For all of us, there are certain situations in which we are more confident than others. Most of the time, being confident in a situation comes from a combination of familiarity and achievement – the more times you have been in that situation combined with the better you are in the midst of that situation results in your confidence level.
Conversely, it’s pretty rare to do something or go somewhere for the very first time and be feel really confident. Likewise, it’s pretty rare to be really bad at something and yet to have a high level of confidence in what you are doing.
So that’s the formula: Familiarity + Achievement = Confidence. And that formula fits in most situations. It does not fit, however, when it comes to prayer.
If you’re like me, you are pretty familiar with the process of prayer. You probably have been praying for the majority of your life. Not always for extended periods of time, and not always as a sustained discipline, but you know your way around your prayer life. But despite that familiarity, most of us are not very confident when it comes to prayer. Perhaps we are not confident because of the second part of that formula – that we all live with a sense that we should be better at praying by now. We should be able to concentrate harder, spend more time, and have greater focus. Instead, we seem to time and time again fumble and bumble our way through our prayers.
When it comes to prayer, then, the formula breaks down. Familiarity and achievement are not what lead to confidence before the throne of grace. And yet confidence is exactly what we are supposed to have:
Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
There is a different formula that leads to confidence in prayer. But unlike the previous formula, this one has very little to do with us. So what is that formula? It has three ingredients:
1. A Father who loves us.
“Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:7-10).
We are to ask, to seek, to knock over and over again not because we are worthy or because our prayers and petitions are just right; instead, we can approach God with our prayers because He is a good Father who knows how to give good gifts. In fact, He is a Father who longs to give good gifts. Surely we can come with confidence to a Father like that.
2. The Son who prays for us.
Here is a staggering thought – the Son of God, crucified and now resurrected, is actually praying for you:
“Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).
Jesus is our Great High Priest. Like the high priests of old, He intercedes between God and man. But unlike those high priests, Jesus has been raised to an indestructible life, and therefore always lives to intercede for us. So when we pray, we might feel weak and powerless, but there is One who is all-powerful who is lending His voice to our cause. Jesus, the Son of God, is praying for us. Surely we can come with confidence when we have the very Son of God on our side.
3. The Spirit who helps us.
When we pray, we might be confused about what the right outcome of a situation is. We, in our limited knowledge, tainted emotion, and short-sighted vision might think we know exactly what a given outcome of a situation ought to be, and yet we might be dead wrong. So we might be confused about what exactly to pray for. We can be certain, though, that the Holy Spirit is not. He knows the will of God, and He is interceding for us not according to our desires, but according to that will:
“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).
Surely we can come with confidence knowing that the Spirit of God is our helper in prayer.
When it comes to prayer, our confidence is not built on our ability. It’s not built on our familiarity. It is built on the trinitarian reality set before us. That the Son is already praying for us, the Spirit is always helping us, and the Father is ready to receive us.