The Enduring Motivation for Prayer
“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power…”
All believers know that we should pray. Some know how to pray. Ultimately, we must understand why we pray. While duty and ability can be valuable to our prayer lives, our greatest need is an enduring motivation that fuels consistent passion in our pursuit of God and His purposes through prayer.
Skeptic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed, he who has a why to live can bear almost any how. I remember hearing publisher and author Charles “Tremendous” Jones say that if you teach someone how to do something, they will persist for a while. If you teach them why they are doing it, it will take a brick wall to stop them.
A while ago, I was asked by a prominent Christian leader why I was so passionate about prayer. He asked, “Is it something about the family you were raised in?” I laughed. First, I do not feel that my commitment is really that great compared to the biblical standard. Secondly, while I knew it had nothing to do with my family, I really had not analyzed the components of all that motivates me. As a result, I sat down and wrote out the factors that seem to spark my own heart toward a life of enduring prayer. Perhaps these elements will help you.
Five Biblical Motivations for a Life of Enduring Prayer
1. The Priorities of Spiritual Leadership
As a pastor, my heart is always challenged by the biblical models of prayer. In both the Old and New Testaments, I discovered very clear examples of the core priorities of spiritual leaders.
In the Old Testament, we remember the leadership crisis Moses faced when he was overwhelmed from judging too many of the people of Israel. Jethro, his wise father-in-law, advised him to focus his energies on the things that mattered most. Read his advice carefully: “Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men . . . And let them judge the people at all times” (Exodus 18:19-22). Did you catch the three priorities? They are prayer, the word, and delegation.
Similarly, in the New Testament, we see the salient example of a leadership crisis in Acts 6:1-7. Verse 4 clearly describes the priorities of the apostles: “ . . . but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Again, in this context, the three priorities are prayer, the word, and delegation. The apostles assigned seven men to handle the feeding of the widows so they could continue in prayer and the Word.
It is pretty clear. Both Testaments present a mirror image of prayer, the word, and delegation. This motivates me to align my life with the biblical standard. The cultural standard of modern-day church models presents many other alternatives like planning, strategy, organization, administration, creative communication, high-tech services, small-groups, counseling, age-specific programming, attractive activities, and a whole array of other “priorities.” Many of these are good – but enemies of the best. So every Christian leader must decide on the pattern he will use to set his priorities and motivations for ministry. I think the biblical record is quite clear – and I try to stay motivated accordingly.
2. The Persuasion of New Testament Christianity
The model of New Testament believers is also a clear example that motivates us. We all know that everything the early church did was rooted, bathed, and empowered in prayer. Real, united, passionate prayer was not the only thing they did – it was just the first thing they did. As a result, the church was begun out of prayer, grown by prayer, enlivened in prayer, guided through prayer, delivered by prayer, and launched in Holy Spirit power into a needy world via prayer (Acts 1:13-14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:24-31; 6:4; 9:4; 10:9; 12:5, 12;13:1-3; etc.). They turned the world upside down without any of the tools and resources we have at our disposal. Yet they knew the power of God through intimate, united connection with Him. Prayer was their tool of choice, and that can motivate us to try to make it our choice in spite of the many distractions of this busy, high-tech world in which we live.
3. The Pattern of Jesus’ Prayer Life
Jesus was fully God and fully man. This is the mystery of the “kenosis” (Greek for “emptiness”) for theologians and new believers alike. As God, He was in constant perfect communion with the Father and did not need to pray in the sense that we do. Yet, as fully man, he carried out the perfect example of humble, constant, passionate communion with the Father (see Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28- 29; 11:1; 22:39; Mark 1:35; 6:46; Matthew 17:21). If he demonstrated prayer in such a clear and passionate fashion, how much more should we be motivated to pray in our fallen condition?
4. The Passion for an Eternally Significant Life
Consider this definition of prayer: “Intimacy with God that leads to the fulfillment of His purposes, accomplished by His power, for His glory.” Ministry that does not spring from intimacy is merely activity without the touch of eternity. Jesus made it clear that enduring fruit must spring from an abiding reliance on Him (John 15:1-8). Matthew 7:21-23 is a riveting reminder that even high-impact preaching and deliverance ministry that does not spring from authentic intimacy will be completely disregarded in eternity. 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 also reminds us that our Christian life and service will be either wood, hay, and stubble or enduring gold, silver, and precious stones, depending on the “sort” (not the size) of what we have done.
I could tell countless stories of pastors I have met who have come to the realization that Acts 1 must come before Acts 2 in order to have a prayerful, Spirit-empowered, and eternally significant ministry. As I’ve noted before, “Our greatest fear is not that we fail but that we succeed in things that do not matter.” A genuine life of prayer brings eternal wisdom, power, and value to all that we do. That is motivating.
5. The Pursuit of the Worthiness/Neediness Attitude
I’ve said so often, “The only enduring motive for prayer is that God is worthy to be sought.” This is so motivating, and it is the heart of worship-based prayer. It is the focus of seeking His face (person), not just His hand (provision). It is the focus on the relationship we desire with Him, not just the resources we think we need from Him. The only form of prayer that will last for eternity is worshipful prayer – there will be no more requests, spiritual warfare, or need to surrender the will of our flesh – just pure, glorious worship.
The flip side of saying, “He is worthy” is to confess that “I am needy.” His worthiness and my weakness are powerful motivators to pray – even when I do not feel like it or find it inconvenient.
In His powerful appearance and message to the lukewarm church of Laodicea, Jesus motivates their worship of Him by describing Himself as “the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” Then He compels them to recognize their weaknesses by stating, “ . . . you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked . . .” His worthiness and our neediness are vital to enduring prayer.
Our Response to this Motivational Call?
With these motivations in mind, how should we respond? Perhaps Jesus’ final words to the Laodicean believers provide the perfect conclusion. He writes, “Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
Accordingly, we can repent of our weak and wavering motivations. We can hear Him knocking on our heart’s door, inviting us to journey deeper in our motivations and closer in our intimacy with Him. His promise to the resolute heart is a deep, fulfilling “dining” (or communion) with Him – leading to the fulfillment of His purposes. When it is all said and done, that is all that matters.
Lord, teach us (and motivate us) to pray.