What do you know about prayer? As Christians, it’s something we are to do, of course, but what is it, exactly? Is it repeating lengthy words from a special book, or something so much more?
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” (Romans 8:26-27 NLT)
Those who follow Christ, who have the new birth, have His Holy Spirit in them, who according to today’s verses, “prays for us” and “pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” Praying, at its heart, is fellowshiping with God. Although asking for what we need can be involved, is not merely, or even primarily, reciting a list of requests like a child on Santa’s lap.
It never ceases to amaze me that people who want nothing to do with Jesus–who indicate no longing for Him whatsoever, as evidenced by their avoidance of any contact with Him through church, Bible reading, or prayer–nonetheless, still think they want to go to heaven. What will heaven primarily be, but an eternal and ever-present fellowship with–an experiencing of–God? Of course, it will be the most joyous and wonderful experience any human has ever had, but it does seem counter-intuitive that those who avoid Him in this life would want Him in the next. Yet, for people who do understand how wonderful Jesus is–for those who want and actively seek out being with Him–prayer and His Word is how we typically experience Him in this life.
God loves us. He is real, all-powerful, and actively involved in our individual lives. He is, in fact, the Bible tells us, “conforming us to the image of Christ”–in the process of causing events and circumstances to enter our lives which make us holier and prepare us for service to Him in this life and eternity with Him, when we have accomplished all He placed us here to do. Yet “without…[Jesus]…[we] can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Not only do our life assignments–the things “…which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)–come from Him, they also are accomplish-able only as we “remain in…[Jesus] and…[He] in…[us]”–that is how we “bear much fruit; [because] apart from…[Him][we] can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV) And how do we “remain in Jesus?” Primarily by reading His Word and praying.
So what is prayer? At its best, true prayer is fellowship with Christ. We have to understand that everything we are and do is already completely open to Him–He knows us inside out, and there is nothing in us or our lives that is hidden from Him. So we don’t have to make any kind of pretence. He knows what we’ve done, what we need, what we want, and what we’re going to ask, way before we even do. So why bother, you might ask?
The reason to “bother” praying is because prayer sustains us–upholds us. It’s a constant and ongoing connection between our spirits and Christ. That’s why the admonition to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) makes sense. We couldn’t possibly continue living our lives while uttering long, cumbersome prescribed “prayers.” But we can live our lives in openness before the Lord. He knows it all, anyway. As we go through our day, we simply recognize that He is there, that He knows, on a minute by minute ongoing basis what is happening, and always hears as we call out to Him, whether for assistance, in thanks, or in admiration. And we should call out to Him throughout the day as we do whatever it is that we do.
As we see the beauty of the world around us, we should respond in admiration of His majesty and wonder. As He lines up the details of our day to fall into place and everything goes well, we should be ever cognizant of the fact that it is He who did this for us and breathe our thanks. As challenges present themselves, we are to call out to Him for His divine assistance. And, of course, we must agree with Him and confess our mistakes as soon as we are aware of having done wrong–He knows it already!
So, what is prayer? It is like breath to a person who follows Christ. As natural and unscripted as our body’s breathing is to us is how our communication with Him who placed His Spirit in us in the first place should be. Not that there won’t be a particular time of day when we compose ourselves to present more specifically the issues on our hearts before Him, but prayer is not contrived or artificial; it is simply communication with our Lord!
Give us that openness of communication with You that is true fellowship; help us not hide from You, but “pray without ceasing.” Amen.