Do you struggle with prayer? You are not alone. Yet, before I share my thoughts on what prayer is, it’s important to recognize what it is not. The word itself holds different meanings for different people, and I believe the prayer we’re taught and modeled by Christ himself, is unique from that of other religions.
- It is not a rote or memorized practice that is offered as a good work toward God.
- It is not a one-way verbal offering.
- It is not a request to a god that must be accompanied by a literal sacrifice.
- It is not something that can be made to multiple gods.
- It is not heard outside of relationship with Christ Jesus.
- It is not something that can be offered in the expectation of instant gratification.
The practice of prayer, as taught by Christ, is done in intimate relationship with the God of all creation. Jesus had that relationship by nature; we have that relationship by adoption, when we accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Without this foundation, the topic is mute and meaningless, for prayer is simply the conversation between spiritual child and heavenly parent — between the believer and God.
As Christ showed us, we need communion with God. When he was out in the wilderness, knowing that three difficult years were ahead, beginning with a great test of faith, he sought out the father in prayer. During his ministry, he had a practice of going out early in the morning to pray. He also sought out time with the Father, when he’d been hard pressed by the crowds and was weary in service. In the garden, he poured out his heart in prayer, to the point where his sweat was like drops of blood.
Yet, when I reflect on the prayers of my Lord, I ask myself? Where all his prayers answered? The most obvious one was not: “let this cup pass from me.” However, that was not the entire request, was it? “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Even, if I stopped there and said, “that’s the key. We must pray according to God’s will,” I could still ask myself, “why should I pray, if God’s will is going to be done over mine?” Yet, Jesus was one with God. There was no one who could say, “I and the Father are one,” except him. Still, Jesus prayed. Still he asked for the cup to be taken from him. So, what does it mean?
Is prayer just an exercise for God to be acknowledged and hear from his children? No, it’s much more than that.
Prayer is the opportunity for God to know we do acknowledge his sovereignty over all things in our life and in our world, but it’s also the place where we can express our inmost thoughts, desires, hurts, and fears. Without laying it all at his feet in prayer, his Spirit cannot work. It may not mean the physical outcome of a situation will change, but it does mean that the spiritual outcome certainly will.
Without Jesus yielding his spirit to God’s will, the crucifixion would have been without effect. There may have been a sacrifice, but not a willing one.
A child trusts themselves to a parent, because they know that parent has their best interests at heart. That doesn’t mean the child always gets what they wish, but it does mean that they will get what they need.
God wants us to lift our requests and petitions up to him, because in doing so, we are saying, “I’m trusting you with this, Lord. You know the desires of my heart, but in my limited nature and understanding, I may not know what’s really for my best; so, I’m giving it to you.” That’s prayer–acknowledging, sharing, and ultimately, receiving and accepting.
Paul tells the believers in Philippi, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Prayer keeps us from being anxious or worrying, but he doesn’t stop there. He tells us the result:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (v.7)
He didn’t say that God will automatically give you what you ask for, because that’s not the purpose of prayer. No, when we pray with thanksgiving, God gives peace, whether we understand the outcome or not. It’s that peace that guards our hearts and minds–keeps us from giving ourselves over to the lies of this world.
So, pray and rest in the One who has your best interests at heart. Just as 1 Peter 5:7, reads, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
That’s prayer and that’s why it matters.
Grace and Peace