Philip Nation refers to worship, Bible study, and prayer as “the three foundational disciplines of the Christian life.” This is because in worship, we proclaim the worthiness and splendor of the one true God; in Bible study, we learn from God Himself who He is and He tells us who we are; and, finally, in prayer we get to have an intimate conversation with God. All other legitimate spiritual disciplines (habits) will somehow flow from one of these three foundational practices.
In the world, across religions, there are many ways prayer is viewed. To some it is a laundry list of requests. To others, it is a confession of sin that seeks God’s forgiveness. To many, it is nothing more than the repetition of particular phrases with great passion.
After quoting from numerous authors of books and writings on prayer, Nation says, “Prayer certainly is an activity that is more delight than it is duty.” (p. 68) He encourages us to view prayer as an act of love – knowing it is love that causes God to speak to us and loving Him in return is our opportunity, as we speak to God.
I appreciated this thought: “Poetically, prayer is our response to the echoes of Eden where we long to walk with God in the cool of the day. To state it as simply as possible, prayer is two-way communication that is initiated by His love.” (p. 69)
Philip Nation compares what happens in human relationships with what happens in our relationship with the Lord – that communication breaks down when we stop listening to and valuing the other. This is a helpful comparison, since most of us have plenty of experience in damaging our friendships and marriages by that specific pattern of behavior. Spin that around and it becomes easy to imagine growing our prayer life by first being intentional in listening to the Lord more attentively and actively valuing who He is. This should lead to, among other things, my refusal to demand the Lord’s service to me, while I am failing to appreciate Him and the relationship He has made possible for me to have with Him.
In his chapter on prayer, Nation deals with three elements of prayer – confession, intercession, and petition. In confession, we admit our sin and our desire to be restored in our relationship with God. By confession, we acknowledge that we have first and most offended God, regardless of who else was impacted (Psalm 51). Any expectation of forgiveness and restoration is based upon the character of God, not ours. Rarely, have I read anything on corporate confession, but Philip Nation gives us wise guidance in his call to make confession a discipline practiced on the corporate level by the whole church. Clearly, this will only happen if spiritual leaders in the church take care to model confession before the congregation. He gives a convicting and needed challenge to move beyond the “aches and pains” prayer list and start praying for forgiveness for the spiritual apathy toward holiness, the ignoring of God’s mission, and the practice of favoritism among people.
As he instructs us on intercession, the author makes this significant point: to pray for another’s needs is a very God-like activity, since the Incarnation itself, was God’s Son placing the needs of others ahead of His own. He reminds us of Hebrews 7:25, that says even now, this is the work of the Savior, who “lives to intercede for us.” In intercession we ignore self, but we do prioritize others. In intercession, we learn perseverance, since Jesus taught the value of continuing to ask until we see the Father respond.
Practically speaking, in intercession, we identify the problem, present our plea, and pray in faith. There is a wonderful explanation of the value of praying with people, not just for them. Nation notes that you might well be the first person who has ever in an open way, set aside your own needs and prayed for that person’s needs in their presence. Here is one way that the habit of prayer is a part of living out God’s mission for His people to take the Good News to others.
Nation then turns his attention to petitioning for our own needs and lives. In encourage you to read again the material on pages 75-77. Read it with your Bible open to Acts 4:23-31. This is an excellent exposition of the passage and the lessons on prayer contained in the early church’s experience.
What follows is an excellent section on the importance of intentional silence in our practice of prayer. I was encouraged by the explanation that my silence before God is one of the essential and best ways to show the submission of my life to Him. In silence, I show that I understand that God gets the first and last word on any matter in life that I may be praying about.
Concerning the connection between praying and mission, Nation says this: “Prayer is not a separate spiritual discipline from God’s mission. Prayer informs us of our role in His mission.” (p. 79)
PRAYER: Lord, fill my life with love for You. Help me to never forget that Your love is constant and powerful. My love will never match yours, but please deliver me from praying out of selfish motives and a sense of obligation. May I run to you, desiring to hear what You want to say to me. Show me Your desires for my life and for others. Align my will with Yours. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.