What is prayer?
The more I learn about living the Christian life, the more I discover I am lacking. That isn’t to say that being a good Christian is impossible. It can, however, be unclear what the proper Christian life consists of. With this blog, I hope to help in this area. This week we will discuss prayer. What is prayer? What isn’t prayer? Why should prayer matter if we are saved by grace?
When I was first saved in 2012, at the age of 42, the so-called Christian life was intimidating: church attendance, Bible reading, Bible studies, freed from sin, dead to the Law, saved by grace, obeying the commands of Christ (whatever those were) and so on.
Somewhere in all that, I also needed to pray.
Prayer can be intimidating.
But I was really unsure of how to pray. I began by saying ‘grace’ at every meal. At the end of the night, while lying in bed, I would list off everything I could think of to be thankful for, which took me all of five to ten minutes, then I would be out of things to say. So I would close with the obligatory, I pray all this in Jesus’ name because that’s what the Bible says to do (John 14:13-14).
Then came public prayer. If we just talk about me and my mind here; I would freeze up. I overthink everything.
Perhaps, I thought, once I improved my personal prayer life, my public prayer life would follow. Now all I needed was a personal prayer life.
Once again I am reminded of (I believe it was) comedian Steve Martin’s advice on how to make a million dollars tax-free. Step 1: make a million dollars.
If this is the first post of mine you have ever read; first of all, welcome. The reason for this blog is because of the strange world that I found Christianity to be (after a life of atheism) once I was saved in my middle ages; hence the name of the blog–Saved for Later.
Christians were no help.
As I looked to other Christians who had been in the church all of their lives for advice on how to develop a prayer life, I was given answers such as:
Just close your eyes and talk to God.
Just have a conversation with Him.
He’s your Daddy and He wants to hear about your day.
That was even more confusing because the Bible said that God knew the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end (Isaiah 46:10). He was all-knowing (1 John 3:20). He knew what I was going to pray before I prayed it (Matthew 6:8). So what was I supposed to say to Him that He didn’t already know?
The thing that is most important to remember is that prayer, though pleasing to God, is more for our benefit that His.
In a different post, entitled Will your prayers get answered?, I gave a more specific anatomy of what constituted proper prayer. This post is different. Here, I want to talk about the act of praying, why it is necessary, and perhaps how to begin a healthy prayer life.
I believe three things are necessary for a healthy prayer life: reception, response, and repetition… in that order.
The reason that the order is important is because of the first step–reception. We first have to receive God’s word. I want to offer some tough love for you here. Before you can grow in your prayer life, you have to first ‘hear’ everything that God has to say. And He arguably says everything He has to say in His Word… the Bible.
Before you let the shortcuts take hold of your mind, read this next part twice: you need to read the entire Bible. Not just a daily devotional or the verse of the day that appears on your phone. Not just the bits and pieces we glean from attending the Sunday service. We have to read the whole Bible. And some, myself included, would argue that just reading it once is not enough.
What is prayer?
Prayer is a conversation between you and God. This kind of conversation, however, is nothing like a conversation you have with a child, a parent, or a spouse; where the two parties take turns talking. In this conversation, one party, God, has already taken His turn. Now, it’s our turn.
God has revealed to us a great deal in the Bible–what is often referred to as God’s special revelation. If we do not seek to understand His revelation, then anything else that God could say to us would really be pointless.
I am certainly not suggesting that you do not ever attempt to pray without first reading the Bible. I am referring to a life of prayer. You will often hear the terms ‘baby Christian,’ and ‘mature Christian’ thrown around. The difference between a baby Christian and a mature Christian is their knowledge of the Bible. New Christians must pray, but our prayer life grows as our knowledge of the Bible grows.
Once we have heard what God has said to us, we can then say something back. So the second step of prayer is response. The time we spend responding to God is a healthy way to view prayer.
Too often, prayer is treated as either an eat-your-vegetables daily routine that stems from obligation or guilt, or it is used as a time to make clear to God what it is we need from Him.
