Mike Reeves stimulates our desires to spend time with God as he reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s work
Prayer is enjoying that the Father really is our Father.
But what exactly does it mean that God is a Father? First, it means he is eternally begetting his Son. Always he is giving life to and lavishing his love on his Son. So, as Father, he is the source of all life, love and blessing. And what does it mean to be the Son? Eternally, the Son is characterised by receiving from the Father.
Now if that’s the relationship we’ve been brought into, then praising the Father as Jesus did, asking the Father for things as Jesus did and depending on the Father as Jesus did are going to be staple parts of our communion with him. By thanking him and praising him, we acknowledge his kindness and greatness, that he is good and that all good truly comes from him. By asking him for things, we exercise our belief that he really is the fountain of all good and that without him we can do nothing that is actually good.
Receiving, asking, depending
If God was a single, independent person, independence would be the godly thing. That would be how to be like him. But as the Son always depends on the Father, that is the nature of Christian godliness. Being a Christian is first and foremost all about receiving, asking and depending. It’s when you don’t feel needy (and so when you don’t pray much) that you lose your grip on reality and think or act in an unchristian manner. In fact, as you grow as a Christian, you should feel not more self-sufficient but ever more needy. If you don’t, I’m not sure you’re growing spiritually. If you really feel your need to depend on God, though, prayer will simply flow from this.
Prayer, then, is enjoying the care of a powerful Father, instead of being left to a frightening loneliness where everything is all down to you. Prayer is the antithesis of self-dependence. It is our ‘no’ to independence and our ‘no’ to personal ambition. It is the exercise of faith – that you need God and are a needy receiver. With this in mind, instead of chasing the idol of our own productivity, let’s be dependent children – and let the busyness that could keep us from prayer drive us to prayer. Only then – like the Son – can we actually be fruitful.
The Spirit helps us to pray
The Son has brought us to be with him – in him – before his Father. That’s what we enjoy in prayer. But what about the role of the Spirit? Well, the Son does all that he does in the power of the Spirit. In creation, the word of God goes out on the Spirit or breath of God. So we read in Genesis that the Spirit hovers (Genesis 1.2), and in his power God’s word goes out, for example with the command ‘Let there be light!’ (Genesis 1.3). Jesus starts his ministry at his baptism by being sent out into the wilderness by the Spirit. He expels demons by the power of the Spirit. The Spirit is also the one who stirs up the Son to commune with the Father. For example, Luke records that ‘Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father”’ (Luke 10.21). That is the Spirit’s work in the Son, and that is his work in the children of God.
The same principle is explained in Romans. ‘For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba! Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (Romans 8.14 -16, my emphasis). The Spirit drives the Scripture-taught truth of our adoption by God into our hearts so we know that we are his children, and thus we cry, ‘Abba!’ The Spirit is the wind in the sails of our prayer as he catches us up into the Son’s love for the Father. Making us know we too are loved, he causes us to love as the Son loves. Prayer, then, is not actually a one-way conversation, us to God. No, in prayer God speaks through us to God.
We’re brought into the divine fellowship. The Spirit of the Son cries to the Father through us.
Paul then goes on: ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans’ (Romans 8.26). That’s an enormously helpful verse if you’re interested in genuine communion with God. The Spirit knows that we’re weak, that we struggle to pray and that we often don’t know what to pray – and his desire is to help us. This means that we don’t need to pretend to be giants in prayer or make resolutions that are out of our league. Since the Spirit knows our weakness, we can be real with our Father, accepting how babyish we are in our faith, and simply stammer out what’s on our hearts. In fact, that’s just the way to grow in our relationship with God. True intimacy is an acquired thing, something that develops – but it only develops with honesty. So if your prayer life is a bit ropey, I suggest starting again by stammering like a child to a Father. Cry for help. Don’t try to be impressive.
Christ-like as we pray
Another thing the Spirit does is to transform us to be like Christ. He helps us to be dependent and prayerful, and by bringing us into the Father–Son relationship he brings us to share God’s life and purpose. Our desires start echoing God’s, his passions become ours, and so we begin to share his love and compassion for his people and his world. Consequently, we become intercessors and priests, like our great high priest Jesus who is constantly interceding. The Spirit works to make us like Christ in that respect. There’s an interesting little moment in Matthew 9 that struck me recently. ‘When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”’ (Matthew 9.36–38). Now, why did Jesus ask his disciples to pray this? Surely he could do that? He was the one feeling the compassion, and wouldn’t one prayer of his be more effective than all of theirs? But he wants them to join in with him, to be co-workers and participants in the divine, compassionate, outgoing, missional life he shares with his Father in the Spirit.
Fellowship in prayer
There is one more point to make about the Spirit: he is the Spirit of fellowship. He stirs up the love the Father and the Son have for each other, and he brings together a family for the Father. As there is fellowship in heaven, so there is on earth. Now at every point we’ve seen that prayer is simply embracing Christian reality: that we are needy, that we are children of God and so on. But because of the nature of our God, the Spirit doesn’t just bring us in Christ to the Father – he brings us together to him as the Father’s family. Therefore we also pray together with Christ as brothers and sisters before our Father.
Communal prayer, then, is the Christian life in a nutshell – the family of the Father coming together to him to share his concerns. This is why in some ways the prayer meeting is such a battle of flesh against Spirit: will you bludgeon your brothers and sisters with your impressive prayers and actually ignore God, or will you truly go to your Father and seek blessing for them? It can be a formality, a chance to compete with each other – or it can wonderfully foster unity.
This applies both to praying for someone and praying with someone. If you pray for someone who winds you up, you will find that it’s much harder to cherish anger, resentment, suspicion or hatred when you pray for them. Praying with someone can also be a powerful experience. When friends decide to pray sincerely together, perhaps spontaneously, through it you often get to sense an extraordinary, familial closeness with each other. You are being family together. Prayer for each other is sharing our Father’s compassion. Prayer with each other is being family, and it fosters the unity our God loves.
This article is an extract from Enjoy your prayer life by Mike Reeves. Published by 10ofThose. Mike Reeves is Theologian-at-large with WEST.