This is the first of a series of articles on devotional life. I start with a simple question:
If God is all powerful, omnipotent, and all knowing, what is the need for prayer anyway? Can't God do what He is going to do without us humans' puny little help?
Does prayer really make a difference anyway?
What is the purpose of prayer?
These are just some of the questions that come up when we talk about prayer. I hope to provide some answers to these questions and others in this and future articles. However, I think the first question we need to answer is the most basic one:
What is prayer?
When we think of prayer, what images do our minds conjure up? Perhaps a child kneeling by his bedside with his hands folded, praying a childlike prayer. Perhaps we might think of some (very old) nuns in their habits, again with hands folded, looking up to God with saintly expressions. We might even think of a soldier in a foxhole praying for God to save Him from the bullets whizzing overhead.
Well, those are all pictures of prayer…but they are incomplete pictures at best.
When we think about prayer, we almost always think about asking God for something. Dear Lord…Please send me a new "this". And I definitely need a new "that." Or…Lord spare me from "this" or "that" thing. Yet asking God for things (which we call "petition") can and should be only a small part of our prayer life. Prayer is simply talking to God in faith. It can include petition, but it certainly should include far more than these oftentimes selfish prayers. Prayer can be spoken or unspoken. It can be done literally anywhere, with any postures, using any words that are respectful to God. Prayer is being real with God. It's not just for nuns, children, and scared-spitless soldiers. Prayer is a grand privilege that is available to anyone who wants to avail themselves of it.
This is the "what" of prayer. Now let's get back to the "why" of prayer.
- Because God told us to pray. This is the most basic answer to the question. Our Lord in His wisdom has told us as Christians that we are to "pray without ceasing." (I Thess 5:17) He is pleased when we talk to Him.
- Because prayer itself is a fantastic opportunity bought for us at a very steep price
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean… (Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB
This "new and living way" of approach to God was only made available to us through the blood of Christ, through His sacrifice of Himself. You see, under the old covenant (as outlined in the Old Testament), no one could approach God without a blood sacrifice. Even then, the average person was not allowed to approach God themselves, but had to use a priest as intermediary to take their sacrifice to God. However, now, because Jesus Himself was both our Great High Priest and our sacrifice (by giving himself up to God as the spotless Lamb of God), we now can enter His presence "in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean." Isn't that amazing! Jesus Himself is now our intermediary to the Father! What an incomprehensible privilege we have to be able to talk to the Maker of the Universe, the Creator of All Things, anytime, anywhere!
- Because God's kingdom operates through prayer. This is really an awesome thought. The kingdom of Christ could have been built solely by God without any input from us, but that is not the way God chose for it to be built. The first petition that Jesus gave in his "model prayer" (which some call "The Lord's prayer") is "Your kingdom come" and then "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10 NASB). It is awe-inspiring to think that we can pray here in America and, because of that prayer, God moves in an outstanding way in the life of someone in India or China or Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, but this is certainly true. Believers praying for believers without regard to distance or time.
- Because God meets us through prayer. No relationship that is of any value to us is possible without spending time with each other. A marriage where the husband and wife seldom speak to each other is a marriage in name only. A friend that doesn't ever see you, call you, or communicate with you in any way is not much of a friend. What about God? If we say that we are Christians and don't spend a significant amount of time in prayer with our Heavenly Father, what kind of a relationship is that? He wants a relationship with us and will talk to us…if we will only talk to Him. He's not going to push Himself on us. We can have a relationship with Him if we want it bad enough. Job said "…I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food." (Job 23:12) What does he mean? Well, our "necessary food" is the bare basic amount of food that we need to sustain life. He's saying, "I want to hear from God more than I want to eat the food that keeps me from dying." That is REALLY wanting to hear from God!
- Our ability to trust in God increases as we pray. This is certainly true when we see prayer answered in a positive way. I related one such account of an immediate answer to prayer which I experienced in my post a few months ago entitled, "God Can Do Things In Prayer That Are Just So Cool!" However, anyone who has spent time in prayer knows that an immediate answer to a prayer is the exception, not the rule. I know one lady who prayed for a deliverance for her daughter from a really bad situation. She received the answer to her prayer and her daughter was delivered…fourteen years later. Yet, rather than this discouraging her that it took so long for the prayer to be answered, I think she would attest now that the delay actually strengthened her ability to trust in God. Even in cases where a prayer is not answered the way we would have hoped, there is great value in prayer. In a February 16, 2014 article "When Heaven Is Silent: The Value of Unanswered Prayer", in Psychology Today, Professor Krystine Bacho Phd. makes some interesting observations about prayer, as she quotes Viktor Frankl:
…Frankl compared our relationship with God to that between pet and owner. He offered the metaphor of a pet's trust in its owner even when asked to accept frightening and painful veterinarian exams or treatments. The dog "cannot understand the meaning of pain, the purpose of a shot or a bandage, but the way it looks at you reveals a boundless trust in you, out of which it feels that the doctor will not harm it." What is lost when one gives up on prayer is much greater than the request made. Recent research shows that although most people relate to God in human terms, the sacred is embraced as mysterious and beyond human comprehension. To feel connected with the transcendent is more important than having the sacred solve earthly problems…
Jesus taught us to pray "Your will be done" (Matthew 26:42). So when we are making specific requests to God, we must pray with open hands and open hearts, knowing that He knows what is best for us. Like the dog that can't understand the purpose of a shot or a bandage, we can't always understand why God allows some things to happen in our life. When we learn to trust Him even in those times, our faith can take us through the most difficult crises.
- Because prayer changes us. Learning to be a man or woman of prayer is a difficult process, as I can attest myself. In my own experience, I have found that the greatest benefit of prayer to me has been the way God has used it (and is still using it) to take me from the place of being an utterly selfish individual to being a person who cares for others more than himself. By no means am I there yet. This sometimes decades-long process of change in us is what the Bible calls "sanctification." Literally, it means the process of setting apart, or said another way, the process of making us saints. Saints are not people who go around with halos on their heads spouting off angelic sayings. Saints are just people who God is in the process of setting apart for Himself. And make no mistake. You can never be sanctified, you can never become a saint, without being a man or woman of prayer. God daily works on me in this process of conforming me into the image of His Son (see Romans 8:28). In my case, He's got quite a job on His hands! The Lord wants to do this with all of us. He will change you for the better, if you will let Him.
I welcome your comments on this! Let me know what you think!
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