Prayer… a beautiful expression of the intimacy of our relationship with our Heavenly Father, the Creator of the Universe, the Lord of Lords, the I AM.
When you stop to think about it, it is pretty incredible that we have the opportunity, the privilege, the honour to have a conversation with God. I say ‘conversation’, because even though prayer is sometimes referred to as talking to God, it isn’t the entire picture and does not capture the full beauty of prayer. One of the most potent changes I have made to my prayer life is making space for listening to God. I’ll come back to this in a bit, but before that, I would like to explore why we pray (or should pray), and tips for improving our prayer life.
So why do we pray? Is it just to get what we want from God? Is there more to it? The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-15 answers this question. Prayer is essential for us to remind ourselves of who God is, to express our reverence for God (vs 9) and remind ourselves of just who is in charge. Prayer is vital to know God better, to intercede, to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth, and to help us learn how we can be instruments to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (vs 10).
How does prayer help us bring about the Kingdom of God? Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Prayer helps us live a life that showcases the righteousness, peace and joy that is the Kingdom of God. The wider context of this verse talks about walking in love with our brothers and sisters, so praying gives us the power to show this love practically, even when it is difficult for us to do so, to show people what the God we worship is like, to live a life that reflects the Glory and Love of God.
I was listening to a sermon on prayer by *Tim Mackie a while ago. Something he noted that struck me was that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, and Jesus taught them the Lord’s prayer, it is not the singular ‘me, my’ that is used, but the plural, ‘our, us’. This shifts our focus from just ourselves, and also allows us to translate the Lord’s prayer into action. Prayer calls us to action. Tim noted that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread”, and we already have our daily, even yearly bread, but we know others who may not have this, then we can be convicted to be the answer to prayer to such people. Another area in which this call for action is obvious is that of forgiveness… forgive us as we forgive others.
Prayer also changes situations, changes perspectives and changes our heart. When we pray, even when answers do not come in a way we may have envisioned, God can give us a new perspective. Sometimes, we may pray for someone else to change, but God changes us instead, and if you have experienced this, it can be quite a humbling experience. A quote I read a while back notes,
“Once a man was asked “What did you gain by regularly praying to God?”The man replied, “Little. But let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, depression, insecurity, and fear of death.”
Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not gaining but losing.” Prayer helps us resist evil by enabling us prioritise the voice of God over the voice of the evil one. A popular quote reminds us that “a Christian is strongest when on their knees” and ‘that is where the greatest battles are won.’
It is obvious that there are many benefits of prayer, and we probably already know this, so what are some tips to ensure that we avail ourselves and our communities of the blessings of prayer?
A tip I came across is to keep it simple, keep it honest and keep it going. Keeping it simple is Jesus’ precursory instruction just before He taught the Lord’s prayer. Matthew 6:5 clearly tells us not to complicate prayer. We are children conversing with our Father, not job seekers conversing with an interviewer. The goal of prayer is not to impress ourselves or others. Think of how a child would approach and converse with their Father when they are secure in their father’s love, and the beauty and simplicity of this. Keep it honest, heartfelt, real, void of pretence and airs. I love the way this is explained in one of the Alpha Course videos. Keeping it honest is coming as you are – mood, emotions, feelings – everything can be turned into prayer. Some of my most heartfelt prayers have been when I have come to God just as I am and poured out my heart to Him, even when I was really upset and overwhelmed.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 encourages us to pray without ceasing, in other words to keep it going. This doesn’t mean God is a cruel Master that just wants us to beg and beg for what we want. In fact the parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8) highlights a significant contrast between an Unjust Judge who will only do what he is petitioned to do because his petitioner is relentless, and a God who will not delay to reward His chosen ones (verse 7). However we need to have a connection with God, to saturate ourselves with His word, to be abiding in the vine first. For it is then that we will pray prayers in line with His will and get answers. As John 15:7 says, “Stay joined to me and let my teachings become part of you. Then you can pray for whatever you want, and your prayer will be answered” (CEV)
*Tim Keller also notes that
“The power of our prayers, then, lies not primarily in our effort and striving, or in any technique, but rather in our knowledge of God”
Prayer reinforces our trust in God and this is why we need to keep it going. Ironically, it is when we least feel like praying that we most need to pray. It can be hard to keep trusting when faced with multiple challenges or when it feels like our prayers aren’t being answered, but as *Corrie Ten Boom notes,
“when a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer”
Keeping prayer going helps maintain that connection which builds trust.
“Keep it simple, keep it honest and keep it going”
Another tip which I touched on earlier is making space to listen to God when we pray. Sometimes in the stillness, which admittedly might feel a bit strange if one is not used to it, scriptures come to mind. In my experience, these can be words of comfort, exhortation, admonishment even. Other times, ideas on what to do about a situation come, wisdom beyond me. Still at other times, it is just silence, but it is always a blessing. If you are worried about falling asleep while listening during prayer, a sermon I heard changed my perspective about this. As the preacher noted, what can be more beautiful than falling asleep in the arms of our Father? However, this does not mean we should be sleeping when we are called to pray like the disciples did, but it is an encouragement that it should not prevent us from praying.
“When praying, make space to to listen to God in stillness for his words of comfort, exhortation, or admonishment”
It is a challenge to do justice to the subject of prayer in one blog post, but I hope this has been a blessing. I pray that we will avail ourselves of the privilege and blessing of prayer in our lives, and that as we abide in Jesus, we will be witnesses of the extraordinary, supernatural, awe-inspiring power of praying to our wonderful, loving, omnipotent Heavenly Father.
*Tim Mackie is an adjunct professor at Western Seminary and Education Officer for BibleProject. *Timothy Keller is an American pastor, theologian, and Christian apologist. *Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker and later Christian writer and public speaker.
I’m Liv, a Christian, not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but perfectly loved by God. In my walk with God, sometimes I stumble, sometimes I skip happily, sometimes I feel like I’m just about dragging myself along. Writing is my way of sharing the little pieces of learning I pick up along the walk. My hope is that it encourages you, makes you ponder, reminds you that you are not alone, and that you are loved (oh so loved!) by God.