There is a mystery to the way prayer works. Often the Biblical commands about prayer and the Biblical narratives about prayer seem to be at odds with one another. Prayer often feels like a two-sided coin.
This semester I would like to compare and contrast the different sides of the coin when it comes to the mystery of prayer. In so doing, I hope you can identify ways that you could grow in your own prayer life.
Sovereignty and Free Will
This, of course, is the biggest juxtaposition. If God is sovereign over all things, then what difference do our prayers really make? Do our prayers actually change God’s mind? Are there things that simply would not happen had we not prayed for them to happen?
Those who lean too much into the “sovereignty of God” viewpoint tend to be far less prayerful. While those who lean too much into the “if we don’t pray, nothing will happen” viewpoint tend to carry an unwarranted emotional burden wavering from extreme passion to extreme guilt.
Personal Prayer and Corporate Prayer
Some people believe that prayer is very personal and the bulk of their prayer lives is seen only by God Himself. Others have a passion for group prayer and only pray when they are with other people. Some pray only in their minds or in their hearts. While others pray out loud most of the time whether with other people or not.
Those who lean too heavily into the personal prayer viewpoint can often mistakenly consider their thoughts and feelings as equal with prayer. While those who lean too heavily into the corporate prayer camp can often miss the intimacy with God that comes from being alone with Him.
Prayer for Yourself and Prayer for Others
Some people pray only for themselves and the immediate circumstances which they are facing day-to-day. Others rarely pray for themselves and their circumstances but focus solely on others and high-level problems taking place around the world.
Those who tend to pray only for themselves can become self-centered and miss out on the opportunity to pray into what God is doing in the world. While those who pray only for bigger things can become out of touch with their hearts and miss out on the opportunity to be honest with God about their simple struggles, needs, fears, and worries.
Continual Prayer and Set-aside Prayer
Some people rarely set aside time to pray because they believe that they should pray continually throughout the day, and they aim to do just that. Others believe that they need to set aside a time and place to pray each day, and they aim protect that daily time with God.
Those who make it their aim to pray continually miss out on the joy that comes from a dedicated time of conversation with God. While those who set aside time to be with God daily are prone to fragment their lives into “God-time” and the rest of the day.
Prayer and Mission
Some people believe that prayer is the most important thing we can do, that nothing will happen apart from prayer. They can frown upon those who are doing ministry in what appears to be a prayerless way. Others believe that the most important thing we can do is evangelism, service, discipleship, and church planting. They can frown upon those who are praying but never seem to be going out into the world to actually do something.
Those who believe prayer is most important are prone to neglect engaging the world to be an answer to their own prayers. While those who believe in mission are prone to get ahead of God and think their plans and strategies can accomplish Gods’ work with His presence going with them.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.