*This article originally appeared in the Hillsdale Daily News
How important is prayer? Sometimes we can think of prayer as simply being able to express our feelings out loud when no one else will hear. However, prayer is something far more important and far more powerful.
In Romans 5:2, the Apostle Paul writes that through Christ “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” In order to understand this fully, it helps to break down some of the words that Paul uses. The most important word in this verse is ‘access.’ To put it simply, having access means having the freedom or the right to enter someplace. If we show up to the White House to visit with the president of the United States, unless we are someone pretty special, we won’t have access to him.
The word that Paul uses implies that the one who is getting the access is far less than the one who is being accessed. It’s just like the picture above, visiting the White House, but even greater. God is the creator and sustainer of all things. He is not just an elected official who serves for a few years before he is replaced by the next one. No, God is infinite, eternal, and almighty. Coming into his presence is more than entering into the presence of royalty.
This is illustrated well for us in the Bible by how limited access to God was. We think of the Israelites at Mount Sinai and how they trembled because of God’s presence at the top of the mountain (Exodus 20). They were so frightened that they demanded Moses to go and speak to God for them. Or we can consider Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) who tried to offer something to God on their own terms and paid the penalty. God’s presence was so dangerous that access was limited to only once per year by only one person, the high priest (Leviticus 16).
Paul tells us, though, that something has changed. In Christ, we now have free access to God. Of course, God did not change but rather Jesus came as the great high priest who paid the penalty to make us righteous before God and so give us this access. Therefore we can go to God in prayer. When Christ died the temple veil was torn in two (Luke 23:45) and the wall of separation was torn down (Ephesians 2:14). This is amazing because we do not deserve to be in God’s presence. The author of Hebrews tells us that we can even come with confidence before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
When we think about this gracious invitation – and the price that was paid to provide it – the question to us is why don’t we pray? What is it that keeps us from going to God when we are in trouble or when we are happy or when we are broken? I believe that there are usually two things that keep us back: unbelief and forgetfulness. Our unbelief is that this all seems too good to be true. We too easily think that God is like us and so how could he possibly be this gracious? We also forget God too easily. It’s that saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” God is out of our sight and, therefore, he is out of our mind.
The key to answering both of these issues is found in Romans 12:2, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need – by God’s grace and through the help of the Holy Spirit – to retrain our minds to remember God’s presence and to trust in God’s promises. Thankfully, he knows our weaknesses and he has given us his Word to instruct us and to help us in this great task of retraining our minds.
Over the next several weeks I would like spend some time considering the topic of prayer. There are instructions in the Bible and there are also great examples. There are prayers of repentance, prayers of praise, and prayers for when we are struggling. We’ll look at some of these together and then, to finish the study, we will take the most familiar prayer of all – the Lord’s Prayer – and break it down petition by petition to understand how it gives us a model for our own prayers. It is my hope that you will be encouraged to pray to God, through Christ, knowing that he hears the prayers of those who call out to him through faith.