Free, but expensive

Earle D. Treptow 

“I’ll keep that in my prayers,” a Christian says upon hearing about the challenges an individual is facing. Occasionally, the words come as a reflex, uttered without much thought. It feels like the perfect thing for a Christian to say, and not only because the words roll easily off the tongue and encourage the person who’s hurting. In addition, since a Christian may offer a prayer anywhere at any time at no charge, it seems like an easy promise both to make and to keep.  

But this needs to be said: Prayer is free, but expensive.  

A Christian doesn’t have to pay for an audience with the Lord. She’s not required to show herself deserving of God’s ear. But strangely, the cost of prayer may be a problem. Some have suggested that people tend to take for granted that which is free. If that’s the case, we need to look at prayer a little more closely. Prayer is expensive. In fact, “expensive” doesn’t begin to express the reality. The highest price was paid to secure the privilege of prayer for the children of God: God himself took on flesh to shed his blood for sinners so they might pray freely and often.  

That’s not the only reason to consider prayer expensive. While the Christian doesn’t pay anything to pray, the Christian does incur significant cost by praying. The Christian who prays gives up the cherished illusion that he can solve the problems in his life all by himself. In approaching the Lord in prayer, he acknowledges what his sinful flesh has no interest in confessing: “I’m powerless to solve this problem. I’m not the one directing all things. God is, and he alone.” Given the pride of the sinful nature that clings to Christians, prayer is expensive—an admission that we are powerless.  

A Christian who has listened to God’s Word knows the way God chooses to operate. He typically works indirectly, through ordinary means, rather than through miracles. Instead of dropping food from the sky, for example, he gives people the ability to work and earn the money needed to purchase the food they need. The Lord who generally answers the prayers of his people indirectly may decide to use the Christian herself as the answer to her own prayer.  

The Christian who prays that the Lord would encourage her friend who lost her job may see the Lord do so through her ears and mouth, as she listens intently to her friend and speaks God’s promises to her. The Christian who asks God to have mercy on those whose homes were destroyed by a tornado may find the Lord answering his prayer through the money currently in his savings account. The Christian who prays for godly people to serve in government might see the Lord grant that request by leading her to run for office. Prayer is indeed free, but it may prove expensive.  

Might that be a reason we’re sometimes slow to pray? We’ve observed how the Lord answers prayers, and we’re not convinced we can afford the answer. We see under-supplied bank accounts and overflowing calendars, with scarcely an ounce of emotional energy remaining. Rather than looking for more people and situations for whom to pray, we withdraw into our own lives. But we need not withdraw. The Lord promises to strengthen his people and to meet all their needs in Christ, freeing them up to serve others.  

So go ahead and pray for others. Then watch the Lord use you as an answer to prayer and marvel at the way he empowers you to serve.   

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon. 


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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