Prayer, a Necessary and Hard Work

Sinclair Ferguson has often pointed-out that he sits under his own preaching, much like any other member of the congregation. If you’re not a preacher, that may be a dynamic difficult to understand, but I can attest to its validity. Not infrequently do my own observations and applications from the Scripture encourage or convict me before they ever reach the first row. Most recently, I was struck by a pointed application that was not in my notes or even considered beforehand.

Preaching from 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 on The Ministry, I was applying the ministry of the new covenant, in which the Spirit is the One who gives life, to the necessity of prayer for Christians. And along with some prepared thoughts, the following came out:

He who says he believes in the new covenant but does not pray is a liar.

I assure you, that stung me before it hit anyone else. After more reflection, I stand by it as true and warranted – even though it still hurts to consider. Could my confidence in the new covenant (2 Cor 3:5-6) be discerned by my habits in prayer?

My conviction has only been deepened by Eric Alexander’s outstanding article, “The Priority of the Apostles” (in The Banner of Truth [#584, May 2012]). Reflecting on the paradigm of Acts 6:4, he made this poignant observation:

… one of the primary functions of the church is prayer, and the greatest need of a needy world is a praying church, and the greatest need of a moribund church is praying leaders….

The truth is that prayer is the real work, and apart from it all other work is in vain. The reason for that is quite simple. It is that essentially this work in which we are engaged is God’s work, not man’s…. Now if the conversion of sinners is God’s work, the simple question we must ask and answer is, ‘To whom do we apply to have this work done?’ The only answer logically as well as theologically is ‘to God’. That is why prayer is fundamental rather than supplemental in all our service. That is why the primary evangelistic method is prayer (The Banner of Truth [#584, May 2012], p. 12)

Having read and reread Alexander’s article, I’ve been so impressed by it that I wanted you to have a copy. The management of Banner of Truth kindly gave me permission to link to a copy of Alexander’s copyrighted article:

Please read The Priority of the Apostles.

I can say that The Banner of Truth is one of the two or three periodicals to which I would not let my subscription lapse. Available in both print and electronic formats, and more than reasonably priced, you can find subscription information at Banner’s site.

Alexander’s article is actually an excerpt from his recent book, Prayer: A Biblical Perspective, which I just completed. This book is faithful to the Bible, cogently written, and full of practical insights – a great primer under 100 pages! Alexander begins with a classic summary of prayer (chs 1-2), explains Jesus’ teaching and practice of prayer (chs. 3-5), offers examples in the New Testament (chs. 6-7) and Psalms (chs 8-9), reflects on the intercession of the Spirit (ch. 10), and concludes with wise applications for corporate prayer (ch. 11), as well as the practical difficulties that all Christians face in prayer (ch. 12). Reflecting his five decades of experience as a pastor, reading Alexander’s book felt like sitting down with a father in the faith to learn what only great experience in the Word and prayer can teach you.

My favorite theme, which was highlighted in The Priority of the Apostles and ran throughout the book, is that prayer is work! Chapter 1 begins by addressing this common misunderstanding about prayer:

Firstly, prayer is not an alibi for doing nothing – a substitute for work. In my own experience, prayer is actually the hardest kind of work I have ever had to do (Prayer: A Biblical Perspective, p. 5)

The ministry of the new covenant is God‘s work, but that’s not to say that we are without work to do! Prayer is a necessary and hard work, a labor that demands our most vigorous efforts. I hope that by reading The Priority of the Apostles, and even Alexander’s entire book, you’ll be strengthened for the work that our needy world and moribund church most needs from us – prayer.