What is Prayer?
Over the past month, I have received multiple questions that all circle around the same main theme. Although using different words, the essence of each question is this: “People tell me that I should worship Jesus and pray to him. I am doing that, but my prayers are not being answered. Am I doing something wrong? What is worship? What is prayer? What can I do in order to have God answer my prayers?” I want to break this question down over the next few weeks. This week, we will look at “What is prayer?”
At its simplest level, prayer is relational communication with God. Biblically speaking, God speaks to mankind in a special way through the Bible and we speak to God through prayer. Prayer is relational at its core, and this relational aspect cannot be overstated.
When we pray, the primary thing that we pursue is not something that we want, but a person to whom we want to draw closer. If you think about this from a perspective of a human relationship, say between a husband and wife, it makes a lot of sense. If a husband comes to his wife daily and never engages with her in meaningful conversation, but just asks her for favors it would be a very unhealthy relationship. Over time, his wife would feel less and less like his bride and more and more like she is simply being used for his needs and desires. If, however, a husband and wife spend time talking to one another the relationship is poised to thrive.
When we pray to God, we stare first at his face rather than his hand. This means that we want to talk to God about our day, about the things we were thinking about, about the things we did, wanted to do, the difficulties we had, the joys we experienced, and so on and so forth. God desires to be intimately connected with his people. He is not a genie, nor does he desire to be. He is not a disconnected parent who we come to looking for our weekly allowance only to go back into our bedroom and shut the door. He wants to engage with you in a relationship.
Similarly, prayer should be a loving conversation. When you tell your spouse that you love her it is meaningful, but when you tell her why you love her, it is even more profound. Part of fostering the relationship that you have with your spouse is celebrating him or her. Prayer is no different. In prayer, we enjoy God as we reflect on his character as revealed in the Word of God. As we enter into this process of adoration, we find that we are changed. Our high charged emotions of the day melt away in light of God’s goodness.
Part of prayer is acknowledging who God is and enjoying him, but another part is acknowledging who we are. Standing before the vastness of his glory, we realize our smallness and we confess that to him. True friends know our hopes, dreams, and our fears. In prayer, we drop all pretenses and lay ourselves bare before God - confessing what needs to be confessed. Sometimes that is confessing something that we did to offend him, other times it might be acknowledging our inadequacies as we approach a problem. Born from these problems, we may ask him for help, thank him for guidance, or feel compelled to take action once the conversation is ended.
The point of all of this is relational intimacy. God already knows you more than you know yourself. It is a fool’s task to try save face or hide from the one who knit you together in your mother’s womb. In prayer, we sit across the table, so to speak, with our best friend, but this friend is powerful, without limit, making worlds with a word.
And therein lies the insanity of prayer. God invites YOU to speak with him. Indeed, not only does he invite you to speak with him, he died so that you could. The only reason that we have access in prayer to God the Father is because access was provided through the death of Jesus Christ. Because of his death, burial, and resurrection, followers of Jesus are adopted into the family of God and now are free to boldly approach the throne of the God of grace and speak with him. Pastor Tim Keller explained, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access [to God].”
What is prayer? It is the unbelievable privilege of being able to speak with the God of all creation - the God who came in the likeness of sinful flesh to die on a cross for you. Prayer isn’t about rote memorization, vain repetition, wishing to win the lottery, or any other shallow practice. It is about fostering a relationship with God. He is the goal. He is the prize.