The Role of Prayer in Personal Discipleship

by Susan Booth

“In Jesus’ name, Amen.” The seconds ticked by as I waited for a response. My new friend’s head was still bowed, and she just sat there in total silence. I had no idea what she was thinking. Was she offended or embarrassed? Was she going to pray, too? I held my breath and waited.

We’d only recently met at an exercise class and had gone for a cup of coffee. She’d shared her story with me, explaining that, for her, religion was something like a buffet line. She liked to pick and choose the parts that suited her from a variety of belief systems. When she’d told me that her cancer had returned, I’d asked if I could pray for her. As we sat in her car, I’d poured my heart out to God on her behalf, asking that He might grant healing and that she might experience His love and comfort, His presence and peace.

Finally, she raised her head and quietly said, “Wow. Your prayers are very powerful.” I smiled and explained that the God I serve is powerful. Many months and conversations later, my dear friend prayed to receive Christ. She was trusting in Jesus alone by the time she went to meet Him face to face.

Prayer is an essential tool in introducing others to Christ. We pray for opportunities to share the gospel, for sensitivity to recognize those moments, and for boldness to step through open doors. We pray for the Spirit to direct our conversations, to remove the veil that darkens people’s understanding, and to convict them of sin. We plead that God will do what only He can do in bringing them to salvation. And when people are ready to make that commitment, we often lead them to express their repentance and fledgling faith in prayer.

But prayer is not only essential for missional living. It is also critical for personal discipleship.

Although He was God in the flesh, Jesus modeled reliance on prayer during His time on earth. The Gospels record that the Lord demonstrated a habitual pattern of praying often and in solitude, before sunrise and even all night long. He publically voiced praise and thanksgiving to the Father, as well as petitions on behalf of His disciples. Jesus prayed passionately to know the Father’s will and to be able to surrender to it fully.

It’s no wonder that having witnessed the power and efficacy of Jesus’ prayer-life firsthand, the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. His answer to their request—commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer”—is not a rote incantation, but rather a template or model (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4).

Astonishingly, Jesus invited His followers to address Almighty God with both a shocking intimacy and deep respect: “Our Father in heaven.” Recalling that God alone is holy, they are to enter His presence with worship and align their lives to His will. After that, they may express their utter dependence upon God for His daily provision, mercy, and deliverance.

The rest of the New Testament also underscores the significance of prayer for believers. Fervent prayer preceded the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and earnest prayer sustained the Early Church through miracles, growth, and persecution. History likewise records the centrality of prayer for succeeding generations of Christians up to our present day.

In prayer . . . we ask God to search the inner recesses of our hearts to make us truly clean. We strap on spiritual armor and stand against the enemy’s schemes. We trade in our tangled knots of anxiety for His peace that passes all understanding. We receive whatever we ask of God when we ask according to His will and in Jesus’ name. No doubt about it, the results of prayer are simply astounding.

Still, I believe the disciples must have observed something even more profound in the Lord’s devotional life that filled them with such longing. Jesus’ prayers revealed the depth of His constant communion with His Father. More than simply accessing God’s provision and power, prayer held Jesus in the very presence of God Himself.

Similarly, Jesus calls us to abide in Him. Through prayer, we delight in His presence, meditate on His Word, and walk in His Spirit. As we do so, He transforms us. We begin to absorb His priorities and passions. We start to see the world and people through His eyes. We obey Him. Over time, we even become more like Him. The world can tell when we’ve been in the presence of Jesus.

Abiding in Christ through prayer not only marks us as disciples, but enables us to make disciples.

A few days ago I visited an acquaintance in a senior center. This woman, who had once scaled mountains without fear and ridden horses with reckless abandon, now sat hunched over in a wheelchair. Simply speaking has become a struggle. We’ve talked about the gospel before, but she still has lingering reservations.

Before leaving, I asked if I might pray for her as I usually do. She consented, and I earnestly laid all of her concerns before the Father who loves her dearly and desires for her to know Him. When we finished, she smiled at me and just shook her head. “I don’t get it,” she said with a hint of longing. “There’s just something that happens when you pray.”

My friend is on her way to recognizing a foundational truth. Indeed, something wonderful happens when we pray in Jesus’ name.

 

Dr. Susan Booth is professor of evangelism and missions at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College in Cochrane, Alberta. She and her husband, Steve, served for seven years as missionaries in Budapest, Hungary, before moving to Canada in 2000. She is the author of The Tabernacling Presence of God: Mission and Gospel Witness. Susan enjoys equipping people to share the gospel.