Prayer is a central spiritual practice which strengthens our faith and enriches our walk with God. We pray because the Bible places great emphasis on prayer, and the Lord Himself taught us to pray. We are aware that prayer is how we connect with God, although it may not often feel that way. But have you ever stopped to wonder about this great mystery which God has made available to you and I? The answer to this question can have profound implications on our appreciation as well as approach to prayer.
St Clement of Alexandria describes Prayer as a conversation with God. And it surely is, but a personal dialogue with God is certainly not the same as conversing with others.
For starters, conversation with other people is bound by what’s been said or expressed during the discourse. A friend is only aware of what I am thinking or feeling only after I’ve articulated my message into words. The friend hears me speak and can see my expressions and body language; after which they can respond accordingly. But they can only go off what I am revealing in my message. Words unspoken, hidden emotions and thoughts kept concealed are not contained in the dialogue and are therefore not conveyed. This ultimately leaves me in control of what I want to share with others. In essence, it allows me to manipulate to a certain degree how I want others to view me. This form of dialogue is very different from the dialogue in prayer with God.
“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – (1 Sam. 16:7)
In prayer we present ourselves wholly and vulnerably to God; with all our weaknesses, failures and imperfections. God is aware of my thoughts, even before I think them. God understands my inmost desires regardless of how I express myself to Him. I cannot select what I wish to share with God, and what I hope to keep from Him simply because He is present within me. He sees all of me, as I really am, and that’s the way it ought to be.
But how is prayer a dialogue with God when it often feels like a one-sided conversation? I pray to God and the response is…silence. Often times it feels as though God is not really there, and if He is there then maybe He is just not listening. This is discouraging for many, myself included, since we have been accustomed to getting an immediate response to every request we make in our fast paced lifestyle. If I send a text message, I expect an immediate response, and grow ever so agitated if no response is given. If I order a meal at a restaurant, I demand that it be presented before me swiftly, and that my order comes out exactly as I had requested. In short, with every demand I make, I have been accustomed to getting a response on my time, and am utterly disappointed if the response comes late. But God does not work on my time. God is the author of time; He transcends time and is therefore not bound by it. Therefore when God responds to my prayer, whenever that may be, that response is in perfect time.
God is never early and never late, His timing is always perfect.
Not only that but God’s response may not present itself in the manner in which I demand it. God will and does respond, but I should not expect His response to be on my terms. This is something that I struggle with all too often, I pray to God and make my requests known to Him (Phil. 4:6-7), and then I give God a deadline and a format by which to adhere to. Sounds silly doesn’t it, but that’s how many of us approach God in prayer.
God is thereby reduced to accommodate the intellect of the believer, and ultimately, we reduce God’s ability to act in our lives in ways beyond our comprehension.
What is required of us is absolute submission to God in prayer. We ought to stand before God baring all and holding nothing back. We should draw near to Him with gratitude, humility and a repentant heart. And when we present all our burdens before Him, we must trust that He will take care of things, on His time and in His way. In doing so we entrust our lives fully to God, knowing truly that we are in safe Hands.
A mysterious dialogue with the One who knows all things.
If God knows all things, why ask? Valid question isn’t it? Why is so much emphasis placed on prayer if God already knows what we are in need of? What is the point?
Whilst there may be several answers to this question, the simplest response may be that God wants me to ask because He loves me.
As a father of a two-year-old boy, nothing gives me greater joy than when my son reaches out to me. Often times I know exactly what my boy might need from me or even what he might ask me, but I look forward to the dialogue nonetheless because I know that every interaction with my son is a chance for us to deepen our relationship and grow closer as father and son.
Love is nurtured and grows through interaction. As our Father, God wants us to speak with Him, to reach out to Him and ultimately, to walk with Him. Such is the nature of love.
“Love loves to be told what it knows already…It wants to be asked for what it longs to give.”¹
So although God may know my inmost desires, and my every want and need, that should never prevent me from spending time with Him in prayer…thanking Him, praising Him, beseeching Him and loving Him.
Prayer points to the eternal mystery of everlasting life.
Prayer is like nothing else we experience in this world. That’s because its power extends beyond this world and into the heavenly realm. When we pray we are elevated, and are mystically presented before God. We are united with Him in a very personal and spiritually intimate way. That is the very aim of prayer, to forsake everything else and draw near to God. It is, as St Macarius calls it,
‘The mystical communion between the soul and the heavenly Bridegroom’ – St Macarius the Great
This union with God that we achieve during prayer is but a taste of the ultimate union with God in the life to come. The only difference is that our union with God in prayer is often interrupted, distracted and overlooked. We do not recognize the power of prayer that God has entrusted us with and so we take it for granted, or at best give it less attention than it truly deserves. Perhaps this is why we are instructed to pray ceaselessly (1 Thess. 5:17). The ascetics and the recluses of the world would dedicate their lives to try and achieve this continual state of union with God. St Gregory of Nyssa describes prayer as a heart-to-heart talk, forever active on God’s part, forever slow on ours. It is our end that often fails to uphold the dialogue with God, and we need to focus our attention to keep our end of the line active in order to maintain our walk with God.
It is important therefore to awaken our spiritual senses, to tune our hearts to see God, to hear Him and to walk with Him in prayer. Prayer truly is a mystery; it is the response to the call of God and the means by which we can attain union with Him. It is a powerful weapon against the attacks of the enemy, and the means by which God bestows His countless blessings on us. Best of all, it is a gift from God given freely to all who may seek Him.
Prayer is the call of God, will you answer today?
1. Worshipping with the Church Fathers – Christopher A. Hall