The Responsibility to Pray
Reformed Free Publishing Association
From When You Pray, by Herman Hanko, chapter 2, pages 19-20.
In the work of saving his people so that they are conscious of their salvation, God works in them in such a way that they work. It is something like the grafting of a branch to another tree. The grafted apple branch lives out of the peach tree, draws its life from the roots of the peach tree, becomes a part of the peach tree, and brings forth its fruit in living connection with the peach tree. But its fruit remains apples. So all the power to do our work, a part of which is prayer, comes from God and is ours only because we are grafted into Christ our life. The prayers we raise on high, though completely worked in us, are our prayers. We are profoundly conscious of them and of our work in making these prayers. So we become conscious of God’s great grace in us.
Prayer is indeed an obligation and calling. The commands of Scripture that exhort us to pray come to us as commands, because God has determined to save us so that we become conscious of his blessings and learn to appreciate them for what they are.
God does not save us as stocks and blocks. He does not take us to heaven, as the pastor of my youth often said, in the upper berth of a Pullman sleeper. He does not tow us through this life to heaven as a child pulls a mechanical, quacking duck across the floor. He saves us as rational and moral creatures. And so he comes to us with commands, prohibitions, admonitions, threats, chastisements, and incentives, so that as he works our prayers within us, bringing us blessings, we may, through the great struggle with our sins, see the greatness of all God gives. He works in such a way that our prayers are inspired and wrought in us by the commands and injunctions of his word. He uses all the means of Scripture’s pleadings and warnings, promises and threats, to work prayer in us. And the prayers he works in us become themselves a part of the blessings we receive through prayer. Never is the Christian so blessed as during those times when he is with his God in the secret places of the Most High. The prayer itself becomes the greatest blessing of all.
We may profitably learn to pray Augustine’s well-known prayer: “Give what Thou dost ask, and ask what Thou wilt.”
From this it follows that we strive earnestly to pray as much as possible. The very idea of striving means that we are very sinful and struggle to live a life of prayer. In this way, too, God demonstrates to us that he gives us the great blessing and high privilege of coming into his courts in heaven on the wings of our prayers even though we are not deserving of doing this, incapable of praying it in our own power, and devoid of his grace without it. It is when we recognize what a great wonder God works in us that we may and can pray and that we persevere more faithfully in our calling to pray. God’s sovereignty enhances and even works our responsibility. With these truths before our minds,we are able to turn to prayer itself.
Give what Thou dost ask, and ask what Thou wilt.
— Augustine —
[6.] Augustine, The Confessions, Book X, chapter 29, paragraph 40.