Prayer helps in these four areas of spiritual growth:
1. Growth in understanding God’s ways. In James 1:5 it says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally…” It seems from this verse (and the previous verses), that wisdom, which is really an understanding of God’s ways, is gained through prayer as well as through experience; for as we encounter various trials (verse 2), we pray and ask God for an understanding of what to do (verse 5). Therefore, both experience and prayer are needed.
Experience (including all the trials we go through) keeps us in touch with reality, and prayer keeps us in touch with God, who in turn helps us understand all that we experience—which is wisdom.
Experience allows us to grow in endurance as we encounter various trials, and prayer keeps us trusting and in touch with God—who is really the source of all our help. As we encounter various trials through our experience, they will serve to move us toward prayer. But unless we pray, all the experience and all the trials will do us no good; that is, they will not produce in us true wisdom. The old person, who says, “I am wise because of my many years of experience,” is nothing but an old fool if he has rejected God. True wisdom, no matter how much experience one has, comes only to those who pray and ask for it.
2. Growth in understanding God’s Word. In Psalms 119:18 we read, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” Here the Psalmist prays to God that He would open his eyes and cause him to understand wonderful things from His Word. As we may observe in this verse, there is nothing said about any personal effort of study to gain understanding. The Psalmist expects all his understanding of the Word to come directly from God through prayer.
Now we know that the Bible tells us to study and meditate on the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15, Ps. 1); therefore, our effort should not be disregarded. All our effort in study, however, will prove vain and worthless without prayer. But by prayer all that we have studied and pondered will make sense.
3. Growth in developing a hatred for sin and a love for righteousness. This time we will turn to Psalms 51. Here we see that David was intensely grieved over his sin. In verse four he prays, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight…” Then in verse 10, he prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
As we see in this chapter, David believed in prayer; he counted on God in prayer to clean up his heart and restore his relationship with Him.
We can count on God in prayer just as David did. And the more we pray for purity in our life, the more God will give it to us, and thus the more we will grow to hate sin and love righteousness.
4. Growth in becoming more like God’s Son. In Romans 8:29 it says, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” At first glance we may think that we don’t need do anything to bring about our transformation, that since it is already predestined to happen, God will make it happen without our effort. Well, ultimately, I suppose that is true. But, along the way, God chooses to involve us in the process.
No, we cannot idly stand by and think that God will handle it all. Transformation comes with the hard work of renewing our mind (Rom. 12:2)—which includes Bible study, meditation, and prayer.
And the more we give ourselves to the work of study and prayer, the more we will behold Him as He really is. Hence, in our beholding Him we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).