My journey into faith in Christ started with a prayer borne out of desperation. Although God never answered that request, it was enough to spark my interest in God that took me from a secularized Muslim family to Islam and from there to Christianity, the seminary, and beyond.
Prayers similar to Jesus’ pleading on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” still pierce my heart when I hear them. This interest in prayers has always been with me, and it deepened when I became the leader of the prayer team in our church.
To date, I have led many prayers in various churches. I think I learned more from praying both with people and by myself than from many sermons. Somewhere along the way, I concluded that prayer is the core of discipleship. Or you can say that it is the gateway to all other disciplines of Christian life. If it is not cultivated properly, other disciplines such as fasting, Bible study, fellowship, humility, and tithing will suffer.
The ancient church recognized the power of prayer in the saying, “lex orandi, lex credendi”: the law of prayer is the law of faith. In fact, if you want to understand an individual’s real faith and its level of maturity, don’t ask him to tell you what he believes. Instead, listen to his prayers.
But authority in and of itself is not enough to convince us that conversing with God is the core of biblical discipleship especially in this day and age.
Below you will find several reasons why I think prayer is the core component of Christian discipleship.
Prayer is the way we talk to God.
Unlike fasting or fellowship, prayer is the only way we talk to God more or less directly. Why is the way of talking to God more important than other ways of relating to God? Because talking is the most human, flexible, and widespread activity in which we excel. It is easier to apply this channel in our relations with God than others. You don’t need to go hungry for hours to pray. So in a sense, prayer is a privileged activity compared to other ways of discipleship.
In addition, prayer gives us a flexibility because words are flexible. A believer can pray on any topic he chooses. He can pray as long as he wants or as short as he wants.
Prayer is the practice of Christ, the early church, and the disciples.
In the Bible, prayer is one of the most frequently cited habits of Jesus. At the most difficult times (in Gethsemane and during crucifixion) of his life, Christ did not fast or read the scriptures but prayed. His disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, and Christ gave them quite a detailed answer — down to the words to use in prayer.
But this is not the case with other disciplines that the scripture mentions. Sure, Christ speaks about fasting, yet you don’t see him giving as detailed of a response.
The first congregations that rose immediately after the ascension of the Lord practiced three things, and one of them was prayer (Acts 2:46–47). The disciples gathered (fellowship), broke bread (holy communion), and praised the Lord (prayer).
Prayer can be equally public and private.
As a discipline, prayers can be practiced both in public and in private. You can bless people with a short prayer in your home or in an occasion of public prayer. In contrast, fasting does not have a public dimension, or if it does, it is very little and cannot be adjusted.
You can speak about fasting, even devote your fasting to someone, but your fasting is not going to be public or be experienced by others. You fast. Yes, you pray too, but your public prayer is heard, and by hearing it, people participate in your prayer. It may change their hearts in an instant, more so than fasting.
Prayer can easily be practiced anywhere, anytime, and in any situation.
Prayer is the most adjustable discipline that you can practice anywhere, anytime, and in any situation. You can pray for a long time and drive, but you cannot read the scripture while driving for more than a few seconds. Even then, reading while driving would not be wise.
This discipline also is the easiest to start and finish; prayer does not take much. In the dangerous moments of our lives, the first thing that comes to mind is to pray rather than to find another Christian for fellowship.
Prayer is the most widespread spiritual practice.
If you know anything about other faiths, you know that almost all faiths invite their adherents to talk to God. Jews, Muslims, Christians pray. Prayer can be heard in the Shinto temples of Japan or in the words of drumming Shaman somewhere in Siberia.
Reading scriptures or being humble or fellowship? Not so much. In societies without writing, people pray, but they can’t read or write. Ancient Greeks prayed too, but bravery rather than humility had the place of honor on their list of virtues.
All this is to say that prayer matters — a lot. We are called to take the word of God seriously, and nowhere does it become more real than in our prayers.