To be prayerless, we have seen, is to claim autonomy from God. The prayerless man trusts in his own resources to deliver him from all problems and difficulties, and, as a result, if he prays at all, his prayer is lifeless and formal. His prayer is a duty, not a necessity.
Whenever a man is ruled by a spirit of autonomy, he is then capable essentially of self prayer only. He worries, frets, and cudgels his brains in order to ferret out the secret of salvation within himself. Our Lord spoke to the heart of all anxiety when He said, "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" (Matt. 6:27). Autonomy is marked by anxiety. Existentialism thus has much to say about the role of anxiety in the life of man, because anxiety is the mark of autonomy. Anxiety seeks to do what only God can do, to perform miracles and to govern by acts of providence the course of human affairs. Worry and anxiety are the marks of prayerlessness; they mark the man who seeks to be the master of his own fate, and the captain of his own soul. All too many anxious people and chronic worriers try to pass themselves off as superior and sensitive souls when they are in fact godless ones. The alternative to prayer is anxiety and worry.
To be prayerless is to regard ourselves as autonomous, and to believe, implicitly or explicitly, in our autonomy is to deny the doctrine of creation. Scripture is clear that the triune God made all things by His sovereign word in six days (Gen. 1). The doctrine of creation is clearly tied to prayer. The practical denial of creationism is to be prayerless. To be prayerful is a practical affirmation of faith in creationism and the Creator.
Because we are God's creation, the whole of our being, and all our days, past, present, and future, are inseparable from His sovereign decree, purpose, and word. When we deny that He is the only Lord and Creator, we deny that He can be the governor and the redeemer of our lives. We then separate ourselves from life. The penalty for sin is death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). To seek autonomy and independence from God is to hate God and to love death (Prov. 8:36). It is the essence of sin to declare that man is his own god, knowing or determining for himself what constitutes good and evil (Gen. 3:5). On the other hand, the redeemed of God know themselves to be God's creation and re-creation, the Lord's possession and his handiwork. Instead of seeking independence, they manifest rather by prayer and the totality of their faith, obedience, and life their dependence upon God. Instead of being prayerless, they are prayerful.
How then shall we pray, as the redeemed of the Lord? All too many manuals stress the essential ingredients of prayer, citing praise, thanksgiving, petition, and so on. Their emphasis is sound but also unwise. By stressing the formal components of prayer, they lose the essence of prayer, i.e., dependence and communion. Where there is dependence, there will be praise, thanksgiving, petition and more. Where there is communion, God's Kingdom, word, and Spirit will be crying out in all our being. How then do we grow in dependence and communion?
Paul instructs us clearly in these things:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. (Phil. 4:6)
14. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
15. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
16. Rejoice evermore.
17. Pray without ceasing.
18. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (I Thess. 5:14-18)
First, of all, anxiety or carefulness is forbidden. The alternative to anxiety is true prayer, always to make our requests known unto God in prayer, with supplication and thanksgiving. Paul speaks in the imperative: Stop being anxious...Pray.
Second, prayer and trust in God go hand in hand with an obedience to His word. This means dealing plainly with the unruly or disorderly, warning them from God's law. The faint-hearted are to be encouraged. The weak are to be supported, not by sweet words but by godly counsel. We are to be patient and long-suffering toward all men. This means being governed by God's word and not rendering evil for evil unto any man, but rather that which God requires, good. The good can only be defined in terms of God's law-word, never by humanistic standards, or piecemeal pastiches of the Bible.
Third, we are to "rejoice evermore," or, at all times, because ours is the victory in Jesus Christ which overcomes the world (I John 5:4). The Lord makes all things work together for good to them that love Him, for the called of God (Rom. 8:28). We must therefore rejoice as the people of victory. This means that in everything we give thanks, as God requires, because in everything the Lord has a glorious purpose at work, however painful and ugly the moment.
Fourth, we are to pray without ceasing, or, unceasingly. What does this mean? Certainly not long prayers, for our Lord plainly condemns this "much speaking" (Matt. 6:7). It means rather the practice of prayer as constant communication with the Lord. To illustrate: when I am with my wife, we talk constantly, sharing our ideas, reactions, delights, and concerns. Our conversation does not start and stop: it is continual, although there can be time gaps of many minutes in between words. So too with prayer. The heart of prayer is dependence and communion. If we enjoy that dependence and communion, we pray at all times, sentence prayers, or more than a sentence or two. Each new experience, problem, thought, or situation we share with God. Sentence prayers run something like this: As we face a difficult person, we ask, Lord, give me grace to deal patiently and wisely with this person. In a trying crisis, we ask: Lord, I don't know the answers; please, help me, and give me wisdom. In a happy setting, we thank Him; if something delights us, we share it with Him and thank Him for it, and so on. We move continually in dependence on and communion with the Lord.
In this dependence and communion, our Lord who made us continually renews us and we grow in holiness. Then too our more formal praying becomes more vital. Our continual private sentence prayers are intimate and colloquial. Instead of lessening the dignity and respectfulness of formal praying, it enhances it, because our private sentence prayers have made us intensely aware of the majesty and glory of God.
Moreover, we pray best in God's own words, and hence the necessity of Scripture reading to prayer. We pray best, for prayer is communication, when we ourselves hear God speak through His word. If someone does not speak to us, we cannot long speak to him, and if we refuse to hear God in His word, how can we hear or be heard in prayer?
The Psalms thus are basic to the life of prayer. Here the Holy Spirit has spoken in and through the lives of God's saints, and here He speaks to us today, and in us if we make them our daily prayer.
We are not autonomous: we are God's creation. If we are not in dependent communion with Him, we are dead men.