I trust you won’t hold it against me if I told you that I’ve often wondered what makes someone a good prayer. I know, I know, that sounds awfully critical and judgmental—two sins I’m often prone to. But I must admit that I’ve heard people pray in such a way that it has made deep and lasting impressions on me.
I remember one prayer from a man I greatly admire that adored God for his Triunity. God in unity, God in plurality, simple in substance, undivided in nature yet distinct in person and indivisibly united. The content was so rich a theological treatise could have been written from it, and it moved me to worship. But I have also heard profound prayers from the lips of children who, without care or concern for what others would think or say, converse with God with such blessed simplicity I blush that I don’t approach the Throne of Grace with likewise child affections. So, if I’m allowed to ask, what makes a man, woman, or child a good prayer? If it’s not eloquence, wordiness, age, experience—what is it?
I think the answer, or at least one of the answers to that question, is character. The character of a person determines their life of prayer. I hope that’s not a shocking or jarring statement to make. For the last couple of months I have been preaching through the Lord’s Prayer in our evening services. I have gained a much greater appreciation for it since. What a perfect example has been laid down for us in this model. The Lord’s Prayer is simple yet profound, perfect in its order, balance, and parts. The content is rich and deep, and I don’t think a person can go wrong to make Jesus’ words their own. But, for the first time, it struck me that Jesus doesn’t only teach us regarding the content of our prayers, he’s teaching his disciples the character of one who prays. If we harbor known pride and arrogance, blaspheme or independence, anger and bitterness in our hearts, I’m not sure how we can pray it in sincerity. The character of a person does affect their life of prayer.
And what kind of character does Jesus commend in this prayer? Well, I think it’s safe to say that if one would pray rightly, he must be a child of God, for we are taught to pray, “Our Father in heaven.” She must be a worshipper of God, “Hallowed by Thy name.” He must be a subject of God, “Thy Kingdom come,” and she must be a servant of God, “Thy will be done.” We must be beggars of God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We must be sinners, “Forgive us our debts,” and we must be weak, “Lead us not into temptation.” And, of course, that is a character that is formed by divine grace working without and within to give us a true understanding as to who we are.
Please remember, you don’t need to be a pastor to pray well, you need to be a child of God. You don’t need to be well educated and learned, you need to be a worshipper. You don’t need to be aged and old, you need to be a subject. You don’t need to be the best, you need to be a servant. You don’t need to have it all together, you need to be a beggar. You don’t have to be perfect, you need to be a sinner. You don’t need to be strong, you need to be weak. And where prayers are borne out of a character like that, I’m quite convinced they rise before God like the smoke of incense and are a sweet smelling aroma to him.