What is prayer? A straight-forward question with a not so easy to answer.  My basic response to this question is the following: Prayer is a means of communication that God makes possible between Himself and the pray-er.   When I take this definition into account, I have a better understanding that prayer should be a two-way street.  This is awesome; the Creator of the universe has made available a way that I can speak and hear from Him.

Prayer is so much more than just me bringing my list of needs/wants to Him.  Far too many folks approach prayer in this way, as if God were only sitting in His heaven waiting to fill our orders.  Yet, He does desire to hear our hearts as we bring our requests before Him.  Saint Paul said it this way: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present you requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

To get at the heart of what prayer is, please slowly re-read those two verses again.  Thanks.  Paul wrote this letter to a group of believers in Philippi.  If you are reading these thoughts of mine and you too have put your faith in Christ, this truly is the ‘how to’ for prayer.  Note first the call to not be anxious about anything.  Sounds difficult, as I have already experienced several pangs of anxious feelings just this morning.  This Scripture is exhorting us to keep our faith in Christ in the forefront of our minds because in so doing we will be much less inclined to needlessly worry about stuff.  Our prayers ought to reflect an ever-growing trust in God to be able to handle what it is we are praying about.

This familiar text from the letter to the Philippians also tells us what to pray about; everything!  Like in other places in God’s word; the message is crystal clear: everything means just that.  We are to be praying about all that makes up our daily lives.  I believe the very act of intentional prayer will deepen our relationship with God as we become more transparent before Him.  It’s not as though we are going to surprise God by telling Him what is on our mind, because in His omnipotence He already knows! It is our willingness to be open before the Almighty that will grow our faith as we learn to trust Him with all the details of our personal circumstances.

But pray about everything? How do I do that? Perhaps you are wondering, as I did, why the instructions are broken into two parts: prayer and petition.  I found a clear explanation of this in the Expositor’s Commentary: Prayer is a word that denotes the petitioner’s attitude of mind as worshipful. Petition denotes prayers as expressions of need.  With this understanding, I am reminded that who I am praying to deserves my utmost respect always, and that because He is Lord of all, I can lay all my needs before Him, trusting that the answer He gives (which sometimes is “No”) is what is best for me.

The answer to the valid question, “Does God answer prayer?” is contained within verse 7, provided we have submitted our prayers in the proper attitude of worship and reverence.  It is also vital to remember that answers to prayer do not always manifest themselves as what we have asked for! Re-reading Philippians 4:7 shows me that the promise given to those who pray in this way is the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and mind. 

Coming to know this promised peace of God ought to be at the very core of every prayer we pray, because ultimately the purpose of prayer is to get to know God better.  Several words of caution are needed here. First, if you have been praying and the peace that Scripture talks about seems to be eluding you, it’s not because God is withholding it.  A much more likely explanation is that I/we have not trusted deeply enough in God’s ability to provide and sustain us through our circumstance, which tends to keep us in a constant state of unrest.

The second thing I must remind myself of is this: This promise in Scripture tells me I will not fully understand the blessing of God’s peace to me! As a somewhat structured and logical person, I can struggle with this.  Caution must be exercised so that my pride won’t sneak up on me.  Asking myself questions like, “Why can’t I more fully understand God’s peace if I am in a growing relationship with Him?” or, “Why don’t I have this figured out by now?” are indicators that I am seeing myself as being a super-spiritual person.  The bottom line is this: My intellectual pride keeps me from admitting that God has got something that is so far beyond my ability to comprehend.  And that something, His peace, is what is being offered to me!

I say all this to conclude with this thought; prayer is how I/we can know God more intimately.  There is no structure required to our prayers, just a willingness to come before the Creator with an open heart and mind.  Remember, there is nothing too small for God to not care about and nothing too large that He isn’t bigger than.  Pray about everything with the assurance that your prayers are special to God, because you are too!

 

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