Prayer can be such a struggle, and yet it was designed to be the primary means for human beings to speak with the God of the universe.
Somewhere along the way, the western Christian culture that I grew up with modelled prayer as the way to open up a church service, close a church service, maybe bless the meal I'm about to eat, and kick off the road trip I'm about to embark upon.
Reading the desperate cries of David in the book of Psalms, and the passionate pleas of Paul in the epistles, I'm convinced that prayer—a dynamic, conversational exchange with the God of all creation—is a pursuit to which I should devote myself.
God seeks to be so relationally close to me, yet so often my prayers resemble voicemails left on a friend's answering machine, asking for the odd favour or opportunity to catch up.
It's no wonder that when the tough times hit, I find myself oddly estranged from this personal God. It's not that he went anywhere, or for some reason isn't home; it's that my knowledge of him and perception of him is limited to simply what I know about him, rather than actually knowing him.
In a classic book on prayer 'The Still Hour', nineteenth century theologian Austin Phelps says that,
... a consciousness of the absence of God is one of the most standing incidents of religious life. Even when the forms of devotion are observed conscientiously, the sense of the presence of God, as an invisible Friend, whose society is a joy, is by no means un-intermittent.
He goes on to explain that this 'absence of God' comes from our inherent spiritual emptiness, a void that we don't even realise that we have until the necessity to pray comes upon us.
It's through realising this emptiness that a hunger for prayer and true communion with the Almighty starts to burn within us.
This is where my small group—and a guy named Louie Giglio—came in. I realised that my prayer life needed to be completely reoriented towards knowing God more, not simply communicating my needs on a cosmic voicemail.
So, I started to do some research into what prayer is supposed to be, and in that process, my small group started a study on prayer by Louie Giglio known as Prayer: Remixed.
While I won't go into the details of all that I learnt from this study, it certainly made me sit up, listen up, and think twice about what I was saying when I was addressing the God of the universe in prayer.
Prayer is supposed to be focused on God and his Kingdom, not on us and our problems. So often I ask for God's blessing on my food, my meetings, my travel, and my decisions when my prayer needs to primarily bless him for all he has done, and for all that he is!
Paul has the right idea when he opens his prayer to the church in Ephesus saying: 'All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms through Christ' (Ephesians chapter 1, verse 3).
An example of prayer
I pray for God to be with me in the tough times, not realising that his presence is everywhere - not the least of which is indwelling in my soul through the Holy Spirit. This indwelling of the Holy Spirit makes me want to pray, 'Father, live through me. Let me be your hands and feet in your Kingdom here on the earth.'
I pray for God to watch over me and keep me safe. And while this isn't necessarily a bad prayer, I realise that in all of Paul's letters to the early churches—Christians struggling against sickness, death, martyrdom, persecution, separation, and imprisonment—not once does he pray for the circumstances surrounding the churches to be altered.
He prays time and time again, that these churches would simply know God better. 'I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he has called' (Ephesians chapter 1, verse 18).
This is the sort of the prayer that doesn't change depending on what mood we are in, or what we have coming against us in life. This is the sort of prayer that takes us deeper in our relationship with God, and our experience of his presence in our lives. This is the kind of prayer that I want to offer when I come before the God of the universe.
I'm still wanting to go deeper with all that prayer is and what it means, so I'm going to keep searching the Scriptures for examples and reading a wonderful book on the topic by Timothy Keller, I'll leave you a quote to ponder and be inspired by:
Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle—yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer.
Blaine Packer is a graduate of Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies who is passionate about media and mission. Currently residing in Launceston, Tasmania, Blaine is involved in both media and local ministry work at Door of Hope Christian Church.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html