One of the most difficult concepts of our Christian journey is prayer. In the end, I suspect no one really understands it—we just do it. How well we do it is probably a whole different question.
In the end, we have many more questions than answers when it comes to this subject. Any thoughtful answer we do come up with has to be long and involved. I suppose that’s why we humans have come up with things like systematic theology. While it doesn’t provide all the answers, at least it can make us feel better about ourselves for a little while.
How often should we pray? How long? When? What should we pray for, or should we pray for anything? Do our prayers really make a difference? Questions like these are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Here’s my Christmas list, Lord.
Because we don’t really understand it, we often end up reducing prayer to a laundry list for God. “Okay Lord, here’s what I want.” In our best moments, we’re not praying for ourselves but for someone else. Either way, we’re asking our Creator for something we don’t have at the moment.
Entire books have been written on the subject. Different styles of prayer have been developed. Formal prayers have been written and used repeatedly by the masses. All this has been done so we can somehow get a handle on what prayer is and how it relates to us as individuals. Just when we think we’ve got it down pat, another question arises that throws the whole thing off kilter.
I think our big problem is we’ve often forgotten the other side of prayer. We readily remember the part where we do all the talking. After all, we’re the ones with the voices. God, on the other hand, often seems so silent. That’s where we make our big mistake.
“Prayer is having a conversation with God.”
If you ask anyone what prayer is, the most common answer you’ll receive (I hope) is that “prayer is having a conversation with God.” If you boil down all the theology behind our understanding, that definition is as good as any. Let’s have a little talk with God.
Prayer, like any conversation, becomes really frustrating when we do all the talking. Somewhere along the way, we need to begin listening. After all, the Lord is the real expert here, not us.
When is the last time you picked up a copy of the Scripture to pray? We usually pray on the fly and never consider taking a look at God’s Word. We seldom read a passage and meditate on it. We seldom look at the Lord’s agenda, because we’re too busy foisting ours on him.
I’ve found that the biggest attribute of prayer is that it pulls us into God’s will. It only makes sense. When you sit and converse with someone long enough, you begin to have a better understanding of them. Since the Lord understands everything, it would behoove us to listen to what he has to say.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]