In the Garden of Eden, talking to God was so simple for Adam. For a brief moment in time, all humanity was engaged in perfect communication with God, walking side by side with Him in the cool of the evening and talking with Him about the amazing and beautiful new world He had created. Sin entered the world shortly after, and since that time mankind has spent thousands of years trying to find that connection again – trying to have a conversation with God. People have turned to idols, to dead ancestors, to memorized utterances, to complex rituals, to burning prayers, to counting prayers, and even to putting prayers on flags to be carried off in the wind for the sake of trying to get God’s attention and His favor. With so much cultural baggage floating around, it is no wonder that many Christians struggle with prayer.
With all the confusion, misconceptions, and craziness in the world surrounding prayer, it can be easy to get discouraged. If you find this happening to you, do not despair! This article is designed to guide believers through the purpose and practicalities of prayer gleaned from God’s Word for the sake of equipping you with the knowledge necessary to have a vibrant prayer life. It’s our prayer at Laurelglen Bible Church that whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned one, this article will stretch and grow you in your practice of talking to God.
Understanding Who God Is and Who I Am Before I Pray
God is sovereign, all-knowing, transcendent, and immanent. Before time immemorial God was self-sufficient and perfect. Man is created, finite, dwelling in time, sinful, and fallible. We tend to limit God in our minds to our own experience or even the experience of mankind as a whole. God existed for eternity past; He had an infinite existence before Adam and Eve. At times, God anthropomorphizes Himself in the Bible to allow us to grasp concepts being communicated to us. It is a wonderful thing that God speaks to us in a way that we can understand. However, at times we tend to view God as just a super-human. In reality, He is so much greater and beyond our comprehension.
God can see the future perfectly. For God, the future is fixed. There are no surprises for Him. Man, on the other hand, does not know the future. We make choices in real time. Nevertheless, that is not to say that because God knows the future we have no choice. We also cannot say that God’s perfect knowledge means that there is no point for us to pray. From our perspective, we are sinful and limited inknowledge thereforewe mustpray. We do not know what will happen, and we as sinners need help to execute God’s will.
Some would argue, “Why prayif God is going to do what He wants anyway?” That question is loadedwith false assumptions that the point of prayer is to satisfy our feelings and get God to do what we want.
We pray because God choseto bring about His will and bestow blessings throughour prayers. Philippians 1:6 tells us that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” God begins by putting a burden or passion on our heart, and as we pray He completes the work by answering our prayer.
As humans,we selfishly want to think that we have good intentions on our own apart from God and that those intentions lead to a prayer apart fromGod’s prompting. Scripture tells us that man’s heart is evil (Jeremiah 17:9), no one does good (Romans 3:12), and every good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:17).
Category Mistakes and Assumptions
We are prone to make category mistakes, which are defined as “misunderstandings by regarding a term that belongs to one logical category as if it belonged to a different logical category” (Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion). God and man cannot logically be compared in the same way. Man is createdin the image of God and Christians have His Holy Spirit, butstill,a mancannot be God. Therefore, what God knows does not negate man’s responsibility to pray and obey.
Weshould offer our desires to God, as we see in the Psalms. We can make false assumptions that our desires are always God’s desire just because they feel right to us. In his bookPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller astutely said,“Our desires can be not only sinfully disordered but also perfectly well-intentioned though mistaken. We may think a particular request will help us or others, but if God were to grant it, we would later realize to our horror and grief that we had been wrong. Therefore, as a guard against both selfish motives as well as our shortsightedness, we ask God to fulfill our requests with things ‘agreeable to his will.’ We are to ask God for things that fulfill bothour desires andhis will and wisdom (John 14:13–14; 1 John 5:14),” (Keller, 227).
Thismeans embedding theological reasoning in all our prayers. It means that rather than simply running down a quick list of things we want, we should reflect on what we want in light ofall we know from the Scripture about the things that delight and grieve God and in light of what we know about how His salvation works and what he wants for the world (Keller, 227). We simplycannot assume that all we desire is good and Biblical. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is desperately wicked. Therefore, we will have strong desires that are selfish and not from God. J.I. Packer helps us understand how to pray with human error in mind. According to Packer, when we make our needs known, we will explicitly tell God, “that if he wills something different [than what we are asking] we know it will be better and it is that (rather than the best we could think of) that we really want him to do,”(Praying: Finding Our Way, Packer, 157).
Prayer is a discipline that doesn’t happen overnight. At Laurelglen Bible Church, we hope to continue to equip you so you can grow in your practice of prayer. Keep an eye out for future articles as we delve further into what prayer is, how to pray, and the benefits of leading a prayerful life.
– Eric Burns and Nathan C.