By Mary Glenn Hadley
There are some popular concepts about prayer. For some, prayer simply means telling God what to do and expecting God to act accordingly. People think God has given them good minds and generous resources that enable them to figure out things on their own. They don’t want to bother God for the little things of life. They would only think to pray when they need something big or when they face major crises. When difficult experiences or situations arise, there is a cry of the inner person to God. That cry from an honest heart is heard by a holy God. For many, it is at those moments that their journey in prayer begins. Prayer becomes telling God what they want and then expecting God to respond. That kind of prayer is a monologue and limits the opportunities God offers through prayer.
Built into the soul of every person is an awareness of God. Prayer, however, is a vital part of our walk with God. We cannot assume that everyone knows what prayer is and why we pray. Many times in small groups and worship services when the opportunity to pray together arises, few verbalize.
Consider for a moment your own attitude about prayer. Is prayer a monologue or a conversation between God and you? What immediately comes to your mind when you hear the word, prayer? Would words like “powerful,” “loving,” or “talking with God” describe your response, or would you say that prayer is a worthless exercise?
Pause for a moment and think back to your first experience with prayer. What comes to mind? Could it be a memory of your parents teaching you to give thanks to God before a meal? Or was it talking with God as your parents tucked you in bed at night?
The Bible is a textbook on prayer. In Jeremiah 33:3 we read: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” What a gift God gives individuals to enter into conversations with God and to expect a response that tells us great and unsearchable things that would not have been known otherwise.
Prayer goes beyond just a conversation. True prayer is communion, where there is pleasure just being in the company of the other. Prayer, then, is a relationship with God. It is not a manipulation. It is talking with God and fellowshipping in each other’s company. There are several reasons why prayer is so important.
God tells us to pray. There are many passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that invite prayer. Experience God’s compassion as God seeks to communicate through the written word:
• Isaiah 55:6: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”
• Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
• John 16:24: “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
• 1 Thessalonians 5: 17: “Pray continually.”
• Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Can you feel God’s love flowing through these words? They are not words intended to make us afraid to commune with God. They are given out of our Lord’s deep love for us and God’s longing to communicate with us. Remember how God came and walked nightly with Adam and Eve in the garden? God wanted their fellowship just as God invites ours. If we are authentic about wanting to be a disciple of Christ, we will want to be obedient to his invitation to communicate through prayer.
A second reason for praying is to get to know God intimately. The Spirit alerts us to the things in our lives that separate us from God. The initiative to pray really comes from God. Without the open door of prayer, we would not be able
to confess our sins or talk over the things for which we seek guidance. As we get to know God well, we understand how God looks at the things we are involved with, and we begin to look at things through God’s perspectives. This is an exciting venture, for God does not look at things as people often do.
Once we begin to understand God’s perspectives, through prayer, we will move to God’s agenda. It is easy to get so bogged down in our “wish lists” for God that we miss the whole point of prayer. When developing a relationship with God, we find our prayers will focus more and more on God and less and less on ourselves. Phillips Brooks said, “The purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.’” Henry Blackaby describes the opportunity prayer gives us to understand God’s will and then to adjust our lives to that truth in his book Experiencing God. These adjustments begin when we believe that God is who he says he is and that God will do what he says. Aligning our lives to God’s truth will follow. Scripture gives examples of this from Abram to David, Hannah to Mary, Peter, Andrew, James and John, and many others. As their relationship with God grew, their faith grew, and they were willing to make those changes in their lives required to align their lives with God’s truth. Adjusting our lives to God’s truths allows us to pray in accordance with God’s will. 1 John 5:14 gives guidance for this. “This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
Prayer keeps us alive spiritually. There has to be growth in any relationship to keep it alive. The same is true in our relationship with God. Jesus described this need well when he said in John 15:5-7, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” It is no burden to remain in Jesus. That is a joyous place to be, and through that vantage point, we learn more of him and keep alive spiritually.
Letting God know what our needs are provides another reason to pray. Too often this is thought to be the primary reason to pray. Every relationship has to have at least two parties. God wants to hear our hearts and we need to hear from God. The troubling part is that we may expect God to grant everything we ask, whereas God only promises to supply all our needs. When we are in close communion with God, we become aware that the things we thought we wanted really would not be the best for us. My experience is that God’s way is always better than my wishes.
Prayer also frees God’s power to work and God really wants to accomplish his purposes through people. Truly God invites you to come pray. God wants to participate in your daily lives because you are loved and cared for by Him. Come pray.
In Come Pray, Mary Glenn draws on her years in the mission field, her ministry stateside, biblical prayers, and insights from contemporaries for a clear guide to maturing in prayer. Each chapter includes a summary and list of resources. Activities included at the end. Useful for individual or group study. Paperback, 168 pp. On sale now for $10 from Friends United Press — www.fum.org/shop or call (765) 962-7573.