There was a time early in my Christian walk when I was quite confused about prayer. God knows what we need, I “reasoned,” and always does what’s best for us, right? So what good does it do to pray? Is it just spiritual hoop jumping?
I was aware of Bible passages where the prayers of His people seemed to make God change His mind. He “repented,” the Bible says (Amos 7:6 and Jonah 3:10). Then there’s the familiar passage where Moses seems to “bargain” with God to not destroy the city if 50, 40, 30, 20, even 10 righteous persons could be found. How could I reconcile this to the Bible saying God is same yesterday, today, and forever?
I finally realized that prayer doesn’t really change God, it changes the situation, and it changes us. To put it in mathematical terms, Situation A + Our Independent Response B = God’s Response X. Always. But Situation A + Our Prayer Response P = God’s Response Y. Always. The equation is different, therefore the result is different.
But what exactly is prayer? Is it finding the right “magical” words, like “In Jesus’ name,” that activate the response from God that we want? Like some kind of holy incantation that has to contain the right words, spoken by a “clean vessel,” not asking “amiss,” prayed fervently and believing, and repeated often enough to qualify as “persistent prayer”? (Did I hit all the checkpoints to make this work?) Or will any old prayer work because the Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings we cannot utter? Prayer seems so mystical at times.
I still have much to understand and to put into practice when it comes to prayer, but I have much more clarity than I used to, thanks largely to the teachings of my former pastor Adrian Rogers. He simplified things. In fact, I remember him quoting one preacher as saying that prayer is simply asking God to back the truck up and dump a load of blessings on us. My favorite insight from him was this Adrianism: “The prayer that gets to Heaven is the prayer that starts in Heaven.” It’s a thought that I rephrased at the end of a little poetic musing on prayer that I created above.
I wrote this little poem one day during my quiet time as I pondered just exactly what prayer is:
What is prayer?
but behind the words is
behind the meaning is
behind the will is
behind the faith is
behind knowing God is
First, He says it, then we say it, then He says, “Amen.”
All parts of man’s being are involved: Body (words), Soul (meaning, will), and Spirit (faith, knowing God). Genuine prayer engages every fiber of our being. Prayer begins words, but not words that we do not mean or believe. Our will must be behind them, activated by faith. Not positive thinking. Because faith is baseless, nothing, if it is not informed, inspired by knowing God, and the only way we know God is through His Word. So it all comes full circle. Know. Be. Do. Our words begin with His Word. He says it, then we say it, then He says, “Amen.”
Prayer is simply recycling God’s Word.
So one way to make sure your prayers are valid is to pray Scripture right back to God. Try it. Find a prayer in the Bible, or any passage, and pray it to God. Personalize it. And internalize it. The prayer will come right back to you with God’s “Amen.”
Prayer is such a privilege. Cliché, but true. Imagine having a breakfast meeting with someone you’ve always wanted to meet. Multiply that times infinity, and you have some small idea of the awesome privilege it is to have the ear of the CEO of the Universe. So let Him speak first. Spend some time in His Word. Get to know Him. Believe and trust what He says. Determine to obey it. Then tell Him you mean it. It’s will be one prayer that will echo back with a resounding “Amen.”