This is part two of a presentation on prayer that I did at Tearfund this week.
What prayer isn’t!
1. Prayer isn’t more spiritual than anything else
God made us spirit, soul and body and we are fully human when we thrive in each dimension. We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. We glorify God in the physical labour, desk work, messing around, conversations and chores that make up our every day. There is no spiritual activity and other activity. There is only meant to be humans, fully alive to God, filled with his presence , fully reliant on Him and glorifying Him in every thought, activity and emotion. Prayer (and other ‘spiritual’ activity) plays a specific role in becoming fully present to God in the same way that special times and rituals connect us more fully to our loved ones. It is not that prayer is more spiritual than thinking or emailing or washing up but prayer should soak our every activity. Today I will have many conversations all of them important. But the conversations that I have with my wife and daughter are very special because they connect me to my fundamental relationships. I am more alive, more confident, more capable when those relationships are strong and intimate. Prayer is where I make the connection with the most defining relationship in my life- with the Lord Jesus. When that relationship is rich and vibrant everything else works better! I become more human, more alive. From that place of relationship God wants to fill and share my whole life not just a bit of it.
2. Prayer isn’t a magic wand
I really wish it was! I wish that rather than working hard, struggling and being diligent I could just say a quick prayer and everything would be alright. At the feeding of the 5000 Jesus met great need by praying over the packed lunch and releasing miraculous provision. That prayer and miracle were part of a tapestry of Gods activity. Someone thought to pack a lunch, a boy was moved to generosity, the disciples searched diligently, God led them in the crowd to the right person, they organised the crowd to receive, they did food distribution and cleared up! Prayer does not trump hard work. Prayer transforms hard and diligent work to achieve far more than we could ask or imagine.
3.Prayer isn’t a slot machine
We often think that God is a slot machine. If we put the right coins in- prayer, church, worship etc.- then the goodies will pop out. We then get terribly disappointed when things don’t work out. Yet all through the Bible we are taught that waiting and perseverance are a major part of the deal. Whether it is Daniel having to persist in prayer for 21 days or Jesus teaching us to ‘ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking’ we are called to hang in there. Maybe it is about changing us. Maybe it is about spiritual warfare. Whatever it is we are called to run the race, fight the fight, not give up.
4. There isn’t a right way to pray (but there is a wrong way)
Jesus told the story of two men going to pray. One stood at the front and prayed in a loud voice to impress others. The other skulked at the back and muttered his confession to God. One was heard in heaven, the other was not. Jesus is not particularly interested in whether we are loud or quiet, mix worship in with our prayers, light candles or stroke stones. It’s always and only about the heart. Do I mean it? Am I being honest and sincere? There is no technique, only integrity. I am the only person who can express my heart to God. Amazingly, God can’t wait to hear what I have to say.