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The Necessity of Prayer: Anchoring Disciple-Making on a Firm Foundation

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

All of Christ for All of Life:

Previously, we covered three essential parts to faithful disciple-making: gospel-centrality (click here), doctrinal fidelity (click here), and genuine/familial relationships (click here). A fuller synoptists on disciple-making can be found here. When making disciples within the covenant community of saints, we need to hold all these components in tension. They serve to shape and inform the method and posture to how we engage in serving our brothers/sisters toward conformity in Christ (Rom. 8:28; Col. 3:10). It should be noted as well that discipleship is not merely the one-on-one interaction between mentor and mentee. Rather, one-on-one is an aspect within the broader scope of disciple-making. Meaning, church life is inherently designed for discipleship. From the preaching of God’s Word to the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table to the life of the covenant community, these unique facets coalesce into one unified whole in order to produce a disciple-making society. Everything that is done within the covenant community of saints is to drive them toward greater affection and deeper knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Communion with the Divine:


The cultural narrative of prayer tends to communicate an individualistic, isolated pace. Though there are components that do assume personal interaction between the self and God, much of the biblical data, however, celebrates a communal or covenantal affair. That is, when Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He uses language that infers a body of people (Matt. 6:9-13; Lk. 11:1-4). For example, “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9), “Give us this day our daily bread” (6:10), “forgive us our debts” (6:12), or “lead us not into temptation” (6:13). William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas convey an appropriate perspective,

There may be religions that come to you through quiet walks in the woods, or by sitting quietly in the library with a book, or rummaging around in the recesses of your psyche. Christianity is not one of them. Christianity is inherently communal, a matter of life in the Body, the church. Jesus did not call isolated individuals to follow Him. He called a group of disciples.[1]

Thus, the aim of this article is to tease out the communal significance of prayer. Why is prayer necessary for disciple-making? What role does prayer play in the discipleship process? In answering these questions, we will examine three core principles: (1) familial reality of prayer, (2) the content of prayer, and (3) the heart’s affection in prayer.


Family Endearment. Disciple-making void of prayer fundamentally neglects an essential component to the kingdom of God—family ties. Or communicated positively, disciple-making filled with prayerful engagement to the Father takes advantage of familial access granted by the Son through the power of His Holy Spirit. Christian prayer is not merely access to a transcendent being, it is communion and fellowship with the covenantal Lord Himself. The Apostle Paul asserts, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). Meaning, evidence of the Spirit’s work in one’s life assures salvation in Christ and, hence, adoption into the kingdom of heaven (cf. Rom. 8:1). It follows, then, that our adoption in Christ grants us access to “cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Thus, salvation ensures admittance into the throne room of God which is expressed through prayer. Jesus affirms this notion when He preached about the in-breaking of His kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:29). He taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name” (Matt. 6:9; italics mine). According to D. A. Carson, “There is, therefore, an abundant relationship between God the heavenly Father, and those who have become His children by faith in and obedience toward His Son. There is life, forgiveness, acceptance, inheritance, family, and discipline in this relationship.”[2] To this end, prayer is familial dialogue with our gracious, merciful, and loving Father.


Teach Me to Pray. When my children were still learning to talk, my wife would spend countless hours teaching them to mimic her. She would say, “Say, I love mommy!” or “Say, I love daddy!” and the children would echo her sentiments. If she wanted to teach them Hmong, she would say, “Hais, nyob zoo!” or “kuv xav noj mov.”


Prayer sets the cadence of our minds to think God’s thoughts and to know His desires. When we pray, says Jesus, we are not to “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do” (Matt. 6:7). Yet, we are to take His Word and pray them back to Him. Jesus teaches that if “you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn. 15:7; italics mine). The qualifier of our asking is His Word. Again, His Word shapes not only how we ask but what we ask for. His word transforms our minds to know and think His thoughts after Him. Just like how my wife taught our children to speak by sharing her cadence with them, our Lord has taught us to pray by sharing His Word with us. Therefore, prayer is to be informed by His Word and, in turn, be the mechanism to which God sanctifies our thoughts to align to His.


Set the Sail of Affections in My Heart. My father instilled in his children the value and aspiration for higher education. Regardless of what we, his sons, wanted to do, it would encompass a pursuit toward further education. As a young teen I took these notions for granted. I had no inclination nor ambition to pursue higher schooling. My attitude was to pursue a vocation that afforded least resistance. As my father persisted and time progressed, I began to appreciate and value the process of learning.


Not only does prayer align our minds to the Word of God, but it also stirs our affection toward divine things. There is an inner transformative nature to the discipline of prayer. As stated earlier, ‘[if] you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn. 15:7; italics mine). In the renewal of the mind, the heart is massaged toward receptivity to God. Our wishing and desires, then, are formed to long for the things of heaven. His children, in turn, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). Thus, when we ask, we no longer ask with selfish nor idolatrous intent. Rather, we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10; cf. Rom. 8:2-8); that is, the Spirit is sanctifying our hearts to love the things of God.


The Privilege of Prayer:


Inner transformation does not come merely through human agency. We are conduits, yes! However, the source and power that drives our sanctification comes from uniting ourselves to the fountain, the triune God Himself. This unity comes by way of the inspired text of Scripture as well as entrance into the throne room of God through prayer. Disciple-making, then, is contingent upon a healthy dosage of prayer that conveys dependency, intimacy, and comradery with our Lord. As Jesus says in the Gospel according to John, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (Jn. 15:15, italics mine). Thus, discipleship encompasses a new relationship with God that no longer asserts an outside-looking-in mentality, but rather infers a covenantal, familial relationship through the cross-work of Christ. It is by Jesus’s atoning work that we have access into the holy of holies and a concession to communion with God as sons and daughters. Prayer is a privilege rather than a duty. Let us enter in, then, with joy and anticipation. As the author of Hebrews (10:19-25) says,

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
 

***footnotes***

[1] William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 28.

[2] D. A. Carson, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: A Study of Matthew 5-10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018), 82.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (6). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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