A few things changed when I decided many years ago to commit to becoming a “professional Christian.” For one, I became the official “go to” pray-er at all family functions. I think the last time that someone not named Wesley Blackburn prayed for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner was in the 20th century.
But along the way, I’ve discovered that as a person in the ministry that people come to me and are often curious about what spiritual practices in my life look like. Specifically, I’ve had more than a few conversations with some people in the past couple of months just talking about what prayer looks like in my life. Most of us all get this sense that prayer is simply us talking and communicating with God, but I think we lose sight of how that plays out. But I am convinced that prayer is the key element in our cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus. Don’t get me wrong; there is a lot of important stuff that we should make part of our regular spiritual habits and practices. But for me, I keep coming back to prayer. When my prayer life is going well, I feel so connected to God. And conversely, when it’s not, I can definitely tell.
Now, I am far from the world’s leading expert on prayer. But, it’s a key issue, and for the next few weeks here on the Cultivate blog, we’re going to talk all about prayer. How does that happen? Is there a right or a wrong way to pray? Does the Bible tell us how to pray? And how can I make prayer time in my life feel more meaningful or important? We’ll be conquering some questions, and of course, if you have any along the way, feel free to chime in with a comment – we can talk about it!
I feel like to start the discussion, though, we need to say one fundamental thing: I don’t know that the Bible says there is a “right” and “wrong” way to pray, but I do think that the Bible would tell us there’s a better way to pray. In Luke 11:1, the disciples come to Jesus and ask him to teach them how to pray. Apparently, Jesus was praying in a way that was notably different (better?) than all the other religious people of the day, and the disciples were curious. You would think Jesus would answer simply by saying, “C’mon guys! Prayer’s just talking to God!” if there wasn’t any particular rhyme or reason. But instead, Jesus launches into a time of teaching on prayer. In Matthew 6:9, Jesus actually says to his disciples, “This, then, is how you should pray.” Jesus is identifying a particular way to pray.
That seems arrogant. But as the Son of God, maybe Jesus knew what he was talking about.
So what’s the better way to pray?
I think the key comes to us in Matthew 6:8, where Jesus says, “Do not be like them [the people who go babbling on in their prayers], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Wait a sec… if God already knows what we need before we ask, then what are we praying for?
If you are anything like me, you’re really tempted to spend most of your time before God asking him for stuff. Maybe it’s physical stuff, maybe it’s help in your life, maybe it’s healing for yourself, a friend, a family member, or something else. But I think if we are all honest, there’s a natural tendency with us to simply ask God for stuff. I don’t think the Bible speaks against this at all. In fact, there are several areas that seem to confirm it. But the point of prayer isn’t to just ask God for stuff.
I think that a lot of us are missing out on the full experience of prayer. Yeah, asking for things is all well and good, but if that’s all we do in our prayer lives, we’re only experiencing about 20% of what prayer is and can be. There’s so much more.
What’s that “much more?” Well, I think there are a few things. We’ll explore those more in-depth over the next few weeks. But for now, I’d love to encourage you to take a challenge this week in your own prayer times with God: at least once a day for the next week, spend some time in prayer with God and don’t ask him for anything. Just spend time with him. Express whatever you want to him. But don’t ask anything.
But that’s gonna be weird!
Yeah, you’re probably right. But I guarantee you, it will help you begin to unlock the full experience of what prayer can be for a follower of Christ.
Happy praying! I can’t wait until we get to explore some more next week.