The True Motivation for Prayer
For twenty years I led the men in our church in prayer on Monday mornings. I didn't pick Monday mornings—they did. Worse still, they chose to meet at 6:00am. Our men were all jacked up because it was time to go to work and start their week. I felt like I was in a body bag after a weekend of preaching and Sunday ministry. Nonetheless, Monday morning is what they wanted, so I kept showing up.
Several years into this, I woke up around 5:00am and I began to pray. "Lord, why am I doing this? Man, this is hard. These guys don't show up. They got bad breath. There's always a hijacker in the crowd." In that moment I just felt the Lord lay something on my heart—not a voice, just an impression: "Daniel, your motivation is rooted in things that change: the mood you're in, your energy level, how many guys show up, what you think the perceived results are. Until your motivation is rooted in something that never changes, you're going to struggle." That was when I began to ask the big question: what motivates me to pray? Why am I doing this?
The Only Sure Motivation for Prayer
What I learned in that season of asking and praying is a fundamental truth I can never forget:
The only enduring motive for prayer is that God is worthy to be sought.
When we get to heaven, we won't be praying for missionaries, as noble as that is. We won't be praying for knee replacements or happy vacations. We will be saying, "Worthy is the lamb that was slain." We might as well set our hearts on that right now. As much as I want our efforts to succeed, as much as I love those I serve with, as much as I hope that church planting efforts flourish all around the world, these things are not the primary reason we pray. We pray because Jesus is worthy of it all.
We pray because Jesus is worthy of it all.
Paul’s Example in Prayer
If that is true, how should we pray for each other? In Romans 15:30 says that he wants them to strive together with him in their prayers on his behalf. The word he uses there, taken literally, is to agonize with him. It is as if he is saying, “Struggle on my behalf.” What I love about Paul is that he's never just pointing the way. In Paul’s ministry, he's leading the way. He's not asking them to do anything that he's not doing himself. This is something that we can take from Paul. We must be the example. We must not just teach on prayer. We must lead in prayer. The prayer life of your church will never rise any higher than the personal example and passion of the senior leader.
The prayer life of your church will never rise any higher than the personal example and passion of the senior leader.
John Piper once said, "Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for." That we tend to treat prayer as a room service intercom to call up more niceties rather than a war time walkie-talkie to call in reinforcements shows that we misunderstand prayer. Paul is way past the niceties. What he is doing in this case is calling for reinforcements. Paul calls upon his people to pray, to agonize in prayer for his deliverance for this purpose: so that he can finish the mission God has placed on his life.
If our churches are going to grow, if our mission is going to be successful, we must pray. Our prayers must not just be about creature comforts. They must be centered on God: his mission, his glory, our need for him. God is worthy to be sought by his people, and he has qualified us in Jesus Christ to seek him. A fruitful ministry will be a prayerful ministry. There is no other way.