rather, petitions are fitting for the covenant life of God’s spiritual family. Even in earthly family life, children easily overlook the goodness of their parents. So do God’s children. Thus God instructs them to make requests, specific requests, in order that when He supplies their needs, His people will be conscious of His blessings. “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” God commands, adding, “I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Ask even, taught the Lord, for your daily bread.
Since prayer is communing with God, it is understandable that He abhors vain repetitions, and He forbids men praying long in order to impress their fellows (Matt. 6:5-7). One can understand how abominable to Him are the false hearted, who “draw near to [Him] with their mouths…but have removed their heart far from [Him]” (Is. 29:13). Rather He would that you go into your closet to pray, and pray from the heart.
For what intimacy is found in prayer! The believer gives expression to the deepest thoughts of his heart. He confesses sins to God that he will not discuss with his closest earthly friend. The believer reveals weaknesses to God that are hidden from a spouse. What trust is manifest in prayer, that God is such a faithful Friend that He will not turn against the one who thus reveals his weaknesses, yea, even his inmost thoughts!
God knows all. The believer frequently comes to his God ashamed, indeed, unable sometimes even to lift up his face to heaven, for his sins are abominable. Yet the love of God in Christ is infinite and unchanging. There is complete forgiveness. There is a “forgetting” of sins such as friends in this life cannot completely attain. And God continues to reassure His covenant people—come unto Me; seek My face in prayer.
In harmony with the fact that God’s covenant is particular, that is, exclusively with His elect, prayer is also for them alone. In fact, the activity of praying marks the believer, distinguishing him from the unbeliever, both the brash “workers of iniquity … who call not upon the Lord” (Ps. 14:4), and the unfaithful who live in the church for a time, but have “turned back from the Lord…and not … inquired of him” (Zeph. 1:6). And if these wicked men, whether openly profane or hypocritical churchgoers, should deign in their time of trouble to call upon God, He will not hear their prayer, for “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight” (Prov. 15:8).
Indeed, God does delight in the prayers of all His covenant people. And since the covenant is made with believers and their (elect) children, the children too learn to pray, and have the assurance, by faith, that they may draw near to God from their youth.
Clearly prayer is important for the fellowship of the covenant, and for the blessing of God’s people. Evil are the days when in the church “there is none that calleth upon [God’s] name” (Is. 64:7). Something is dreadfully wrong in the life of the individual believer when there is little or no interest in prayer.
Oh, we can understand that our old man of sin has no interest in prayer. He hates God and loathes fellowship with the Holy One of Israel. Our depraved nature will do everything in its power to turn us from prayer. The old man will do his utmost to pervert our prayers—pushing irrelevant and even evil thoughts to the fore in the middle of our prayers!
If, and we must say, when, that depraved nature dominates, so that the child of God becomes spiritually lethargic and consequently lax in prayer—what a mighty battle Satan has won! He has cut off communication, cut off fellowship. He has succeeded in estranging the child from his heavenly Father. The child then seeks his fellowship with the world. This is spiritual disaster.
God knows how essential is prayer for His covenant people. When His people neglect prayer and stray from God, He brings them back into covenant fellowship. It might be by the hard lesson of allowing them to fall into grievous sins. Often God works though a heavy chastisement. The Psalms and our own experience testify that our prayers are never so frequent, never so heartfelt or meaningful, as when we are grievously afflicted. Oh, if such intimate fellowship could only last the rest of our lives. Never do we experience God closer.
But we are so foolish, so earthly minded, that the spiritual intensity soon wanes, and the activity itself falls to a lower priority. Still, God gives us every encouragement that He will hear us. Jesus spoke a parable in order to impress upon us “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Jesus Himself, more than once, “continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
Thanks be to God that He continues to draw us back into covenant fellowship. Thanks for the work of Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the covenant, who sends His Spirit into our hearts to give us the desire, and even the words, to pray. With boldness we may come to thethrone of grace, for Christ Jesus, the Head of the covenant, perfects our prayers and brings them to the Father.
Surely prayer is an inestimable blessing of God to His covenant people. When God commands, therefore, “Seek ye my face,” may your heart respond, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Ps. 27:8).
Pray without ceasing!