The Transforming Power of Prayer (Part 1)
Here is where prayer is so important and so powerful. Prayer makes no sense unless two things are true. First, our lives do not belong to us. Since we have been created by God, everything we are, everything we have, and every situation and relationship in which we live belongs to him. Because we are his creatures, our number-one calling in every area of life is to worship him. Everything we do and say in every situation and relationship of our lives must be done in recognition of his existence and for the purpose of his glory. We were created for his pleasure, and we are called to live in constant worship of him. So, everything in our lives has verticality to it. Everything we do must be done in recognition of God’s presence and his rightful ownership of our lives. We must live in our marriage in a way that is distinctively and comprehensively Godward, even in the most mundane moments of life.
There is a second thing that must be true for prayer to make any sense. It is that sin makes us comprehensively needy. Every area of our personhood has been in some way damaged by sin.
We don’t desire what we should. We don’t think as we should. We don’t speak as we should. We don’t act as we should. We need help. We need rescue. We need wisdom. We need forgiveness. We need strength.
So, here is what prayer does for you. In a way that is powerfully protective and relationally transforming, each time you pray, you are reminded of the context of your life. The context of your life is not a situation or a location. The context of your life is a person. The context of your life is God. He is above, around, below, and in you. He created everything that makes up your existence. He controls every situation and relationship you are in. It is his power that keeps you and your world together. He has written the story of your life from beginning to endless end. His plan, purpose, and will are meant to be the reason for everything you do. He alone offers the help that reaches to the deepest areas of your personal and relational need. He is the rightful owner of you, your life, and your relationships. He is the conceiver and creator of your all that makes up your world, and because he is, he is best able to diagnose what is broken and to cure what needs to be fixed. He is the only reliable one who can define what is right or wrong, good or bad, true or false, and wise or foolish. He is not only near you, but because of the cross of Jesus Christ, he is now living inside you by his Spirit. He is your life and the hope of your future. He is your counselor, protector, advocate, teacher, guide, and friend. He surrounds you with his love and bathes you in his grace. It really is that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God is the context of your life.
But prayer does something else; it reminds us of the reality of our life. The reality of our life is a constant, moment-by-moment dance of sin and grace. Every day, sin rears its ugly head, and every day, grace gives us what we need to deal with sin. In the same way that we cannot understand life without understanding God’s existence, his ownership, and his power, we cannot understand what we experience in part of our lives and how to deal with it unless we understand sin and grace. Sin is the reason for all the struggles of life and grace is the only reliable hope of being able to deal with them.
Because of the fact that sin still remains in you and in your world, you need to be reconciled to God every day, and every day you need to be reconciled to others. Every day you do something that offends God in some way, and every day you do something that offends another. As we have observed before, these dynamics of sin, struggle, and rescue take place in the smallest and most mundane moments of daily life, moments so normal and in all ways so unremarkable that they pass by without getting our attention. We get used to the daily pace of our lives, we get used to our daily schedule, and we get used to our daily relationships and responsibilities. At some point we quit observing and we quit examining, and we settle into the routine, day piling upon day, month piling upon month, year piling upon year.
This is why we look back during one of those moments that God sends to get our attention once again, and we ask, “What happened to us? How in the world did we end up here?” It feels to us that we‘ve driven into some kind of life fog. It feels that what was once bright and sunny has suddenly gone dark. But nothing has been sudden. The changes in you and your life have taken place in progressive, little steps. In those unremarkable moments that occur in everyone's life, wrong thoughts, desires, words, and actions changed the character and direction of their living; they took place in little moments, and no one was paying attention.
We all do it. It’s not that we suddenly quit loving God and one another. No, that’s not what typically happens. Our living doesn't typically change with an explosion. Our living typically changes by the process of erosion. Even where explosions take place, they usually take place at the end of a long process of erosion. The movement of a life from an active commitment to God and an active lifestyle of unity, understanding, and love with others rarely takes place in one step. Rather, this movement takes place in ten thousand little steps. The problem is that as these changes are taking place we tend to be asleep at the wheel. What we once committed to value and protect has progressively become the thing we take for granted. What we were once deeply appreciative of, we have become used to having over the long haul. The God we once worshipped everyday becomes a formal religious icon and the people that were so much the focus of our affection and attention have morphed into little more than the people that we live with—you know, a part of our environment and daily schedule.
What does this have to do with prayer? Well, prayer not only attaches you to the wonderful resources of a God of grace, who is present, powerfully near, and willing, but prayer reminds you of what you are (needy) and what God is (gracious). Prayer awakens you from your sleep and calls you to pay attention again. Prayer is about affirming weaknesses and blessings. Prayer is about getting your identity and God’s glory right. Prayer confronts you with what is and preaches to you about what is important. Prayer is a very important part of a lifestyle of paying attention.