“A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more,” 19th Century minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne said. Prayer is when a Christian is “real” before God. When he has finished with all that the world has to offer, finished with everything he thought would satisfy him, finished with every attempt to gain favor with God. Prayer is when the Christian has nothing, and nothing left to do, but fall on his face before his Father with everything laid bare trusting in His mercy. Prayer is the action of saving faith.
What does the soul of a Christian look like in real, sincere prayer?
Sinful. Even a Christian’s prayers are imperfect, tainted by sin. We cannot fully escape selfish motives or misplaced desires when we pray, but that is why we need Christ. As we pray, He acts as our High Priest, offering up our prayers purified by His death (Revelation 8:4). A praying Christian is sinful, but his Christ is righteous.
Fickle. A Christian in prayer is easily distracted. The cares of this world and the wickedness of his heart set themselves against this practice. He can be in earnest prayer one moment, and then be hardly praying at all the next, with his mind turned by some passing thought or distraction. It isn’t a matter of trying to concentrate. It’s a matter of being human. A praying Christian is fickle, but his Christ is faithful. Christ stands continuously praying for the Christian, and His mind never strays (Hebrews 7:25).
Helpless. When a Christian prays, he puts himself in a posture of helplessness. There is nothing in himself that he can trust in or look to for strength. He recognizes the sin and imperfections in his heart and refuses to claim that he can fix them himself. There is nothing for him to lean on for support, nothing behind which he can hide, nothing to which he can find inside himself for strength. The Christian in prayer is helpless, but his Christ is mighty to save.
Starving. A Christian prays for one reason: he is needy. His soul was made to be satisfied, and nothing can satisfy it. Whether he feels it or not, he is in a constant state of starvation apart from the intimacy of God. Not only will nothing in this world satisfy his desires, but also nothing here is equipped to meet his needs. His soul needs rest from the everyday activity of life, and the longest vacation or deepest sleep can’t give him that rest. His soul needs to be cleansed from guilt, and all the good works in the world would only soil him more. His soul needs to be released from the power of sin, and all the positive thinking, self-help books he could read would only give him false hope. The Christian prays because he is starving, and his Christ is all sufficient, able to meet all his needs and grant him every desire of his heart.
Trusting. The Christian who prays is placing his trust in something outside of himself. He knows his heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), and he dares not trust it. He will not place his trust in anything he has done, knowing that his most righteous works are “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). He can’t place his trust in yesterday’s grace; he needs God now. There is only one place where his trust can safely rest. The praying Christian places his trust in the arms of a trustworthy Christ.
Wrestling. Like Jacob with the Angel, the Christian who prays wrestles with God. He will not let go until God has revealed Himself, until he knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is who He says He is. The Christian takes hold of God with the firm and urgent grasp of faith, and reminds God of His promises: His promise to reveal Himself to those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13); His promise to save from sin (Acts 3:19); His promise to indwell His saints (2 Corinthians 6:16); and His promise to bring the Christian to glory (Hebrews 2:10). The Christian who prays trusts in the integrity of the Keeper of promises.