Prayer. What is prayer? Why do we pray? Is it absolutely necessary for a relationship with God?
Dictionary.com defines prayer like this:
Notice the words "devout petition" and "spiritual communion". These words indicate a deep, fundamental connection that is difficult for our human minds to comprehend. I guess the closest thing we have here on earth to that would be the bond created when we marry (not that I would know much about that, but my parents have been pretty open about their relationship so I probably know more than some).
The point is, prayer is personal. It's the only way that we can commune with a being that is so out of our depth. You know, I hear a lot about how important reading your Bible is, but very little about prayer. Don't get me wrong: I do believe that Bible study is important, and I've stressed it to my campers more than any other thing, I think. But that's only one way communication. It's listening, but what about talking? What about pouring our hearts out until we feel as though they were bleeding words and emotions?
Jesus understood the importance of prayer. There are many recorded instances of him talking to God as though He were in the very room with him. And when Jesus prayed there was nothing half-hearted or flippant in his words. They were sincere, intense, and open. Just think of his prayers when Lazarus was in the tomb (John 11:41,42) or when he was about to be crucified (Matthew 26:39). Or even while he was being crucified (Luke 23:34,46). If you haven't read them in a while, take some time to read those passages. Now compare your own prayers to his. Can you honestly say that yours are similar? Are they intense? Open? Sincere? Do they resound with your love for God? If you answered yes to all of these, then good for you. If you answered no, then welcome to the club. I think we all have a thing or two to learn about that.
But that's okay because Jesus himself teaches us how to pray a personal prayer- to hold a conversation similar to what Adam and Eve did in the Garden.
Pretty cool, huh? Not only can we learn how to hear from God (Scripture), but we can learn how to talk with Him. In the passage above Jesus is trying to tell us that we can be personal and real with our Heavenly Father. Everything said there can be expounded upon with specific problems, requests, and repentance from our own lives."And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:5-15)
Without prayer the danger is that we might become Deist: believing that God exists, but that He doesn't really care about our day-to-day lives. "Prayer doesn't change anything," we say. "He's going to do what He wants whether I pray to Him or not." And you're right. God is going to do His will despite our "interference". But think back to the Old Testament. How many times did God wait to save His people until they cried out to Him? Was He not planning on saving His people anyway? Then why wait? And what about the New Testament instances where Paul or one of the other apostles prayed over someone and then God healed them? You know, sometimes I think God waits on us to pray before He acts because He actually likes to hear from us. But maybe I'm just imagining things. I guess you'll have to read the Scriptures for yourself and make up your own mind on that subject.
Lastly, is prayer absolutely necessary for a relationship with God? I guess my only defense on that point would be that Christ taught us how to do it, so it must be. In the Bible we meet so many differing characters, but those that are truly following God pray- a lot. Just think about Daniel.
And besides that, think about this: In life our human relationships take work. They take intentional communication. So why wouldn't a relationship with a God who designed us in his "image" require the same intentionality?
So how do you practice being intentional and personal in your relationship with God? Is your prayer life healthy or is there something you could do to make it better? What's holding you back from that deep communion? Do you even want it?
Think about it.