Growth in my prayer life has been, by far, the most practical result of my renewed interest in the Holy Spirit. This past weekend, I preached on Romans 8:12-17, where Paul insists that we have received something far greater than the “spirit of slavery to fall back into fear”–that is, the ministry of the Holy Spirit to condemn, according to the Law. Instead, we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Rom. 8:15)–that is, we have received the ministry of the Holy Spirit to comfort, according to the Gospel.
Prayer–that is, crying out to God as “Abba! Father!”–is the clearest evidence of our adoption as the children of God.
Calvin writes this about Rom. 8:16 (“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”):
There is also here an explanation of the former verse; for when the Spirit testifies to us, that we are the children of God, he at the same time pours into our hearts such confidence, that we venture to call God our Father. And doubtless, since the confidence of the heart alone opens our mouth, except the Spirit testifies to our heart respecting the paternal love of God, our tongues would be dumb, so that they could utter no prayers. For we must ever hold fast this principle, — that we do not rightly pray to God, unless we are surely persuaded in our hearts, that he is our Father, when we so call him with our lips. To this there is a corresponding part, — that our faith has no true evidence, except we call upon God. It is not then without reason that Paul, bringing us to this test, shows that it then only appears how truly any one believes, when they who have embraced the promise of grace, exercise themselves in prayers. (Calvin’s Commentary on Romans)
If we see the Holy Spirit as the rogue agent of the Trinity, off doing his own thing apart from the work of the Father through the Son, then prayer becomes to us either magic words (“Just pray this and the Holy Spirit will bless you”), or unimportant (“The Father has already sent the Son, and the Son has already laid down his life for me–what more could I possibly pray for?”).
If, however, we see the Holy Spirit’s ministry as applying what the Father accomplished through his Son, then we can see prayer as the means through which we lay hold to all that God has promised to us in the Gospel. How can we experience the Father’s love apart from our prayers? How can we understand the work of Jesus on the cross except through wrestling with God in prayer over our sin and our need for salvation?
And how do we learn to pray except by the ministry of the Holy Spirit?
From this, here are a few thoughts on how to begin to deepen your prayer life:
1) Ask that God would deepen your prayer life. Ask that he would send his Spirit to flood your heart with the love that he demonstrated for you when he sent his Son to the cross. Ask that his Spirit would teach you to cry out–at the most basic, instinctive level of your heart–to him as Father, in the name of Jesus. As James reminds us, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
2) In your prayers, work out the unique roles of each Person of the Trinity. God doesn’t need to be reminded that the Father has sent the Son for us, the Son was crucified for us, and the Father and the Son have sent their Holy Spirit to pour out their love in our hearts; we, however, need to be reminded. More than that, we need to pray for faith to recognize and grow in our love and admiration for each Person in the Trinity. How do we truly worship God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unless we learn to love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?
3) Speaking of worship, meditate on the fact that the Father is seeking true worshipers who “will worship the Father in Spirit and truth,” as Jesus tells the woman at the well (John 4:23). I don’t think that “Spirit and truth” means “heart and head,” as many explain, although I don’t think that the passage excludes that meaning either. Rather, Jesus is insisting that true worship only arises from a heart in whom the Holy Spirit is actively at work. Prayer is worship, and it is impossible to worship without prayer.
So, get in solid practice at prayer on the Lord’s Day as you worship with your church. Echo the Scripture being read in your own prayers, asking forgiveness for your sin that the Word exposes, and claiming the promises that the Word assures. Enter into the corporate prayers offered, at the very least whispering “Amen!” as you listen. Actively ask that God would both convict you of your sin and save you by his Gospel during the preaching of the Word. As much as possible, worship in Spirit and in truth through prayer.
May God grant you the grace to cry out to him as Father, through the great salvation accomplished by our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit of Adoption!