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Note: The language of “the soul in paraphrase” comes from the Poet George Herbert (1593–1633). He used it as a way to shed light on all the complex feelings and emotions that overwhelm a person who pours out his heart to God.


Hesitance overwhelms the one who ventures to write on prayer. I am certainly not an expert. Consider these some random thoughts from one who needs as much help as he can get.

Prayer is sacred. It is that holy moment when beautifully complex image bearers cast their burdens on to their triune Creator (Ps. 55:22). Life in an overwhelming and often dehumanizing world compels us to seek refuge in the One who is “merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Exod. 34:6). We bring our prayers to God, pouring out our hearts before him, “as children unburden their troubles to their parents” (Calvin, Institutes, 3. 20. 12).

In prayer we declare war on the enemy. Prayer propels one into the heart of spiritual warfare and places one in the crosshairs of the Enemy’s fiery darts. Prayer is hard because life is war. Nevertheless, we will not cower in fear. We will not give up: “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). We are victorious.

In prayer we speak to and spend time with the One we love. “God is the cause of loving God,” as Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) memorably put it.[1] Because we love God, we pray to him. Prayer is the reflex of the Spirit-invaded heart. In the act of regeneration, God not only grants us faith (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29) and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25), he also implants within his people a craving to commune with him whom our soul loves (Song 3:4). Consequently, with heartfelt devotion we cry, “Abba! Father! (Rom. 8:15). And when words fail us, his Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26). We pour out our hearts to him (Ps. 62:8), especially in dark hours (Ps. 34:7). We make our requests known to him (Phil. 4:6–7). As the Father’s adopted children, we humbly and happily make our requests in the Son’s name.

We must frequently call to mind the purpose of prayer. The purpose of prayer isn’t to commandeer things from God but to commune with God. Prayer is not a “domestic intercom” through which we seek to “call upstairs for more comforts in the den”; it is, rather, “a wartime walkie talkie for the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief.”[2]

Prayer requires discipline. Failing to prioritize prayer necessarily entails prioritizing something else in its place. Since our feelings and emotions fluctuate throughout our lives, we must resist the notion that we should wait until we feel like praying to begin praying. More often than not, we don’t feel like praying because we haven’t started praying. Prayerlessness is its own punishment, as someone wisely noted.

To stir yourself up to pray, meditate on the wonder of the Father’s grace and mercy, the perfections of Christ in his distinct offices of prophet, priest, and king, and the sublime work of the Holy Spirit in drawing us to himself.

Low before him with our praises we fall,
Of whom and in whom and through whom are all;
Of whom, the Father; and in whom, the Son;
And through whom, the Spirit, with them ever One

~ Peter Abelard, “O What Their Joy” (trans. John Mason Neale)


[1] “On Loving God,” in Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. Emilie Griffin, trans. G. R. Evans (New York: HarperCollins, 1987), 72.

[2] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 65.