“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing,” Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the protestant reformation, once stated.
As Christians, we often see group prayer and Bible study as the foundation of our religious identity, the key to faith and the backbone of a relationship with God. There are countless books published on prayer; every worship service seems to begin and end with prayer and we are encouraged to “take it to the Lord in prayer.”
And yet, regardless of the importance that prayer plays in our religious experiences, we sometimes echo the words that C.S. Lewis wrote in “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.” He stated, “Prayer is irksome … We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish.”
When asked about the subject of prayer, a friend of mine answered along these lines: “I can do a Bible study anytime, but prayer? I get so distracted, fall asleep or I don’t even know what to say.”
So, let’s analyze what we’ve heard our whole lives and get to the bottom of what prayer really is, how we should do it and why it’s important in the first place.
Prayer is not a list of fancy jumbled words or repeated poetry. In fact, Jesus speaks quite clearly on the topic. In Matthew 6: 5-14, Jesus gives us some guidelines for how to pray.
First of all, we should never use prayer to show off. Secondly, prayer is more than a ritual of vain repetitions, “For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matt. 6:7) But God knows what we need even before we ask Him. Prayer is more than being heard. It’s more than a list of “requests” and “praises.” It’s being held in God’s arms of grace, sitting in His presence and “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Prayer is an act of letting go, listening, speaking and glorifying God, yet crying out to Him as well. It’s authentic. It’s real. A matchless privilege that allows us to communicate to the God of countless galaxies. Prayer is about a relationship and connection to God.
I fell in love with God through prayer when I realized that prayer is simply, “the opening of the heart to God as to a friend” (Steps to Christ). It was only then that I realized it was more than a few mumbled words before a meal. Suddenly, I started to pray with my heart.
Sometimes I pray kneeling, and other times I go for a walk. Sometimes I pray with friends and other times by myself. Sometimes I pray out loud, and other times I barely whisper as tears slide down my cheeks. Sometimes I pray with my eyes closed and other times with them wide open. But in all my prayers, I want to pray with my whole heart, fall more in love with my Creator and spend a slice of my time communicating with my Savior.