Pray without ceasing — 1 Thessalonians 5:17
When our newest blog topic was sent to us I almost fell out of my seat. Discussing prayer, what it means to our faith, and what it means to us personally is the call to action. This particular topic resonated with me in a very personal way, as God has been in my ear about this very topic. The verse from 1 Thessalonians above pretty well sums up prayer for the Christian. Bothering to listen, I started doing some research about prayer, as well as praying about prayer. I need to step back a little, as saying my personal prayer life is spotty would be a gross understatement.
I came to Christ while attending the University of Nebraska to play baseball. The old saying ‘Home is where you hang your hat,’ rang true for me in terms of where home was because I travelled so much. I didn’t have a ‘good church home’ either. It did however provide me with access to some of the worst hotels in the country. Once I became a Christian without a church home, I woke up one day asking myself the question, “So now that I’ve been saved, what do I do next?” I didn’t have a pastor to help answer the question, nor a group of Christian friends to help out, and I subsequently floundered. The answer, having learned it the hard way, is to pray. Christians need to pray, a lot. All the time. So what exactly does the word pray mean? I looked it up to find this definition.
Pray – verb (used with object)
1. To offer devout petition, praise, thanks, etc. to God (or an object of worship)
2. To offer (a prayer)
3. To make earnest petition to (a person)
4. To make petition or entreaty for; crave: She prayed his forgiveness
Prayer has been an elusive experience for me, the trouble comes in seasons, if you will. I kept wondering if there were some trick to prayer that everyone else who grew up in church knew, that I didn’t. I’ve prayed sometimes with great satisfaction, but often I find myself swinging, and missing in my prayer relationship with God. In my search for more meaning in prayer I thought I’d do some research. Here are some statistics I found about Prayer in America. Some of the most interesting numbers are that only 38% of the respondents indicated that intimacy with God is the most important thing. Really? I’m surprised by; that considering 75% of the respondents were Christian. I guess that lends some credence to Matthew 7:13: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” I am just speculating, but I think intimacy with God is the number one reason to pray; I would have thought that 100% of the Christians responding would have thought that was the first, and most important reason to pray. If so many Christians are praying without intimacy as the number one goal, then perhaps Matthew 7:13 means more than I thought it did.
With 41% stating that their prayers were answered often, what does that say of the 59% who didn’t answer that way? Granted these are statistics, and like many of them, I question their validity, I feel safer saying there are a lot of people who feel their prayers are unanswered. I draw a conclusion that I’d like to dig a little deeper on. We like our prayer, but not having intimacy with God as the number one goal could be a stumbling block suggesting that perhaps we pray for too much of the wrong things. Maybe we ought not to ask for so many things in our lives, but seek intimacy instead.
I’m as guilty as the next person of praying for things that God hasn’t replied to yet. Among other things, I’m a fundraiser for a small non-profit organization. One thing I have come to learn is that ‘No’ rarely means no. More often ‘No’ turns out to mean No, not now or No, not that way. Let’s not forget that it could mean that God simply said ‘No.’ In our petitions to God we may be praying for things that we will have to wait years for, or we will receive something that is close, but not exactly what we thought. It could also be that God will give us something different all together. I don’t know, he’s God. In the end I’m always astonished when a prayer is answered; it is an amazing, affirming feeling to know we count, and that God really does listen us!
In petitions I’m not talking about praying for the latest Canon DSLR camera, though that would certainly make me happy. What I am suggesting is that the deeper and more personal a relationship we have with God, the more likely we are to ask for things that God wants us to ask for, and He will provide. So if in God’s eyes, I need the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, then I would be elated! I suspect that in my relationship with God I wouldn’t normally ask for such a thing, though it would be nice. I have had a few long prayer sessions with God, and during those marathon meetings I find myself not focussed on asking for things, but discussing life with God. Going back to the definition, prayer is devout petition, praise, and thanks. Certainly we ask for things, but what I’m most interested in these days is not a petition for stuff, but rather offering praise and thanks. I think this is where the train hops the tracks for some people in their prayer life. I pray for people in my petitions more often than not (That’s right Vic, I’m praying for you!).
At this point I might even sound like I know what I’m talking about, but I stumble with prayer. I had a coach who once quipped, “Do as I say, not as I do!” Of course he was joking, but I think a lot of us know how we ought to pray, but we either don’t pray at all, or we don’t have the right mindset going into it. I suppose for many, it is easy to talk about prayer, but harder to do, and commit to regularly. I had a friend once tell me that praying to God is just as easy as talking to a best friend. I would say yes, and no. After all this is God we are talking about! We can’t always just roll up, slap God on the shoulder and say, “Hey buddy, we need to talk.” I mean, He’s God. Though I think there are times for that informal relationship, I prefer to take a more reverential tact. I don’t know if it is a maturation thing in my walk, but it is something I’m eager to develop. Being more formal with my prayer happens to be where I am now. Going back to the verse from Thessalonians, the job is to pray often. The how of prayer is something that comes with time, and Christian maturity. This would be a good time to offer some resources to those who are more interested in prayer in the Christian life.
The Prayer of Jesus by Hank Hanegraaff
Prayer by Phillip Yancey
Lord, Teach Us To Pray by Andrew Murray
What Christians Want to Know
Prayer is hard work. If you glance at any of these three books or the website, it is easy to see that the task is not simple. We struggle, we try new things, we look for ways to make God listen, and answer. We are screaming at God, sometimes literally, to help us. It is such a paradox that we are called to pray with great frequency, yet we feel the struggle to be heard when we do. I’ve read stories of people who gave up their faith because prayer didn’t click with them. I have a lesson that I take from all this, and I think it is important. Prayer isn’t about us! Prayer is about God. It’s the same way I feel about church, that isn’t about us either. It’s about God. When we give ourselves to prayer, we give the glory to Him. When we go to church, we give the glory to Him. It isn’t about what we get from it that should be our first priority. We do receive, but that isn’t why we gave ourselves to Christ. What we get is eternal. When prayer stops being about what we can get from God, and turns to what we can give to God, then things can start to look different. I’d rather pray for my best friend to find a relationship with Christ than to get a camera. In truth, I’d rather spend a lifetime finding out what will God let me do for His glory, not mine.
© 2012 Kurt Alderman, The Jimmy Monologues