There is a lot of misunderstanding about just exactly what prayer is. Our church is in a message series called 40 Days of Prayer that is also serving as a call to prayer on the part of the congregation, and when something like that happens, questions about the nature of prayer begin to rise to the surface – kind of like fish when you drop a stick of dynamite into the lake, but that’s probably a bad analogy.
I have gone through phases in my understanding of prayer that I summarize as Two Lies and a Truth.
Lie #1. For a while, it was just a kind of religious wishing out loud. It was like asking a divine Santa Claus figure for stuff I wanted, or wanted to have happen. And because we have a gracious God who puts up with childish understandings of prayer, sometimes, what I prayed for actually came about. But most often it was just wishing and waiting for things that never really happened, not realizing that God wanted a deeper level of conversation and interaction with me than a 3 minute visit with Santa.
Lie #2. Later, when I learned that God does respond to prayers offered in faith, it was more like a kind of Christian magic or spell-casting. If I got the words just right and believed hard enough, my prayers would be answered. All I had to do was name it and claim it and it would be mine, in Jesus’ name! But time, experience and the gracious patience of God have taught me that prayer is a conversation. Although we can always trust the goodness of God, like any conversation with someone other than yourself, you cannot always predict what the other will say or how they will respond. You just know that if you don't have the conversation, nothing happens and the relationship begins to break down.
Truth. So for me, because I want to know God more, and live more faithfully in the way of Jesus, I need to pray. I don't always know what will come from it. I just know it gives life to my days. That’s because the one I pray to and enter into conversation with loves me. And what good father, if his son asked for bread would give him a rock instead (Mt 7:9-11)? Prayer is not just wishing. It is not some kind of Jesus-approved incantation. It is a conversation with the one who loves us like no other. And even when that love corrects us and challenges us, the result of the conversation is always so good. So I pray, because it connects me to God and fills me with grace from the Holy Spirit that helps me to live more faithfully in the way of Jesus.
May the time you spend with God do the same for you, and even more!