A Fresh Look at Prayer

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Interior of Christ the King church, Cincinnati, OH
Photo by Russell Smith

Prayer is not optional. Neither is prayer a strategy. Prayer is so much more than the obligatory nod in God’s direction at the beginning of meals, meetings, and events.  While God would have us bring our burdens to Him (Psalm 55:22), he would also have our prayers be more than about our burdens.  While Jesus tells us to ask and it will be given to us (Matthew 7:7), he would also have our prayers be more than asking.

Prayer is quite simply our deliberate speaking with God.

Deliberate.  Prayer is an uncoerced act of our will. Rote recitation of a set of words is not prayer, it is a memory exercise. We learn sets of words as an aid to prayer, but if the words do not shape the heart then there is no prayer.  No-one accidentally prays.  Neither can one be compelled to pray.  Prayer is something that we choose to do … or choose not to do.

Speaking with.  Prayer is communication with, not to.  It is not one-directional.  The act of prayer expects a response. Without the expectation of response, we are simply engaging in magic, trickery, the rubbing of the lucky rabbit foot.  If we don’t expect a response then we are engaged in a colossal waste of time.

God.  Infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God.  God who came in a tempestuous whirlwind and spoke with Job; God who visited Elijah with a still, small voice.  God who took on flesh and dwelt among men.  The triune, living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is dangerous to speak with God.  When we speak with God, He responds in unexpected ways.  He sent Jonah to a far country; He sent Moses to face Pharaoh.  He called Peter from the fishing nets and He knocked Paul off his horse.  Sometimes, God lays his hand heavily upon us when we speak with Him.  Other times he fills our heart with joy in His presence.  And still other times, He seems to withdraw.  The only predictable thing is that you cannot predict what God will do.  We cannot coerce God or manipulate God.  God shatters our pretensions to control, mastery, or worthiness.

And yet … God would have us speak with Him.

So let us take to heart the admonition to pray continually (I Thessalonians 5:17).  Let us learn from the Psalms what it is to speak to God.  Let us, of course, pray in worship and at specified times together.  Let us join our voices and hearts together in prayer for our church, our city, our families, our world.

Let us also be in prayer on our morning walks – rejoicing in the glory of God’s work, and praying for the peoples homes in our neighborhoods.  Let us quietly pray as we meet with people throughout the day, praying that we might be instruments of providence in their lives.  Let us pray with gratitude at the close of the day, remembering the blessings God has given us.  Let us pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, remembering that they too are divine image bearers.  Let us go before God, with all the boldness and freedom that Christ has secured for us (Hebrews 4:16), and share our joys, fears, anxieties, hopes, yearnings, frustrations, puzzlements, and experiences of every sort.

And then let us be still, and know that He is God, He will be exalted in the nations (Psalm 46:10).  Let us listen for God’s nudge in our hearts.

Brothers and Sisters, let us be people of prayer.

Soli Deo Gloria

Russell

Originally published in the September 2013 issue of The Covenant Courier

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