Deep within us, we know that it is impossible to solve prayerlessness by our own strength. The sacredness, gift, and efficacy of prayer are far above human means. God’s grace is necessary for prayerful praying. Yet grace does not passively wait for God to strike us with revival. We must seek grace by first seeking the Lord. David writes in Psalm 25:1, “Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul” (see also Pss. 86:4; 143:8). Paul commands us in Colossians 3:1–2, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” So direct your mind and affections towards our covenant God in Christ, and draw near to the throne of grace. Just as Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord and would not let Him go until he was blessed, so we must grasp hold of God until He blesses us.
Consider three principles for taking hold of God in prayer.
1. Plead God’s promises in prayer.
In His sovereignty, God has bound Himself by the promises He has made to us. Augustine said his mother prayed long for his conversion, pleading God’s promises. She “urged upon Thee, as Thine own handwriting,” for God in His covenant mercy chose “to become a debtor by Thy promises.” Psalm 119:25 says, “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word.” Thomas Manton (1620–1677), alluding to Augustine, wrote, “One good way to get comfort is to plead the promise of God in prayer…. Show him his handwriting; God is tender of his word.”
Some months ago, an elderly friend brought me a spiritual letter from my father, who passed straight from the pulpit to glory in 1993. My father wrote the letter in the 1950s, shortly after his conversion. “I thought you might like to have this,” the friend said. “Like to?” I said, “I would love to have this.” I sat down and read it immediately with great pleasure—it was so personal because it was my father’s handwriting. How do you think your Father in heaven feels when you show Him His own handwriting in prayer?
The Puritans made much of praying God’s promises back to Him. John Trapp (1601–1669) wrote, “Promises must be prayed over. God loves to be burdened with, and to be importuned [urgently pressed with requests] in, his own words; to be sued upon his own bond. Prayer is a putting God’s promises into suit. And it is no arrogancy nor presumption, to burden God, as it were, with his promise…. Such prayers will be nigh the Lord day and night (1 Kings 8:59), he can as little deny them, as deny himself.”
Likewise, William Gurnall (1616–1679) wrote, “Prayer is nothing but the promise reversed, or God’s Word formed into an argument, and retorted by faith upon God again.” He also urged, “Furnish thyself with arguments from the promises to enforce thy prayers, and make them prevalent with God. The promises are the ground of faith, and faith, when strengthened, will make thee fervent, and such fervency ever speeds and returns with victory out of the field of prayer…. The mightier any is in the Word, the more mighty he will be in prayer.””
2. Look to the glorious Trinity in prayer.
Much prayerlessness in our prayers is due to our thoughtlessness towards God. Our prayers may come from the stress of an immediate need or crisis, or they may become mere habitual talking to ourselves. But God dwells in our prayers most when our minds most dwell on God. Therefore when you pray, meditate on how the gospel reveals the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to draw sinners to God. Before rushing into your list of requests, bring to mind Scripture texts that speak of the glory of our God, and turn those texts into praise.
Ephesians 2:18 tells us how the three persons of the Trinity operate in our prayers, saying, “For through him [Christ Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Prayer is like a golden chain that runs from the Father via the Son and the Spirit back to the Father again. It is decreed by the Father, merited by the Son, shaped into words by the Spirit, and sent back up to the Son, who, through His intercession, presents it as acceptable and pure to His heavenly Father. So lean heavily on the Spirit to help you compose your prayers and trust in Christ to make your prayers effectual. By the Son and the Spirit, your prayers will reach the ears of the God of Sabaoth.
John Owen (1616–1683) advised us to commune with each person in the triune God. He did so based on 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” So in your prayer life, pursue a deeper and more experiential knowledge of the riches of grace in Christ’s person and work, the glory of electing and adopting love of the Father, and the comfort of fellowship with God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this way, you will pray not just to receive God’s benefits but to receive God Himself.
3. Believe that God answers prayer.
I fear that we often do not believe in prayer as we should. Psalm 65:2 says, “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.” We sincerely come to God only when we believe that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). The Lord Jesus taught that the life of asking is a life of receiving, especially of the graces of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:9–13). The very nature of God as Father is to give to His children. On the other hand, James rebukes those who ask God for spiritual wisdom to face trials but do not trust Him to give it generously (James 1:2–8).
A man once set up a tavern next door to a church. The wild parties, late-night hours, sinful indulgence, and morning refuse from the bar so distressed the church that people prayed God would intervene. He did. A tornado took out the tavern and left the church untouched. The tavern owner took the church to court, claiming his loss was due to the congregation’s prayers. Church members claimed innocence, saying that they had no responsibility in the tavern’s destruction. The judge marveled that an unbeliever seemed to believe in the power of prayer more than the church folk did!
May we not fall under the verdict of Isaiah 64:7: “There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.” Instead, we must bestir ourselves to take hold of the living God!
Taking Hold of God
Joel R. Beeke