The accurate definition of the word ‘;prayer’; is really quite simple. It’s communication with God. In one way, it is like an everyday conversation between us and a close friend; but at the same time, it is something exponentially greater because we are in fact talking to the all-knowing (Psa 147:5; Pro 15:3) and all-powerful (Mat 19:26) creator of everything.
Prayer with God is Important
Much like a husband and wife maintain their relationship with each other through effective communication, so we likewise maintain our relationship with God by the same application. As a husband, when I get home from the office everyday, my wife and I sit down and talk about our day; this includes the things that brought us joy and frustration, or confusion and insight. In addition, we often share our struggles as well as the things we are thankful for. But in this communication, we also ask for advice, accountability, guidance and intervention on any number of things.
Our correspondence with God is really, very much like this. We should talk to him throughout our day. Telling him our joys, frustrations, confusions, insights, struggles, and the things we are thankful for. But along with all these things, we should also let him know what we are struggling with personally as well as what we would like his help with. What we call confession and supplication, helps us align our intentions and desires - also known as our will - with God’s.
In confession we admit that there are areas of our life where we are doing things that God does not want us to do; these are known as sins of commission which can consist of many things, such as lying (Exo 20:16), lusting (Mat 5:28), and putting other things before God, which is idolatry (Exo 20:3). Furthermore, we also acknowledge that we are not doing things that God does want us to do; these are called sins of omission, which may include not respecting our parents (Exo 20:12), not loving others (Jhn 13:34), and not sharing the gift Christ has given us with others (Mat 28:19).
When we come before God to ask him for help with something, we should be mindful of the fact that we are not informing him of anything that he doesn’t already know. Rather, when we lay our requests before him in prayer, we should do so in a way that we are expressing to God that we need his help in this particular situation. Also, in knowing that God is the only one who can aid us in every situation but also, like us, has a choice in how he will respond in those situations, we must trust that however God decides to respond will result in the outcome that he wills for us, which is always better in the long run.
How to Communicate with God
Many people often express difficulty in praying. This is understandable, because to be honest, we are talking to someone we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands, so in that respect it is unlike a conversation with a friend. However, some things that are unique to prayer are that God is always available to talk (no busy signals, full schedules, or server downtime) and is able to know our thoughts (Psa 139:4; Mat 6:8). This means that we can speak and reach out to God silently in our thoughts while we are laying in bed, sitting in traffic or even suffering through a conference call. Further, we can speak to him out loud in Bible study groups, while praying over a person, or even during worship.
Often times, when I talk to God, I do my best to stick to a system that I was taught years ago, which directly models the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. I call it the ACTS outline and it goes like this:
- A - Adoration - Open your time of prayer with a bit of mindful worship or praise to God.
- C - Confession - Acknowledge the sins that you know you have committed and ask God to show you other sins that you are not aware of and ask for help in turning from these sins.
- T - Thanksgiving - Thank God for all the good things in your day or life. Some good things to be thankful for are salvation, marriage, children, jobs, safety, and forgiveness. Add to this list as you see fit.
- S - Supplication - Bring your requests before God and ask him to bring out the best result in them. Ask for his help with your struggles, co-workers, health, sin, friends, and any other topics which you feel you need God’s assistance with.
Lastly, and most importantly, we need to acknowledge that while we often know how we would like God to respond to our prayers, we must also agree that his will takes priority over ours, and our job is to submit to him and carry out his desires and not our own. This is a quality that Christ exercised while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said, ‘;if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ (Mat 26:39) He let his wishes be known to God, but he knew that his wishes came second to the Father’s plan.
In closing, it should be said that often, people make the mistake of believing that prayer is - or at least should be - a system of magic that people can use to get whatever he or she wants, including love, fame, and fortune from God. This belief is simply wrong and should not be believed for even a moment. The simple purpose of prayer is not to align God to our wishes, but to align us to God’s.
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 376-396
- Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire (Grand Rapids: Zonervan, 1997)
- George Mueller, Answers to Prayer (Chicago: Moody, 2007)
- Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God(Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1999)