I think a lot of people—believers and non-believers alike—have a somewhat lame idea of what prayer is.
We often think of prayer as nothing other than a litany of requests we shoot off to God when we are desperate for help and we have nowhere else to turn. We shut our eyes really tight (because apparently the tighter they are closed, the more efficacious the prayer) and use a lot of flowery words sprinkled with as many “pleases” and “thank yous” we can fit, then slap an “Amen” at the end and hope for the best.
If our prayer isn’t answered the way we asked for, we either A.) Blame God, or B.) Blame ourselves. …Maybe if we had just said one more “please”, our wish—I mean, “prayer”—would have been granted.
There is a third option as well. It is somewhere between A and B. It is the option that says that there was nothing wrong with our prayer, but that it was “God’s will” that whatever ended up happening had to happen the way it did. We have to just accept it and move on.
There is of course validity to the third option; but I don’t think it is very helpful to the person who misunderstands prayer. Why pray at all if God’s will is going to be done no matter what?
Don’t be afraid to ask this question! How many years have people been praying? You are not the first one to think of it. I guarantee you that at some point in the past, someone much smarter than you or I put together had this question, sought an answer to it, and still saw a valid purpose for prayer in his or her life. So now it is our turn to seek an answer.
The Christian understanding of prayer is actually so much more than asking for things we want. That is a dimension of it, but it can’t be the whole picture.
Prayer is nothing other than having a conversation with God. Did you get that? A conversation. That means both talking and listening (we are learning social skills here too!). What kind of a relationship would have with your friends if you only talked to them for three minutes a day to beg them for stuff you needed? If they loved you and saw that what you were asking for was something truly necessary for your happiness, they would probably still grant your request, but you wouldn’t have much of a relationship.
The same is true with your relationship with God. Many people hear that prayer is necessary to build a relationship with God, but it doesn’t add up when our prayers only consist of petitions. When we start thinking of prayer as a conversation between friends, the purpose of prayer becomes clearer. We pray to become united to the one who created us. We pray to grow closer to the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, the one who knows better than we do what will make us truly happy.
Think about what this means. It means that you should pull out that list you have been keeping of questions you want to ask God when you get to Heaven, because there is no need to wait to ask. It also means responsibility on our part. If prayer is a conversation, we have to listen. And if we believe that God is God, we have to do what He tells us.
So we have covered the “Why” when it comes to prayer, but what about the “How”? I’ll be dealing with that in Tuesday’s post. Stay tuned!