When the expression “a life of prayer” comes to mind, people usually think of a devout figure whose life is characterized by frequent and extended prayer.
But there is another very different possible meaning that we should always remember is contained in this expression. In a very real sense our lives are part of our prayers: we pray what we live, not just what we say.
Although we may not find a biblical verse that makes this statement in exactly those words, we find many scriptures that make the principle clear. For example, the apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters … to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). When we remember the many biblical verses that equate prayer with sacrifice (Psalm 141:2, etc.), what Paul writes takes on even clearer meaning – that just as our prayers are given as offerings or sacrifices to God (Revelation 8:4), the sacrifice of our “bodies” – our lives – is also part of our worship. Paul urges us to make our lives just as much a pleasing offering to God as our verbal prayers.
The Christian writer and preacher A. W. Tozer referred to this principle when he wrote: "We cannot pray in love and live in hate and still think we are worshiping God." Tozer’s comment is well known, but he followed it up with an analogy that is not so often quoted and which summarizes the broader principle:
Let us suppose we are back in the old days of the high priest, who took incense into the [temple sanctuary] and went behind the veil and offered it there. And let us suppose that rubber—the worst-smelling thing I can think of when it burns—had been available in those days. Let us suppose that chips of rubber had been mixed with the incense, so that instead of the pure smoke of the spices filling the temple with sweet perfume, there had been the black, angry, rancid smell of rubber mixed with it. How could a priest worship God by mixing with the sweet-smelling ingredients some foul ingredient that would be a stench in the nostrils of priest and people?
Tozer’s analogy is a good one, and we might well contrast it with what Paul instructs us in Ephesians: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Paul shows here that our walk – if it is in the way of love – is equivalent to a fragrant offering or sacrifice, just as that of Christ was.
But the principle of our lives being prayers is not just an analogy that we can dismiss or overlook. The relationship between our lives and our prayer “offerings” is as important as it is direct. We see this from the beginning of the biblical record with the story of Cain whose offering was rejected by God:
The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:4-7).
In Cain’s case God rejected a physical offering because of his not doing right, but the New Testament makes it clear that the same applies to our verbal prayers: “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will” (John 9:31). The Book of Hebrews gives a clear example of this interaction between our everyday and prayer lives: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16). Our sacrifice of prayer and praise is directly linked, Hebrews says, to our walk, our behavior and our deeds.
The Bible’s teaching is clear, then: our everyday life is part of our “prayer” life and God “hears” what we do just as much as what we say. It is often said that our private lives must match our public prayers, but our everyday lives must match our private prayers, too. One of the greatest ways we can improve our prayer lives is to bring our everyday lives into alignment with them. It’s a fact that gives new meaning to the old question, “How’s your prayer life?”
*Download our free ebook on prayer, YOUR CALL: USING THE DIRECT PRIVATE LINE OF PRAYER here.