Dear Siblings in Christ,
I recently preached a sermon on prayer (July 24) and almost as soon as I finished my sermon I started questioning whether or not what I said might have led to some misunderstanding about prayer. I could be wrong, but since I continued to think about for several days I feel like I need to clarify or say more about prayer.
First and foremost, prayer is a vital part of our faith. When Jesus spoke about prayer it is assumed that people of faith will and should pray and pray consistently and often. That is clear evidence that it is important. Part of the problem is that prayer, or the purpose of prayer is misunderstood. The most common misunderstanding is the expectation of our prayers. Prayer is not about getting the result we pray for. Generally speaking, it is relational.
If we expect or think that prayer is about getting the result we desire from God we will quickly become discouraged because we do not always get the results we hope for and that leads to the idea that prayer is well, pointless, and maybe God doesn’t love us or care about us as much as we think. There are so many reasons why always or regularly getting a desired result would in fact not be beneficial and I mentioned several of those reasons in my sermon. I know that seems counterintuitive but consider a very crude analogy of the parent child relationship. As parents we do not grant every request of our children even though we love them, more or less, unconditionally. Parents have their reasons for sometimes saying, “no”, or “not now”, as well as “yes!” A parent’s love is not measured by how often we say, “yes” nor is God’s love for us measured by His always saying, “yes” to us.
If prayer isn’t about getting the result we want, then what is the point? As I mentioned it is relational. Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us. How so? Well, it doesn’t so much change us in the literal sense. It really deepens the connection we have with God and the more we pray the more connected we are to our Maker. To me, that sounds like a really good thing. Prayer is one of the most, if not the most, important relationship builder between us and God. And it’s not because God ‘forgets’ about us when we aren’t praying. He never ‘forgets’ about us and is in every sense near to us constantly. We are the ones that tend to forget that for a variety of reasons. And just as it is with our human relationships, regular conversation or communication strengthen our relationships. Are you not closer to the people in your life you regularly speak with than you are with a friend you only communicate with occasionally or every couple years? What kind of relationship do we have with God if we rarely ever communicate with Him, or only communicate with Him when we are in crisis or want something? Imagine a human relationship with that dynamic.
But, what about our prayers for others? I mean, we regularly say we will pray for people in crisis. If prayer isn’t going to change their circumstance, then what’s the point? Again, it is relational. When we are in any kind of crisis is when we feel most alone or helpless. Knowing someone is aware of your situation and cares enough to do something, even if it’s something as simple as a prayer, lessens to some degree the sense of loneliness. And involving God in that situation by praying lessens to some degree the sense of helplessness for many reasons. God is always in control and never helpless, and there is a chance that things will change because of our prayer. Wait, you said prayer isn’t about results! And you’ve said God doesn’t change His mind unless we pray. True on both accounts. But, I have said far more often that I can’t possibly know how God thinks or operates. From a strictly theological perspective it is impossible for God to change. Change implies something less than perfect and God is perfect, ergo God cannot change. But God doesn’t follow our theological ‘rules’. Prayer connects us with God, connects us with those we pray for and places God in the middle of our relationships with others. Does that sound pointless or useless? And who knows how our God will respond to our prayers? When it comes to prayer we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Life is absolutely better when we pray. Jesus prayed often and taught His disciples to pray. And if someone asked you if you had a desire to feel more connected to God, or closer to God, would you say, “NO”? I have so much more to say, but this article is already a little long. I now know what next month’s article will be about. I hope I have clarified what I believe to be true about prayer, but just in case let me say it again.
Prayer matters and is a vital part of our faith. Until next month.
Yours in Christ,