What is prayer?

A couple of years ago, the title of a blog post by Jeremy Meyers  (Blog: “Till He comes”) drew my attention. It was a simple question that prompted me to think about the quality and character of this very thing in my own life. The question was,

What is prayer?

We can always begin by defining prayer according to the standard English, Greek, and Hebrew dictionaries, but I think that the person who asks “What is prayer?” is not so much looking for the dictionary definition of prayer. They are more likely wondering about how to pray, and how to see answers to their prayers.

So in trying to answer the question, “What is prayer,” I think the simplest and most practical answer is best.

You see, most people learn about prayer by listening to others pray, and this often leads to some very bad prayer habits and practices.

Many people when they pray, seem to think that prayer requires a spiritual tone of voice, a new set of words, a sing-songy cadence and rhythm, and maybe even the repetition of certain words or phrases. Almost like mantras. No wonder some people on the outside look in and see some drunk-like behaviour. Now, where did I hear someone talk about this very thing again..?

So it is not uncommon to hear people pray this way:

Father God in heaven, holy art thou above all things, and thy name, Father God, is worthy to be praised, Father God.  Hallelujah! Praise Jeeeezus! Can I hear an Amen?

Oh, Father God, Lord God, Holy Jesus, we come before you today, as your children, Father God, to beseech you with our many needs, Father God. But before we do so, oh Holy Father in Heaven, we ask thee to forgive us for our many sins. We have failed thee in so many ways, Father God, so that as the prophet Isaiah says, all our righteous works are as filthy rags before thee, Father God! And so we thank thee for sending thy holy Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe and the master of all, the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world, to die for our sins on that wretched cross, oh holy Father God, – Hallalejujah! – praise Jesus – so that we might be forgiven of our many trespasses against you, Father God…

And the prayer goes on like this for quite a while. What is prayer? In my opinion, not this!

The person doing the praying will often work himself up into a bit of a frenzy, until he or she is shouting and shaking, and people who are listening are nodding their heads, shouting “AMEN!” “HALLELUJAH!” “PRAISE JESUS!” and so on. I’ve always wondered about that in light of what Jesus, and the Apostle Paul to some extent, taught about prayer.

Now, this may not be your practice in praying, but it is a common practice and illustrates that when it comes to the question of “prayer,” we often take our guidance more from what we see other do, that what the Scriptures teach.

Even if you do not pray the way I described, I want to challenge you to listen to your prayers from time to time and ask, “Where did I learn to pray this way?”

Why am I saying these certain words? Why am I changing my voice? Why am I bowing my head and folding my hands? Why am I closing my eyes? Why do I pray to Jesus, or to the Holy Spirit? Why do I repeat this certain phrase over and over, or use those certain words?

And more importantly, are my praying habits adding to or distracting for my prayer life. Is it at all necessary to experience the peace and power that comes from talking to God.

“What is prayer?” I like to tell people that prayer is “nothing more” (I’m using this phrasing carefully here) than talking to God as you would talk to a spouse or a friend.

The fact that we can talk to God as I would to a friend, is an amazing idea in and of itself. I can talk with the Creative Force that is in everything, including me! What an idea. I don’t have to “move” Him with my clever sayings and mantras, only connect like a child does with a parent (Abba — “Daddy”) or someone with a friend.

People are often jealous that Moses spoke to God as a man speaks to a friend, but the fact of the matter is, Jesus has enabled all people to speak to God in this way!

We do not need a priestly mediator, or special words, or a holy language, or a spiritual frenzy in order for God to pay attention to us. All of that is religious prayer, which in my opinion is not the kind of prayer God wants.

I think that God must sometimes sigh at our religious prayers. He listens and smiles, thinking, “why don’t we just talk.”

He is always paying attention to us. He is with us as we go about our normal day; going where we go, doing what we do, and hanging out with us as we eat, work, and even drive somewhere. This means that we can talk to him as a man speaks to a friend.

God called Abraham his friend. Why can’t I be God’s friend also? God has no favourites it says in the Scriptures. And I doubt Abraham spoke to God like some weird deity that has be pleased and moved with words. That’s not the God I serve anyway. My God is Immanuel — God with us.

What is prayer? It is simply telling God what is going on and “keeping him in the loop” about your life. Are you angry? Tell God. Are you sad? Let him know! Did you just sin? Yeah, he saw it, and he is not mad about it, but he does want to talk to you about it. Did you see something beautiful or experience something joyful? Thank Him! Are there needs and concerns? Ask Him for advice or help, always with gratitude.

What is prayer? It is simply talking to God in a normal way just as we talk to anybody else.

Here’s the thing – in my opinion, you don’t really need to read books on prayer. You don’t need to be taught how to pray. You don’t need to attend prayer training seminars. You don’t need to learn a prayer language. You don’t need to memorise lots of Scripture in order to pray.

If you know how to talk, you can pray!

Just imagine God sitting next to you and talking to him as you would talk to a Friend, or your Abba (Daddy / Mommy).

I can only hope this was some food for thought.

I hope you will look at the ways you’re “talking” to God at the moment and ask: “If I was talking to a friend like this right now, what would they be thinking?” 

Would they even understand what I was saying?!

Ask yourself: Where does all my prayer jargon come from? (note: some aren’t even good theology at all) 

Perhaps what God desires is us simply seeking his face (to quote the Psalms) and spending time with him, talking, praising (complimenting) Him and sharing the good and bad as with a great friend.

May light and peace fill your life.