Who Can Pray?

Every week, while planning our Sunday Worship, one of the most difficult roles to fill is that of corporate prayer. I get a mix of responses when I approach church members with the opportunity to participate in Sunday worship through corporate prayer: “Can you put me on for scripture reading instead?”; “I’m really bad at public speaking”; “Praying is not really my gifting”; “I’m not comfortable doing that”’; “I feel so disingenuous when I pray”; and so on.

Prayer is no easy task.

Public speaking ranks as one of the biggest fears that people have. While many may have a genuine and legitimate full-fledged phobia of speaking in front of people, for some, this fear may stem more from a overly self-critical heart. We get concerned about how people will see us; or it may be how certain people (that we deem of consequence) see us.

What if I pray the wrong thing?

Will people see that I’m not biblically informed in my prayer?

What if I don’t honestly care to pray about those things?

Will people see the hypocrisy in my prayer?

I’m not spiritual enough to pray!

And this preoccupation with our own self worthiness often blinds us from seeing what… or rather who… makes anyone worthy to pray. To think that one could have the ear of the Lord—how pretentious! Even the most well written or well delivered prayers… do you think God is impressed?

We are able to worship in prayer because the work of Christ on the cross has given new life and new identities. The Spirit has been given to us who believe and he works in us to draw us into communion with the Triune God. Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:24 teach us that Christ intercedes for us right now.

Every time we bring our imperfect worship (which is every time), Christ takes that worship—that prayer, that song, that deep sigh—and he sanctifies it and makes it a worthy act of worship before a holy God. Every time we pray, whether it be in our bedroom or with others, we lean completely on Christ; why else do we pray “in Jesus’ name”? We can approach because of Christ!

So what does this mean?
Should we only pray when we’ve learned to have more trust in the work of Christ? What if we doubt? What if we don’t know what to pray? Should we pray only after we’ve figured this all out?

We learn to pray by praying. Just as you will have extremely difficulty learning how to ride a bike from merely reading a book about bicycling (as opposed to actually getting on a bicycle), you will not grow in prayer and trust of our Chief Prayer-er until we practice it and learn how the Spirit moves and changes us as we engage the Living God.

But some of you may still be protesting, “But I’m afraid of doing it wrong.” There is grace for you; there is grace for all of us, his beloved children. When we endeavor to grow in prayer, we must constantly take our eyes off ourselves and our inadequacies and look to the only one who can pray—who draws us into prayer with himself and who ever lives and pleads for us.

Portraits of Grace: Jane (1 of 2)

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Lucy Song

I was running away from a lot of things after college. I went away as far as I could, to Korea, so that I could figure things out. It was supposed to be a one-year thing but I ended up staying several years teaching English. During that time God surrounded me with some amazing friends, who invited me to visit their church. I heard a sermon there- it was about grace. It was the first time that grace was ever explained to me. I had known the song “Amazing Grace” my whole life- but I never knew what grace meant. It’s like an 8 year old not understanding the concept of stress because they haven’t experienced it yet…. All these bad decisions, these sins that I had been keeping inside, these lies – I had been forgiven of them and for the first time I felt, “Oh my gosh- He still loves me.” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [Ephesians 2:8-9] ….and it just struck me-that I didn’t have to decide whether or not to believe. My salvation is a God-given gift. (1/2)

Portraits of Grace: Jenny

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Albert Cheung

One of the hardest times in my life was when my grandfather passed away. I grew up at my grandparent’s house and he always took care of us. It was unexpected because all we heard was he fell down and then was in a coma. He then passed after that. As soon as I heard he fell, I knew I had to go to him. People were telling me not to go because I didn’t have a green card yet and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get back to the US. I didn’t make any plans for my kids either, I just bought a plane ticket and went. I really respected my grandfather and I knew I had to get back. I got to HK and unfortunately wasn’t able to see him before he passed. And once I got there I crawled on my knees to see him. It was really hard and I cried a lot, it was a heartbreaking time in my life. Now that I live in the US and not in China, I’m not often reminded of my grandfather. It’s easier to cope this way.

Portraits of Grace: Andrew (2 of 2)

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Minnow Park

I didn’t realize it then, but moving here really pushed me to rely on God. At the time, I didn’t have a saving faith. I read the Bible but didn’t know who Jesus was and didn’t have anyone to explain it to me—and only having a Korean Bible didn’t help either. My life consisted of either going to school or working with my dad, and there were no college prospects for me. I felt so alone and let down, and it was a really dark time. However, not having friends at school made me turn to church. And that’s where I met my peers, where I cried, where I found connection, but most importantly, where I learned about significance. The youth pastor, who spoke English, spent time with me and really contextualized the gospel for me. Slowly, I came to realize that God had a purpose for me. He wanted me to pursue Him and depend on Him. He wanted me to know that I am loved and cared for. (2/2)

Pray the Scriptures by Scotty Smith

I really enjoyed this reflection by Scotty Smith about prayer. I hope that it is a source of encouragement to you and your journey of faith this week. 

