In the last few weeks we’ve looked into deepening our prayer lives. We’ve seen that our prayer needs to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our prayers should be full and rich–offering thanksgiving and praise, making confession, seeking our needs, and interceding for others.
With all of this in mind, we need to ask: What is the purpose of prayer? Why do we pray? In Tim Keller’s book “Prayer,” he says that within Christianity, we often see two streams, two approaches, to prayer. One is communion-centered, the other kingdom-centered. One sees prayer as an encounter, the other as a conversation.
The first approach sees prayer as an encounter with God and emphasizes adoring God, seeking an intimate experience, contemplation, and personal communion. This person is more inclined to pray “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
The other approach sees prayer as a conversation with God and emphasizes petitioning God, confronting reality, struggling for victory, and expanding God’s kingdom. This person is more inclined to pray “Your Kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
So, which is the correct approach to prayer? Should prayer be focused on communing with God or expanding his kingdom? Keller searches the Psalms – the greatest prayer book we have – and investigates the teachings and practices of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin and determines that prayer should be both.
First, prayer builds our faith as we connect and commune with God. In prayer, we come into God’s presence. We have communion with God as we communicate with him. We should seek an intimate, personal encounter. Just as with any friendship, you can’t have a healthy relationship if you’re not regularly communicating. Prayer is an expression of our covenant relationship with God. We listen to him. We pour out our heart to him. We praise him, thank him, confess our wrongs, cry out for our needs.
Secondly, prayer also enables us to join with God to accomplish his kingdom purposes. God has chosen to work in his world through answering our prayers. God hears us and answers us! As you pray in the Spirit, you are a part of God’s work on earth. God will use your faithful prayers to accomplish his faithful purposes. Praying in the Spirit empowers our prayers, and James 5:16 says the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. When you pray God’s agenda for you – not your agenda for him – you get to witness God working through you.
Therefore, we can affirm Keller’s conclusion: Scripture teaches, and the great men and women of the faith confirm, that prayer is communion-centered and kingdom-centered. Keller says that “Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him” (p. 48).
So continually go to your Heavenly Father in prayer! As you commune with your Savior, you’ll encounter his presence. And as you communicate with your Redeemer, you’ll join in accomplishing his purposes. Prayer is about building your faith and building God’s Kingdom.