Romans 3:10-12 sets out Godâ€™s indictment against us with blushing starkness.
â€œThere is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one.â€ (Rom 3:10-12 HCSB)
It is this verse that sets in stone the fact that no human under their own steam will ever be reconciled with God. It is the awful news that sets us up for the Great News of the gospel: that God has acted for us, to reconcile us to himself through the death of Jesus.
It is this same gospel logic at work when we come to think about prayer. On our own we do not seek God. We do not have knowledge of God, we have suppressed the knowledge that is everywhere in the creation (Romans 1:18-23).
Without knowledge of God how can we call on him in prayer?
Without faith in God why would we call on him in prayer?
Unless God acts to change us we will not even begin to pray.
Our prayers begin only after God has approached us, reconciled us, changed us from his enemies into adopted children.
From the centrepiece of the Cross we have access into a continual work of prayer that is one of the most beautiful demonstrations of Godâ€™s triune nature: It is God the Father who reconciles himself to us through the death of his Son, who wills that we should pray, and who hears our prayers; God the Son is our representative presenting our prayers to the Father as his prayers; and God the Spirit is our helper who groans for us with groans that are more expressive than our best words.
God accomplishes prayer for us, the economy of prayer takes place entirely within the Godhead, and then with infinite grace we are drawn in to take part.
I canâ€™t think of anything that gives me more confidence to come to God in prayer, and to encourage others to pray.
I donâ€™t need any extra permission from God (Iâ€™ve already got a written invitation).
I donâ€™t need to have clocked up sufficient hours â€˜wrestling in prayerâ€™, or worn holes in the knees of my jeans. I donâ€™t need to build myself up to a sufficient level of holiness before I can suggest to my Christian brothers and sisters that we pray together.
The access of my prayers is not dependent on my holiness.
Weâ€™re encouraged to receive prayer as a gift from God, not as a work we do together for him. Weâ€™re encouraged to delight in prayer, and when I think like this I find that my anxieties about prayer are lessened. In prayer we are encouraged to share in Godâ€™s goodness.