I am a recovering self-centered pragmatic pray-er — a believer who spent many of my first years in Christ thinking of God more as a sugar daddy than the sovereign Father. Prayer, for me, had more in common with programming a heavenly computer than surrendering to a loving Master. I worked harder at claiming God’s promises for my ease than being claimed by God’s purposes for His kingdom. Instead of being still and knowing that God is God, my prayer life was that of an antsy man, trying to help God be God.

Alas, this was a manifestation of the man-centered gospel that distorted my view of God and, therefore, enfeebled my practice of prayer. Thankfully, continued growth in grace has led me to a better understanding of the gospel, which, in turn, has radically reoriented my prayer life. It’s not cliché; it’s wondrously true: the gospel changes everything.

Nothing has been of greater importance to my growth in grace than learning to pray the Scriptures while wearing the lens of the gospel, and nothing has proven to be more fruitful. A gospel-centered approach to praying through the Bible will yield a mind informed by the will of God, a heart enflamed with the love of God, and hands extended in the service of God. All three of these are central to life in Christ, and all three flow out of our union and communion with Christ.

So, what’s involved in this doxological discipline of praying the Scriptures? I don’t suggest my way is the only way, but here’s how my commitment to Bible study and prayer have been tremendously enriched in recent years.

Praying the Scriptures requires us first to be in the Scriptures regularly, preferably daily. A “diligent use of the means of grace” doesn’t earn us anything, but it profits us in every way. We can’t hide the Word in our hearts if we’re not lingering in the Bible’s pages. Personally, the best time for me to meet with God in an unrushed, expectant way is early in the morning, but we’re all wired differently.

Jack Miller, my spiritual dad and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, taught me the importance of reading through the whole Bible while at the same time having a smaller portion of Scripture read me. If we aren’t careful, we can read the Scriptures for information and inspiration while playing dodgeball with our calling to transformation. Having the Scriptures “read me” deepens my prayer life because it exposes my sin, reveals Jesus, and makes me hunger and thirst for more of the gospel.

As Martin Luther said, we need the gospel every day because we forget the gospel every day. There’s nothing like knowing our need for Jesus to cure us of gospel amnesia. Nothing will so enflame our hearts like a fresh experience of God’s grace for our current needs. Reading the Bible and having the Bible read me constantly convinces me of this: there’s nothing more than the gospel, there’s just more of the gospel.

Praying the Scriptures, therefore, calls us to look for Jesus in every part of the Bible, for He is the heart, heartbeat, and hero of the gospel. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27), we want to discover everything prophesied and promised about Jesus as He is progressively revealed in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation.

All of God’s promises find their “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), but they’re not God’s “yes” to all of our fancies and fantasies. Jack Miller taught me to pray the promises of God with my eyes fixed on Jesus and His kingdom purposes. This represents an important paradigm shift away from looking for verses we can name and claim to pursuing the Christ we can know and serve.

Minds informed by the will of God and hearts enflamed with the love of God will be authenticated by hands extended in the service of God. The more we pray through the Scriptures wearing the lens of the gospel, the less we’ll find ourselves giving God bit parts in our story and the more we’ll think about finding our place in His story. The central and operative question in life is not “What can I dofor Jesus?” while He’s away in heaven. Rather, it’s “What can I do with Jesus?” since He’s right here, right now. Each of us is called to live as a character in and a carrier of His story of redemption and restoration.

Praying the Scriptures involves heart-fully engaging with Christ in His three offices of prophet, priest, and king:

Because Jesus is our Prophet — the final Word from God — reading the Bible isn’t merely about gaining information; it’s about prayerfully listening to the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are to give Jesus our rapt attention and our grace-liberated consciences.

Because Jesus is our Priest — our great High Priest — we must read the Scriptures doxologically, for Christ is the completed sacrifice for our sins, our perfect righteousness from God, and the Shepherd of our souls. We are to give Jesus our current brokenness and our fresh adoration.

Because Jesus is our King — the King of kings and Lord of lords — we must pray through the Bible with bowed heads and surrendered lives. We are to give Jesus our humble obeisance and our overjoyed obedience.

Portraits of Grace: Andrew (1 of 2)

Portraits of Grace is a snapshot into the lives of the people at King's Cross Church. As "kingdom minded, kingdom people," we recognize God's work in every detail of our lives. We invite you to meet the people of our church.

Photo by Minnow Park

Moving to New York with my family was probably one of the worst experiences I’d ever gone through. I really didn’t want to go—it was the middle of my junior year of high school and I had to leave everything behind. I was so anxious and scared. I remember sitting in LAX waiting for my plane, feeling anxiety building up in my throat, and all I could do to calm myself was read my Bible. Keep in mind, I didn’t understand any of it. I couldn’t tell the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament. Jesus, Paul, Saul…Everyone was the same to me. But I still read it religiously (haha!) for some unknown reason and I remember reading through Exodus that day. I was reading about God leading his people out of Egypt, through the desert…and it filled me with so much hope. Even though I didn’t believe or understand it, I could see God’s promise throughout the book and it just gave me hope. (1/2)