PRAYER: WHAT IT IS

“Prayer” is one of those things everybody thinks they know about. If you ask ten people on the street, “What is prayer?” most, if not all, will respond with, “Prayer is talking to God.” That’s not totally incorrect; prayer is indeed the act of communicating to God. Yet prayer must be more than that. Some people compare prayer with things like oxygen or even food; that is, a Christian will die without prayer just like any human will die without oxygen or food.

Historically, some famous characters of Christianity have offered their answers to that question:

  • Prayer is climbing up the heart unto God. –Martin Luther

  • Prayer is sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God. –John Bunyan

  • In prayer, God stoops to kiss man, to bless man, to aid man. –E.M. Bounds

  • Prayer is the gymnasium of the soul. –Samuel Zwerner

Looking at answers like that we still don’t get a real clear picture of just what prayer is. Maybe the best way to define prayer is to look at what prayer does in the life of the one who prays. While prayer doesn’t always “change things,” like the bumper sticker says it does, prayer always the changes who prays in faith.

1. Prayer changes us

Prayer is the vital component in our growth as Christians. As we spend time in God’s presence prayer, we can’t help be changed. Just as infants grow as they are fed, Christians grow as we feed on the Word of God, in which God speaks to us, and when we pray to Him, in which we are the ones doing the speaking.

Yet, nowhere in the Bible does God command one of His children to pray. “Thou shalt pray” is not the eleventh commandment. If prayer is so important, why is there not a single verse that declares this? God won’t force anybody to love Him. When we pray, we are involved in the most intimate thing we can do with our Creator. Only those who know Him and love Him pray to Him. Prayer is evidence that we are in a relationship with God. So those who love God, those who are in a relationship with God, don’t need to be told to pray! We pray because we want to spend time in God’s presence, expressing our innermost feelings to Him.

The more we do this, the more our character will be shaped to reflect God’s character. If it is true that a person becomes like the people they spend the most time with, then how important must it be to spend time in prayer?

As we pray, we not only grow in sense of maturity, but we also get our “spiritual batteries” recharged. We are refreshed as we pray.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37—38)

Being in fellowship with Him through prayer is the only way Christians may appropriate this spiritual refreshment. And when we are continuously refreshed in prayer, we’ll be healthy, both physically and emotionally. Our perspective on life and things that happen to us, whether good or bad, will be tempered; our faith will be strengthened as we begin to pray for God’s will to be done, not ours; we will be filled with love and compassion for others; we’ll find a new resilience in bouncing back when seemingly bad things happen to us.

If you want to become the kind of Christian with those kinds of characteristics, then cultivate a life of prayer! Prayer will most certainly change you.

2. A God-shaped vacuum

It was Pascal who famously wrote about a “God-shaped hole” or “vacuum” being present in every human being:

The infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

This has caused some people to think that man is desperately seeking God. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true; human beings without God are not looking for Him. It is true that man is a spiritual being, and because he is such, he is looking for spiritual experiences, not necessarily for God.

For the Christian, this is an important concept. The unsaved will take this spiritual craving of their “God-shaped vacuum” and fill it with all kinds of things, looking for satisfaction. Everything from earth-bound spiritualism and spirituality to materialism will try to get squeezed into the hole, but no effect. The unsaved can never be satisfied. To the believer, though, this craving helps us to pray and to seek God. Christians seek their spiritual experiences through the Holy Spirit and through their living relationship with their Heavenly Father.

When we are born again, that “God-shaped vacuum” is filled with the Holy Spirit—God’s abiding presence in the life of every Christian. When we pray, we become keenly aware of God’s presence in us; we feel “full of God’s Spirit.” Often times, a young Christian will pray because they have needs or they pray because “it’s what Christians do.” But as they grow in the faith and mature in Christ, time spent in prayer becomes a special time when they are able to experience God’s holy presence in a way not possible apart from prayer. When we get to that level of maturity, we discover the true focus of prayer is not our needs or ourselves, but God. It is then that we discover what’s on God’s mind and what His will is.

That so-called “God-shaped vacuum” is present only in unbelievers. In the Christian, that vacuum is filled with God’s presence, which we connect with when we pray.

3. Yada, yada, yada

It’s not really a Seinfeld routine, it’s a Hebrew word for “knowledge” or “to know.” It’s actually a more complicated word than that and its meaning can only be hammered down when the context is seen. For example, while yada may mean something as benign as “to know” something or somebody casually, it can also mean “to have an intimate relationship” with another. In Genesis, Adam “knew” his wife, Eve, and she got pregnant. So, yada may also imply that a very close, personal, intimate relationship exists between two parties. Such is the relationship that exists between the Heavenly Father and His children. In the Bible, yada is what God wants with His people

Think about yada the next time you get down to pray. You may never approach prayer the same way again! Prayers that were once cold or routine now take on another dimension when you realize who personal God views them.

4. Not all prayers are equal

Prayer is useless unless it is prayed in faith by a believer. Naturally God hears the prayers of the unsaved as they pray for forgiveness and salvation, but until repentance comes, a prayer goes unheard. Prayers prayed to anything or anyone other than the One True God are prayed in vain. A classic example of this is seen in 1 Kings 18 where the prophets of Baal prayed all day to their god but didn’t get so much as a nod from Baal. The godly prophet, Elijah, on the other hand, prayed one time and made a very simple request:

O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36, 37)

And God did answer that prayer in an astonishing way. Baal didn’t exist. Those pagans were praying to nothing! And nothing happened.  On the other hand, God exists and prayers prayed by people of faith will always yield the desired results. Faith is the essential quality in the heart of every Christian who seeks to talk to God. Think about that for a moment. You can’t see God with your eyes. You can’t hear God with your ears. You can’t touch God with your hands. How can you not have faith when you are about to hold a conversation with the One who is Invisible? So faith has to be part of prayer.

But it’s not faith that will get you the things you are asking for. It’s faith in God. The focus of your prayers must never be your need or your faith; it must always be God. James saw this when he wrote James 1:5—7:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord…

So, the next time you start to pray, remember how you start: in faith. Make sure you focus on God even as you present your needs to Him. Believe that God exists, that He wants to have fellowship with you. Don’t forget that you don’t have to beg for God’s presence; He’s already there with you! He’s in that God-shaped vacuum. And whatever you do, don’t get up off your knees until you’ve been changed by the Holy Spirit.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd
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