What is Prayer? (Prayer II)
You need not cry very loud: He is nearer to us than we think.
Jesus was always in prayer, but Jesus also arranged his life for dedicated moments of prayer.
Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray.
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus dedicated himself to intentional times of prayer, and he went to places where he could pray easily. The wilderness. A mountain. In community with his disciples. Already, we get a sense of some practical “how-tos.” But what exactly was Jesus doing during these times of prayer?
Was he asking for things (perhaps for “a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time”)? Indeed, that’s how many of us relate to prayer. We simply ask God for things, as if He’s the great Gumball Machine in the Sky, or better yet, our Cosmic Butler.
Of course, prayer is a lot about requests, and Jesus tells us certain things to ask for, but the first thing that matters in prayer is our posture before God. Because prayer is the place where we learn to relate to God as Father as Jesus did. It’s a conversation with God that allows us to become aware of His presence, nearness, and goodness in a way that continually transforms us. We can only fully ask from prayer in the way that Jesus tells us to if we are in prayer with this posture.
When I was growing up, I was scared of approaching my dad most nights. If, say, I needed him to sign my report card or ask him for money. He had this big blue armchair in his study and he’d there watching TV, his back to the door. I was terrified of interrupting him and annoying him.
Guess what? I pretty much learned to relate to God—and to prayer—in the same way. Our adoption into our identity as children of God is often messy because there’s a part of us that has to die in order to be resurrected into an awakened understanding of who God is. The part of us that doesn’t think we can trust God, that thinks we have to earn His love or approval—that part has to be put to death.And even if we don’t like those parts of us that are put to death, they are still part of us, so it’s still painful to have them die.
What gets resurrected, though, is glorious and fully worth it. In prayer, we learn to see the reality of who God is. He’s not aloof. He’s not sitting in some heavenly armchair. He’s not angry, absent, or ambivalent. He’s far better than you can imagine. We get to awaken to this reality. This is what prayer is all about.
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Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God. Whitaker House. New Kensington, PA. 1982. See “The Seventh Letter.”
See Skye Jethani’s With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. 2011. Cf. Chapter 3, “Life Over God.”
Often, even what we’ve learned in the Church has to be put to death, if it doesn’t reflect the reality of who God is.