Prayer in school might be taboo, but the market research firm, Barna Group, discovered that 84% of Americans pray regularly. Recently I read an article in Newsweek magazine that mentioned some of the more common things people prayed for, these included things like health, safety, new jobs, and even the winning lottery numbers. While we have the freedom to pray for all kinds of things, and while we ought to pray regularly, could it be that the purpose of prayer has been largely misunderstood?
My hunch is that much of our practice of prayer has been influenced by a narcissistic culture. God has become more of a heavenly bellhop, whose purpose is to serve us by giving us what we ask for. “Dear Lord, bless me and help me get a great job. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” There’s no doubt that God loves to give good gifts to those who ask him, but if and when our focus becomes asking God for stuff – even good and noble stuff – we miss the point of prayer. I’d like to challenge us to rethink how we pray:
First Challenge – Prayer as intimacy with God
Prayer is primarily intimacy with God. It’s getting away, being alone and communing with Him. Our time with God invites the sustaining presence of God into our life. The more I read the Gospels, the more I am struck by the times Jesus would withdraw from the crowds to be with his Father. Mark 1:35 record one of these occasions, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Jesus loved to be with his Father and everything he did was powered by the intimacy Jesus shared with his Father. Our challenge is to see prayer as a place of intimacy with Jesus which empowers everything else we do.
Second Challenge – When we don’t get what we pray for
Think of the last time you prayed for something – were you devoted to the thing you were asking for or were you devoted to God? I love the way Oswald Chambers, the twentieth-century Scottish evangelist, explains the point of asking God for stuff, “The point of asking is that you may get to know God better.” So the point of prayer should not be the thing, it’s to “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). The mistake is made is when prayer becomes primarily about seeking the Gift and not the Giver; or seeking God’s hand and not His heart. Our challenge is to make our times of prayer more about adoration and thanksgiving; taking our eyes our needs and placing them onto esteeming Him?
Third Challenge – Overcoming the no-time-to-pray syndrome
The temptation is to say, “I’m too busy to pray. I’ve got too many appointments to keep, too many emails to respond to, too many people asking me for my time.” But prayer is not a luxury we do on our day off, it’s as essential to knowing God and growing spiritually as breathing is to living.
The third challenge I’d like to place before us is to begin to think of prayer as more than prayers that begin with “Dear Lord” and end in “In Jesus’ Name, Amen” but in terms of a prayerful life. The challenge is for us to draw into such intimacy and such closeness to Jesus that our life is lived in a deep communion with Jesus. This will include times of prayer in quiet places, but also in the hustle and bustle of life. A prayerful life is a continual awareness of the presence of God. Make it your goal to abide in the presence of Jesus all day, every day.