Have you ever wondered why we pray? I mean after all, if God is God, why does he need me to pray?
Questions like these two are common for Christians to ask. When you really think about reasons why we should pray, we are always confronted with the reality that God already knows what we need. So, why pray? At the same time, the Bible makes one thing abundantly clear. God expects us to pray, encourages us to pray and even has ordained that his purposes be carried by and through prayer.
Here is what Jesus said: “But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5 NET).
How do we know this for sure? Let’s look at the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6. Jesus says, “and when you pray.” Notice he doesn’t say, “if” you pray, but rather he says, “and when.” He starts his teaching on prayer presuming that we will pray.
A vain cardiologist
In reality, all people pray. The real question is “to whom or what” is people’s prayer directed.
Early in my career when I was a pharmaceutical rep, I remember a story a colleague told me. He shared with me something a cardiologist had said to him during a sales appointment. “You know those people who sit down in the chapel and pray? They are praying to me. They are praying that I do my job and keep their husband/father/brother alive.” That seems pretty arrogant doesn’t it? He seems to have missed the point.
However, let’s stop and consider this vanity from a different angle. There is a deeper truth underlining the vanity of that cardiologist. God works through the ordinary means of prayer to accomplish his extraordinary purposes. He even can use an arrogant cardiologist to save the life of another.
The ABC’s of prayer
When we understand that God moves within our prayers to accomplish his extraordinary purposes, then it should cause us to refocus our energies on daily prayer. So, how do we refocus our prayer life? Here are three tips I recommend:
1) Audible: Say them out loud!
Sometimes we try to pray within the quietness of our minds. But there is a problem. Our minds can drift away from our prayers and become confused with our thoughts. Has that ever happened to you? It happens to me. Consider this for a moment. When we speak prayers out loud, we are engaging two sensory organs: our voice and ears. Our ears hear our voice. Don’t underestimate listening to the sound of your own voice praying. It helps to sharpen your prayer and even keep you focused.
2) Brief: Don’t ramble!
Sometimes we hear stories of people who spend hours in prayer. There is something to be said about the process of meditation in our prayer life. Yet, at the same time, keep in mind there is a difference between offering up petitions to God and deep meditative reflection on the Lord. Learn the difference. The idea here is taken straight from Jesus’ own words, “do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles.” Notice his emphasis on repetition. God isn’t moved by repetitive prayers. He is moved by genuine faith.
3) Concrete: Be Specific
When Jesus gave the disciples five specific petitions, the theology behind each petition was profound, but for our purposes here, they serve as good examples of concrete prayers. There are other much longer prayers in the Bible. Yet when we look at them, they are typically asking God to move in a specific way.
Developing a prayer life is critical to the Christian. As you think about goals and resolutions in the New Year, remember that prayer dramatically fuels our souls and transforms our lives in every area. Prayer in the morning sets the stage for the whole day, and when we learn how to pray, learning what to pray becomes far easier.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan G. Smith is the founding dean of Knox Online and is now the Senior Rector of Redeemer Anglican Church in Winter Park, FL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.