Jonathan Edwards: The Aim of Prayer

God himself is the great good desired and sought after

Have you ever asked for one thing for Christmas or your birthday, promising that you would never ask for another gift if you received it? I remember doing that multiple times with my parents. Of course, the shine and happiness that item brought lasted only a few days (maybe even just hours) as the heart is an endless pit of wants and desires. But that type of abandon of all else for the one object is instructive for Christians. When we come to pray, we are bringing our wants and desires, our hopes and dreams to the One who holds all things in his hands. What is the one object in prayer that if obtained would cause all other desires to fall away? If God were to grant one request in prayer what would that request be for you? What should the Christian’s primary aim be in prayer? Or to put the question another way, what is the greatest and highest request that we can make to God when we pray?

Jonathan Edwards answers these questions by noting from Scripture that the “good that shall be sought by prayer, which is God himself.” It is not enough to simply pray for “big” things. God himself is to be pursued. There is a seeking of the face of God that Edwards has in mind here. There is a communion that is seen throughout the text of Scripture that those that have tasted this relationship will pursue with all their might.

But what specifically does Edwards want us to pursue in God? Edwards writes, “God’s gracious presence: the blessed manifestations of him, union and [fellowship] with him, or, in short, God’s manifestations and communications of himself by his Holy Spirit.” This is the aim of the prayer for the Christian. God has given to Christians his Holy Spirit and we must ask for God’s presence and communion with him. That should be our aim and desire when we enter into prayer. Edwards notes that the Psalms are filled with longings and desperate seeking after God himself. Nothing would satisfy the Psalmist except the very presence of God.

I often forget to Whom I am praying. I assume that I have God when I go to prayer and simply have a list of hurts, burdens, joys, thanksgivings, and requests to bring to God. But for Edwards in attempting to see a great revival and God work in his time and in his place saw that prayer was a seeking and pursuing of God himself. In other words, praying to God is not the same as seeking God in prayer. Edwards makes an accurate observation when he says, “It is in Scripture the peculiar character of the saints, that they are those who seek GOD.” If our prayer lives as Christians are to grow and expand then our relationship with God must be of supreme importance. When we come to prayer, we leave the list behind and we seek the face of God. Do we seek the blessings of God or do we seek God himself?

Praying to God is not the same as seeking God

This seems good and well, but the pursuit of God at times can feel like wandering in an open field with no one and nothing in sight. Edwards will later make the claim that the “more excellent the nature of any benefit is, which we stand in need of, the more ready God is to bestow it, in answer to prayer.” The greatest aim and pursuit in prayer is God and God will answer when we seek him earnestly. God even calls us to seek him while he may be found (Isa 55:6). For Edwards, prayer was not list oriented or task driven but aimed at and for the Person of God. If we want to see God work, we must seek God in prayer. Edwards saw that truth all through the text of Scripture and made it his aim with other churches to do the same. May we do the same in our day to see what God may do in our time.

Article by Caleb Nedimyer

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