What is prayer?
Prayer is ongoing communication with our Heavenly Father, connecting in relationship with him and seeking his Kingdom on earth.
Prayer is an invitation, a privilege, an expectation, and an opportunity. And since prayer is fundamentally about relationship, that means that God is active as well. We may be tempted to look at prayer as our activity, as the way we reach up to God – like we are active, but that God is somehow passive. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
As with all things, God is the great initiator and sustainer – the creation of the world, our physical life, our rebirth and salvation, our growth and maturity in the Christian life.
Nothing happens apart from his will, his grace. This is true for prayer as well. While prayer is a discipline that we must be actively engaged in – we cannot rightly understand prayer, or rightly pray, unless we understand and lean into God’s role in prayer.
Prayer is to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. The Father is listening and responding to us. Jesus is interceding for us and advocating for us. The Spirit is filling us and empowering us. If prayer were a cell phone call – the Father would be on the other line, Jesus would be the cell tower, and the Spirit would be cellular signal.
While prayer is vital, it doesn’t stand alone. Regular time in God’s Word is vital to prayer. Without Scripture, our prayers would be ignorant and shallow. Without Scripture, we wouldn’t know who God is – and you can’t talk to someone you don’t know! Without the Bible, we wouldn’t know what God wants from us, so we wouldn’t know what to pray about. Prayer would be aimless, empty, powerless. Reading and meditating on the Word of God is the fuel of our prayer lives. Through the Word of God, the Spirit of God informs and directs our prayers. Just as you need both legs to walk, trying to pray without the Word is like hoping around on one leg!
As men and women who have been transformed by God’s grace and called to follow him in a daily relationship, prayer is vital to the Christian life. We’re not just supposed to occasionally pray – at church and before dinner. Just as a baby is not alive unless she is breathing, a Christian is not alive unless she is praying. Just as breathing is an expression of physical life, prayer is an expression of our spiritual life. This is why the Bible says prayer should be constant.
God is not a distant being we pay respects to a few times a day, he is a loving Father we live in continual connection with. While prayer is hard for us, our generation should be able to understand better than others the idea of continual connection. We live in a world of ongoing, constant communication. The cell phone in our pocket means we are always connected! This is God’s will for us in prayer.
We think of prayer as kneeling at bedtime, hands folded, to ask God to bless our loved ones. That is prayer. But that is really only a small fraction of what it means to pray. If God invites us and expects us to pray without ceasing, we’re going to need a broader view of prayer! Consider all the ways we can pray…
- Prayer is talking to God out-loud in verbal communication. But prayer can also be written communication, journaling, handwriting or typing to the Lord.
- Prayer can be speaking to God, sharing your needs and wants. But prayer is also listening. Being still – silent before God, waiting, aware of his presence, listening for the voice of his Spirit.
- Prayer can be the quiet, unspoken meditation in your heart; or a loud cry, shouting to God.
- Prayer is personal – focused on the people, needs, and circumstances close to you. But prayer is also global – focusing on the church, the nation, the world, the Kingdom.
- Prayer can be done kneeling at the bed, sitting up in a chair, laying prostrate on the floor…or walking in the woods, driving in the car, making dinner.
- Prayer can be organized – using an outline, a list of needs – or it can be stream of conscious, talking to God about whatever crosses your mind.
- Prayer can be scripted, using the Lord’s Prayer, prayers from history, prayers from the Bible. Or prayer can be totally spontaneous.
- Prayer can be done by itself or alongside another spiritual discipline – praying while you read the Word, fast, worship, or serve.
- You can pray all alone, just you and God. Or you can pray with a spouse, a close friend, a small group, or a room full of people.
- Prayer can be eloquent, with well thought-out, sophisticated words. Or it can be immature, childlike requests.
- Prayer can be a long conversation – a dedicated time set aside for an extended time of prayer. Or prayer can be an ongoing conversation with the Lord, throughout the day, interspersed into all the activities of life – communicating with God while you drive, work, eat, relate to family.
Prayer can be in all these ways; any way we communicate and connect with God. And be encouraged, God is infinitely more active in your prayer life than you ever will be. When you forget about him, the Father remembers you. When your prayers are weak and distracted, Jesus intercedes and turns your prayers into the most passionate, faithful prayer there is. When you are tired and disengaged, the Spirit infuses and directs your prayers with power. Just as your very life has been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, so have your prayers. Just as your heart has been infused with the grace of God, so have your prayers.