Arnold Dallimore, in his enjoyable biography of Charles Spurgeon, recounts the following about the Prince of Preachers’ prayer life: “He talked with God in reverence but with freedom and familiarity.” Freedom and familiarity: watchwords of true prayer. These two words prove an example of what balanced prayer should look like for the Christian. Unfortunately such balance is often toppled leaving Christians to slide from one or the other of the two extremes.
For instance, Christians can become too familiar with God in prayer that they descend into a bog of irreverence. A dear pastor-friend of mine once told me of an experience he had in seminary as he and a fellow student were at prayer. This student began their devotional time by telling God a joke! My friend had no idea how to respond, and I can only imagine the difficulty he had continuing on in prayer with this misguided brother. It is indeed a glorious truth that Christians share an intimacy with their Father, even being able to call Him “Abba.” And it is also true that we have free and easy access to the throne of grace because Jesus is seated on it at the Father’s right hand and we approach God through Him. It is mistaken, however, to abuse this truth and treat God as though he were just one of us. Although the apostles knew well the freedom they had in Christ, they also recognized that God should be approached “acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).
On the other hand, a formality foreign to the New Testament can creep into prayer that strips it of its vitality. Cold prayers are the products of stony hearts. It has been said, “What the heart thinks the tongue clinks.” What do we think of God if our prayers are so bland? While there can be a true beauty to the written prayers of the liturgical traditions, if they are not empassioned by a heart affected by the Spirit of God they are as lifeless as a rotting carp that’s washed upon the shore of some beautiful lake.
May it be said of us as it was of Spurgeon: “Prayer was the instinct of his soul and the atmosphere of his life. It was his ‘vital breath’ and ‘native air.’ He sped on eagle wings into the heaven of God.”