Prayer means different things to different people. For some, it’s reciting a liturgy. For others, it’s taking needs to God. It can be something you do at church, something you do in private…
I once heard prayer described as being God-conscious 24-hour a day. I like that. To me, prayer is part of what it means to have a two-way relationship with God.
But that’s the challenge: how do we make prayer a two-way form of communication?
Most of the time, we think of prayer as bringing God all of the things we want Him to do for us and give to us, the things we’re struggling with. I’ve been to a lot of church prayer meetings where all we do is come up with a list of all the sick people and the situations we need help with. But we don’t take any time to listen to God, to worship, and to be thankful.
I think a prayer life needs to touch on all those things.
It’s true: we can bring our requests to God. And as I get older, I certainly want to bring more things to Him – turning over more and more of my life to His control. But prayer is more than just getting things from God.
Someone asked Pete Greig of the 24-7 Prayer movement if he thought they should pray to get a parking spot. He said yes. His reasoning was that if you get one, you’ll be thankful. And anything that makes you thankful is a good thing.
I tend to agree. I don’t usually pray for parking spaces, but I do pray for other seemingly trivial things. Like sleep. I travel so much and I’ve got so many things on my mind that I find myself lying awake at night. So I pray for sleep. And God answers those prayers.
Answered prayer increases thankfulness. And thankfulness is a good thing.
We have the amazing opportunity to ask God for things and to bring our concerns to Him. We see that in the account in the gospels of the father whose son was ill and seemed to be possessed by a demon. The disciples weren’t able to help. So when Jesus came along, the father told him what was going on with his son and asked for His help. Jesus said, “Bring the boy to me.”
That instruction is so encouraging to me. It means I can bring my children and the situations I’m facing with them to God. I can say, “Lord, some of this is beyond my control. There are things I’m facing and I don’t know what to do.” And I hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Bring this to me.”
That’s an amazing privilege. But if that’s my prayer life – just asking God for help – that reflects a very immature relationship between a child and his father. Think about it. If all you ever hear from your kids is “I want money from you… I want you to take me here… I want you to do this for me…” If that was the only conversation, and they didn’t want my advice or to hear my input as someone who’s older and wiser, that’s a pretty immature relationship.
The same is true in our relationship with God. If I’m not coming to God wanting to know His ways, if I’m not asking Him for guidance and direction, if I’m not acknowledging Him for who He is, then it means my faith hasn’t really grown.
The key to a deeper relationship with God and to developing a two-way prayer life is Scripture.
The one place I can be sure I’ll hear what God is wanting to say is in His Word. That’s where we can say, “Lord, I’m listening for Your voice. I want to hear what You have to say.”
I’m constantly astonished at how much God wants to speak to us. His Word truly is alive. I can read the same passage on different days and hear God speaking in different ways – the same words applied to where I am at a particular time in my life. My attention, through His Spirit, is drawn to something different in the passage. The Word of God speaks to where I am.
That’s a vital part of prayer – praying your way through Scripture.
At its heart, whether we are listening or asking, prayer is about acknowledging our need for God. It’s the ultimate act of worship. It takes me away from the situation where I think I’m in control and brings me to the admission that I’m not number one. I’m saying, “Lord, I need You.”
Right now, I’m reading the gospels as we prepare for Easter. And what’s striking me most are the people who are coming to Jesus. Particularly the parents. Jairus with his sick daughter, the Syrophoenician woman with the daughter who was ill, the father whose son was tormented by a demon… I’m seeing these people coming to Jesus and saying, “I can’t do this. I’ve got a situation and I really need your help.”
That is the ultimate form of worship: admitting our need to the one Person who can meet that need. It’s so encouraging to read about how Jesus responded and how He healed them – giving little glimpses of what the power of God is like.
Prayer is coming to God and saying, “You are God and I’m not. I can’t do this on my own. I need You. I need to hear from You so You can guide me and intervene in the situations I can’t do anything about.”
What Jesus did in the lives of the people He encountered in the gospel accounts He can and still does in the situations we bring to Him today.
What situations are you facing that are beyond your control? What are you thankful for? What is God saying to you through His Word? Spend some time today in prayer.