We shouldn’t get into the habit of just listing for God what we think would make our lives better–a better job, better weather, better health, or a spouse. These requests are fine, but letting God know what we want is only a small part of the conversation. We must learn what God wants from us.
For example, by reading the Bible, we learn many reasons why God wants us to pray to Him. God wants us to:
worship Him (John 4:23)
praise Him (Psalm 99:2-3)
glorify Him (Revelation 4:9-11)
love Him (Deuteronomy 6:5)
thank Him (Hebrews 12:28).
What difference does praying make?
This is a tough question. It is a question I had difficulty finding a (satisfactory) answer for. If we are saved, are forgiven of all of our sins, and have eternal life, what difference could prayer make?
Let’s say for the sake of discussion that one is saved. If all that meant was that this person gets to go to heaven when she dies, then why not continue living the same way she always has and reap the rewards?
If that were the pattern, then why wouldn’t God just transmit us to heaven immediately once we’re saved? The answer is, that isn’t the pattern. Some may accept Jesus on their deathbed, and yes, they get immediately transmitted to heaven (Luke 23:39-43). For the rest of us, we still have work (not to be confused with works) to do.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
While we remain on earth as God’s people, God continues to sanctify us. Prayer is a necessary component of this process.
We are to pray:
without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
to let God know what we want (Philippians 4:6)
for others in the church (James 5:16)
for wisdom (James 1:5)
that we are not tempted (Matthew 26:41)
to God for help (Psalm 34:17)
seeking God’s face (2 Chronicles 7:14)
for our enemies (Luke 6:27-28)
So how do I pray?
I have never been in favor of memorizing and repeating prayers. Prayers can become lines that we wind up mumbling through in order to check a box; like ten Our Father’s and five Hail Mary’s.
Speaking of the Lord’s Prayer (the ‘Our Father’) by the way, I do not believe it was to be simply recited the way Jesus presented it in Matthew 6:9-13. I believe He was giving us a pattern to follow. But I believe this one lesson from Jesus was not exhaustive.
There is really no end to what we could be praying to God. The book of Psalms makes that clear. And praying through the book of Psalms is not a bad practice in prayer. But how do we begin our personal prayer life, especially when we haven’t read the Bible yet?
I would like to suggest an acronym that was shared with me once. It’s called the T.R.I.P. prayer method.
The TRIP prayer method.
T – stands for thanks. Tell God everything that we are thankful for. As we mature, our thanks can grow. We can start by thanking God for our health, our family, our church, the important people in our lives. But that can later change to thanking God for the challenges He has presented us with in order to grow us and sanctify us.
R – stands for repent. We are apologizing to God and seeking forgiveness for the things we had done wrong that day. Now, you will get a lot of right-hearted advice that sounds a lot like, you are already forgiven for every sin you will ever commit. Knowingly committing sins because of the knowledge of our forgiveness is what is often referred to as cheap grace. While it is true that our sins are forgotten thanks to Jesus’ atoning work on the cross (Hebrews 8:12-13), a true Christian will regret her wrong-doing and it is helpful to share that regret with God. It’s also a good time to thank Him for the sacrifice He made to prevent sin from separating us from Him.
I – stands for Intercession. Who could we pray for other than ourselves? Our families. Fellow church members. Our neighbors. Even (if not especially) the ones we don’t like. Pray for our enemies. Whose souls could we be praying for? Our country. Our leaders. Even the ones that belong to a political party different than our own. Pray for God to reveal ways that you can help (or even forgive) them.
P – stands for praise. God has done so much for us. Everything in fact. He created us. He gave us the choice to love Him or not. This ability to choose has a nasty side effect known as a sinful nature. So, for those of us who exercised that choice to love Him, He gave us a path back to Him through His Son Jesus. For all of that, He is worthy of our praise. And we could spend the rest of our lives thinking of new ways to praise Him.
The third step is repetition. We need to start praying. But we must also continue to pray. God wants it. He makes that clear in the Bible. Prayer takes practice. God will reward this practice. We must move from simply wanting to identify ourselves as Christians to actively wanting to follow Jesus and live a Christian life. This cannot be done without prayer.
So let’s get started. Let’s pray.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.