This week, I haven’t really had the time, energy, or motivation to spend a lot of time thinking about prayer or reading the book about it that I mentioned last week. In fact, I just finished reading the first part of the book this morning, and I’m still digesting it. My journey towards understanding prayer still has a long way to go, but for now I’ll just share what I learned this morning.
Prayer is all about relationship. Simply put, God wants a personal relationship with us and conversation is vital to relationships. Praying is just the way that we converse with God. The difference is that a relationship with God is unlike any other relationship a human can know. Things just don’t work the same as they do in human relationships.
For one thing, human relationships are at least to some degree comprised of equals. Sure, in many cases one person is more dominant or authoritative in the relationship than the other, but in the grand scheme of things, both people are still just people. In the case of a relationship with God, though, we are hilariously unequal. He is God, the one who created the Universe and has control over everything in it. We are tiny little humans at the mercy of our environment, easily breakable and gone in the blink of an eye. This is no relationship of equals.
The amazing thing is that God still wants to have a close relationship with each one of us. In fact, He knows us more intimately than we can imagine, and sees who we are in the midst of everyone and everything else around us. It’s easy to say those words and even understand them on a surface level, but truly believing them and grasping the gravity of them is an incredible thing. It’s just plain crazy that God would know and love each of us as individuals!
When we approach God in prayer, we come face to face with a being who is infinitely greater than us, yet sees us as His friends. It is both humbling and simultaneously uplifting. And I am starting to understand that that may be one of the most basic purposes of prayer; to be humbled before God so that He can lift you up.
Being humble in a relationship with God is something that I think has been often misunderstood. People think that they need to grovel at God’s feet, mentally degrading and emotionally punishing themselves for their sins. Instead, I think that humility before God is the natural, automatic attitude that we acquire whenever we open our eyes to His greatness. In the book that I’m reading, Prayer by Philip Yancey, the author puts it this way:
“(Humility) accurately reflects the truth. Most of what I am— my nationality and mother tongue, my race, my looks and body shape, my intelligence, the century in which I was born, the fact that I am still alive and relatively healthy— I had little or no control over. On a larger scale, I cannot affect the rotation of planet earth, or the orbit that maintains a proper distance from the sun so that we neither freeze nor roast, or the gravitational forces that somehow keep our spinning galaxy in exquisite balance. There is a God and I am not it.
Humility does not mean I grovel before God… It means, rather, that in the presence of God I gain a glimpse of my true state in the universe, which exposes my smallness at the same time it reveals God’s greatness.”
When we surrender to this attitude of humility before God, and then we think about how much that same awesome God loves us, it’s an amazing feeling. We are uplifted by His love only through our own humility!
The truth is that a connection with God is our most basic need in life, but not for the reasons that many people seem to believe. A relationship with God is in itself the thing that we need; yet many people believe that the results of such a relationship are what we really need. I won’t deny that there are great benefits of a life lived with God. He brings us strength, joy, provision, and purpose. Praying to Him is good for us because it can teach us to be thankful for what we have, think of others before ourselves, and keep our focus on God’s greater perspective. But these effects of prayer on our lives are not the purpose of prayer, really; they are just the side benefits. The purpose of prayer, as I understand it today at least, is to maintain an intimate and honest relationship with God.
Prayer should not be seen as transactional. God is not a cashier at the grocery store, allowing us to take things that we need or want in exchange for something valuable to us (in this case, our time). He is not a genie, granting us our every wish, and we cannot earn His favor on our lives through flattery. No, He wants a relationship much deeper than that. God desires friendship with us.
Part of every healthy friendship is the ability for both parties to be honest and open with each other. God speaks truth into our lives in many ways, but that isn’t all He wants to do. He also wants to hear us speak the truth to Him. He wants our honesty! And since He knows every thought that we have before we even have it, learning to be honest with God is really more of a battle with ourselves than anything else. Perhaps God wants us to pray to Him not because we can tell Him things that He doesn’t already know, but because the act of being vulnerable with Him changes us and improves our relationship with Him.
I don’t yet understand the role that our personal requests have or should have in prayer. I don’t know if asking God for things has any purpose or changes the way that things will happen. What I do know is that when we share our pain, struggles, hopes, dreams, and wishes with God, He listens. He wants us to share these things with Him because they are part of the essence of who we are. Even though we may just be reiterating what he already knows, it is the act of sharing ourselves with God that brings us closer to Him.