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Prayer Is A Duty

Maybe you never noticed it, but at the beginning of Jesus’ great teaching on prayer, he says this: “But when you pray…” There’s an assumption there that he’s making, that you’re going to be praying and that you’re going to be doing it regularly. In fact, prayer really is a duty for the believer.

Many of us tend to not want to think about it that way because we think about prayer as a relationship with our heavenly Father. Or we want to think about prayer being a natural thing, something that arises whenever the Spirit moves, or something like that. We sort of get the idea that if prayer is an obligation, a duty of some kind that it will ruin things—like a relationship that has obligations can’t have life in it.

But the reality is, every relationship that’s based in love has duties attached to it. And of course they do. They have to. Just think for a moment about a marriage where the husband has no sense of duty to care for his wife. Or what about a son who feels no sense of obligation to his father in his old age? These would at the very least be deeply unhealthy relationships.

And so of course our relationship with God would have obligations—not just from us to God but from God to us. God makes promises to his people and we’re meant to be able to count on them. He binds himself to us through the covenant, and because of that he obliges himself to fulfill those obligations.

And what’s really amazing is how God loves us even when we are not living up to our obligations. In fact, that’s really the story of the gospel. God stays committed to us even when we—in our weakness and sin—don’t stay faithful to him. He chases us down, finds us out, pulls us back into relationship with him.

And what that means is that our duty to him is rooted in his faithfulness to us. We could paraphrase the apostle John and say, We are committed to him because he first committed to us.

Prayer is a duty then, not because it earns us something with God, but because it is a part of what relational health looks like between God and his people. It’s God saying, Here is the right way to relate to me.

Pray with me. Father, forgive us for the ways that we haven’t been faithful to your covenant. Forgive us for the ways we haven’t been faithful to you! And thank you for being committed to us even when we are slack in our obligations towards you. Please transform our hearts so that we might be more like Jesus who sought you with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind. And it’s in his name that we pray. Amen.

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