Pillar Journal

Prayer is amazing, glorious, delightful work.

Prayer is amazing, glorious, delightful work. Yet apart from faith in Christ, prayer is also difficult, demanding, and in many ways impossible.

Prayer is amazing, glorious, delightful work. Yet apart from faith in Christ, prayer is also difficult, demanding, and in many ways impossible. There is not a believer on earth that cannot sympathize with that. So, though I may have bordered on the idealistic in this closing chapter, my aim is not to discourage you but to encourage you despite your convictions about your own lack of prayer.

I want to conclude with a caution: do not despair in your prayer life. Do not expect to become a Luther or a Welsh in prayer immediately—if ever. We need to be realistic as well. Luther’s prayer life was legendary even in his own time, and Luther was a legend in many other ways as well. I am sure many of his colleagues, more ordinary men in every other way, achieved less than Luther did in their prayer lives. Luther also had the benefit of long years of training in the discipline of sustained prayer in the monastery. John Welsh’s spiritual life was extraordinary if not unique even in his own time and place. Such men were indeed Daniels, but Daniel stood head and shoulders above any other man of his generation. And all of them—Daniel, Luther, Welsh, or whatever giant we may have in mind—had to start somewhere and grow into what he eventually became, often through long and hard experience. Learning to truly pray in our prayers is not just a matter of getting more intentional or focused or methodical in prayer. It involves trials, warfare, and the enabling Spirit of God.

Ask God to make you a praying Elijah who knows what it means to battle unbelief and despair, even as you strive to grow in prayer and grateful communion with God. Isn’t it interesting that James presents Elijah as someone quite like you and me? He prayed in his praying, but he could also despair in his despairing.

I share these thoughts because idealism can crush us with its incessant and insatiable demands. The Christian life is not just about being hectored for not praying, giving, or witnessing enough. Though we do need to be goaded forward, we must not turn Christianity into legalistic drudgery, with a long list of chores to do each day. In many ways, thankfulness—especially thankful prayer—is often a better motive for everything. If you are a Christian, praise God that you have something invaluable that a non-Christian lacks—you have a place to go with every need and thanksgiving. Thank God for the throne of grace.

Luther often exclaimed how great and marvelous was the prayer of a godly Christian. How amazing that a poor human creature should speak with the almighty God in heaven and not be frightened, but know that God smiles upon him for Christ’s sake. The ancients thus ably defined prayer as an Ascensus mentis ad Deum, a climbing up of the heart unto God.1Martin Luther, The Table Talk of Martin Luther, ed. William Hazlitt (London: George Bell, 1900), 156 [CCCXXVIII]. Aim more for that than for very long prayers.

Pray for grace to believe and be thankful that God decrees, gives, hears, and answers prayer. If we truly believe these things, we discover the motivation we need to undertake the journey from prayerless to prayerful praying, becoming contemporary Elijahs who, like the Reformers and Puritans, truly pray in our prayers to our worthy triune God of amazing grace. He is always worthy of being worshiped, feared, and loved—even to all eternity.2For more meditations on how to strengthen your prayer life, see James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke, Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).

Excerpt From
Taking Hold of God
Joel R. Beeke