“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
As I have come to see over the course of my lifetime, the whole experience of God is shaped by prayer. But what exactly does that mean? I believe there are countless ways to answer that question, but there is a constant danger that we can all too easily focus too heavily or exclusively on one meaning or facet of prayer, thus limiting the scope of God in our lives and those around us.
Prayer has two primary definitions in the dictionary. The first is “a devout petition to God.” (I’ll omit the “or an object of worship” part since we all know what happens when a golden calf comes into the picture.) We ask God for something in our lives or for someone else. With the church’s emphasis on compassion and our individual proneness to stress and discouragement, I am not surprised this is listed first and is often the dominant meaning. People cry out to God in times of difficulty, and that can become the entire prayer cycle. Our human nature then tricks us into thinking we do not need Him when things seem to be going well. Before I came to Christ, other people would sometimes tell me they would pray for me. While I appreciated their support, I only viewed it as a mild attempt of encouragement. During college, I attempted to build a relationship with God on my own, but it only consisted of reaching out to Him when I felt I needed something. It took me several years to realize I was missing an important element and not getting anywhere.
The second definition is “a spiritual communion with God [same omission], as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration or confession.” This captures a lot more. Prayer is the means by which we converse with God, and through that process we give thanks and praise to Him, humble ourselves before Him, confess our sins, and receive His forgiveness. But prayer goes beyond even all that. It is the vehicle by which we experience the very presence of God. We soak in Him, and He lifts our spirits, often touching us in indescribable and even miraculous ways. Prayers can be made in complete silence, and our time with God fills us and leaves us completely satisfied, whether or not He speaks directly to us.
And then there is God’s response. Contrary to the Garth Brooks song, there are no unanswered prayers. God sometimes just doesn’t respond the way we hoped or suspected. Whatever His reasons (all for good, as Romans 8:28 assures us), He sometimes says no or tells us to wait after He hears our requests. In these cases, we must submit to the test of being on God’s time rather than our own. He can also give us a word when we are in communion with Him, even if we have not asked, and we must not be afraid to speak His word if He calls us to do so.
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to pray. I have been to traditionally structured church services where there is a set time for the congregation to pray together with heads bowed, as well as charismatic ones where people speak in tongues, dance and wave banners. Both offer means of connecting with God individually and as a body, and both are powerful in their own ways. I will only encourage you to reach out and respond to God in whatever manner you feel led. Regardless of whether you have a regular method of prayer or like to mix it up, what matters is that you hear God’s invitation and answer Him.
Next Friday, March 28, at 7:30 PM, is our first congregational prayer meeting. Here is an opportunity for us to spend time with God together, to worship Him, offer thanksgiving, and intercede for each other, our community, and the nations. There will be time for individual and group prayer, and it promises to be powerful.
Daniel can be reached via email here.