Wesleyan Theology: Prayer as a Means of Grace

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

Prayer is one of the fundamental Means of Grace. It is a glorious gift of God's love, for in and through it each and every one of us can come before the throne of Grace and enter into a personal, meaningful, life-transforming relationship with the Almighty Creator of the entire Universe. So frequently we treat prayer as if it were some strange, unnatural, foreign practice of super-spiritual piety; in truth, it is the most natural, human, simplest, and least distant Means of Grace.

In and through prayer — both individual and communal — we are brought into a closer abiding relationship with God. Prayer isn't just our talking to God, it is also our listening to the voice of God in our lives. We can hear God's voice in many different ways: through the words of Scripture, directly and internally, through the words of great Christian authors and poets, through the words of our family, friends, and loved ones; there are many ways of hearing the voice of God. Prayer is about opening oneself to that voice and allowing God to speak to us, wherever we are and whatever our needs may be.

Sometimes we get so super-spiritual about prayer that we miss the radical reality of its important presence in our lives. We are called to pray everywhere and all the time ... not just at Church and not just in private. Indeed, our very lives are called to be a "prayer unto God." I particularly love the words of St. Paul concerning prayer:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 NRSV)

In our prayer life we are called to "rejoice in the Lord always." Even though we live in a difficult world, and even though our lives are very full and very difficult, if we will only open ourselves to God in prayer we can know the true peace of the Presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. That is how we, as a people of faith, can over come such horrible tragedies as the shooting deaths of children in High Schools, or the deaths of family, friends, and loved ones in natural disasters like Tornadoes. Left to our own strength, or own abilities, our own sources, we will surely fail to persevere in the tragedies of this life. But with the strength and the power and the love of Almighty God, working in and through us through the many wonderful means of God's Grace, we can be assured of the strength and the peace to make it through our trial and tribulations. Note what Paul says: "do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Bad things will happen ... they always have, and in this life they always will. But through prayer, through abiding with the Love of God in Jesus Christ, we can be assured that we will have the Peace of God, which passes all of our human ways of understanding.

That's the glory of the Means of Grace. They are not some theoretical, distant, disconnected theological enterprise. They don't deal with such ideas as "how many angles can dance on the head of a pin?" They deal with the very stuff of the Christian experience. Sacramental Theology — the Theology of Grace — deals with how we are empowered to go from day to day. And one of the most important means in this theology is prayer. I implore you, do not neglect it!

© 1999 Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.