Before I invited Jesus into my life at age eighteen, I had very little understanding of church, religion, the Bible, God . . . .
But somehow I knew that since I had recently invited Jesus to come into and take up permanent residence in my life, I should attend a church service the following Sunday. No one told me; I just knew it.
I chose a little neighborhood church I had spotted while driving around town near the U.S. Air Force base where I was stationed at the time. I had no clue what “brand” of church it was, only that it was a building with a cross displayed on a steeple.
Because I had very little awareness of what people did in churches and didn’t know what to expect that Sunday morning, I decided to slip in quietly, sit in the back, observe what the people were doing . . . and then imitate what they did.
They began with some music and singing. Next, the leader up front said, “Let spray.” I had heard that some brands of churches sprinkled people with “holy water,” so I wondered if perhaps at this church they sprayed people with holy water.
I noticed everyone bowed their heads and closed their eyes. I assumed they did so because they didn’t want the holy water to get in their eyes. I felt that spraying people was a little strange, but up until that time I felt most of what I mistakenly believed happened in churches was strange.
Then the leader began speaking to someone (I couldn’t see who it was, but felt it might have been someone named “Art” because he kept saying “thou Art . . .”). Also, he was using strange words such as “thee,” “thou,” “whithersoever,” “thy,” “whosoever,” and “thine” while talking to the person named Art I couldn’t see.
It took me a few minutes to determine what was happening. He was praying! He hadn’t said, “Let spray”; he had said, “Let’s pray.” Now I knew what we were doing, but I still couldn’t understand why he was using such strange words; maybe it was some sort of “prayer code” people used when praying to God.
That was my first meaningful introduction to prayer many years ago.
I Don’t Know How To Pray
I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to you, but like Paul, one of the writers of the Bible, I admit to you that often I don’t know how or what to pray! (Romans 8: 26) I’ve been a born2 (born again) believer in Jesus for many years, but I still have difficulty praying effectively. Honestly.
That’s why I’m writing this teaching—to continually remind myself how to pray more effectively . . . and possibly help you, too, if you have difficulty praying effectively.
Prayer is never a one-way activity! It is always two-way . . . or should be. Prayer is visiting with God. It is having a dialogue with God, not a monologue. It is God and a person conversing with one another. It is listening as well as speaking;
Let’s learn to practice the discipline of “listening prayer!”
God is pleased to dialogue with us. He longs to share Himself with us. He yearns for a deep, abiding relationship with us; such a relationship comes mostly through prayer.
He loves us dearly and deeply and wants to have a loving relationship with every human being. He wants to share with us both his daily and future plans and purposes for our lives . . . if we will listen.
Consider some brief thoughts. From the Bible, we know God—Who inhabits eternity—is allwhere allwhen; from the “center” of eternity everything is absolutely simultaneous to God.
Being God, He is completely focused on every human at the same time. Each of us is always in the precise center of his vision and the sharp focus of his thoughts. He doesn’t go back in time or forward in time. He is always in everyone’s present—in the “Now” of our lives . . . concurrently. That’s why He is referred to in the Bible as “I am,” not “I was,” nor “I will be.”
Many people mistakenly believe God is always extremely busy with quadrillions of tasks and has to “slow down” and focus in order to make time to hear the prayers of any individual. People erroneously believe God must scramble around and somehow find time in his busy schedule to hear our prayers.
Or, many mistakenly believe something like this: “God is far away somewhere beyond the universe and can’t bother coming near this tiny planet to listen to my sad stories.”
Such erroneous ideas are not true; at any given moment in time God can precisely focus on everyone, everywhere, and everywhen. He can completely devote his time to any individual while at the same time focusing his loving and full attention on everyone else . . . simultaneously.
Many times I have heard people mistakenly make statements such as these: “I don’t pray because God is too busy with all his other tasks. God doesn’t have time to listen to my poorly worded, feeble prayers; other matters are far more important to Him.
“After all, He operates the entire universe, causing Him always to be busy with far more important matters than to listen to my prayers. I don’t want to bother God; He has better things to do than take time to listen to me.”
I hope those few thoughts have helped you understand God is always fully attentive and carefully listening to you and to every other human on planet earth “24/7,” 365 days a year. No one is “bothering” God when they communicate with Him by means of prayer. Some ask, “Does God really communicate with us?”
On four occasions in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel in the Bible, Jesus stated that those of us who are his “sheep” (his followers) hear his voice. God does, indeed, speak to us; He is speaking to us all the time, far more clearly and distinctly than we imagine.
We “hear” his voice within the spirit component of our three-part beings (body, soul, spirit) by means of our inner “faith-sense.” He generally speaks to us in a quiet, soft whisper within our spirits.
The question is not, “Does God speak to me?” Rather, the real question should be, “When is God not speaking to me?” Do not be surprised at the Good Shepherd’s tender voice constantly whispering into your thoughts . . . from within you where He abides permanently in your spirit.
Keep in mind, however, it’s difficult for us to hear God if we’re doing all the talking!
But God is not limited to communicating with us only in a quiet, soft whisper; He can communicate with us in any manner He chooses.
However, He generally speaks to us from within in five distinct and clear ways: 1. From the Bible, God’s written, LIFEgiving, transforming Word for all humanity. 2. By inserting his thoughts and creative ideas into our thoughts. 3. By means of visions, images, pictures, and dreams “broadcast” to the “viewing screen” of our spirits. 4. By means of strong, inner impressions and urgings. 5. By speaking (or praying) in tongues with the interpretation immediately following.
Again, I don’t want to limit God speaking to us in only those five ways; He cannot be limited to our finite comprehension; we cannot “put Him in a box” and limit Him in any manner, but He does Self-limit his means of communication in order for us mortal humans to understand Him.
A prime biblical example of listening to God is found in the life of Samuel, an Old Testament prophet, when he was a boy. In the night, Samuel heard a voice calling his name.
Thinking it was the priest calling him, Samuel ran to the priest’s bedroom to ask what the priest wanted. The priest informed Samuel that it was God who had called Samuel’s name.
When Samuel heard the voice next time, he responded: “Speak, God, for I’m listening.” That was the beginning of a long lifetime relationship with God in which Samuel heard God speak to him many times. The simple lesson to be learned from Samuel’s experience is: God speaks. Are we listening?
Beginnings of Prayer
Archaeological and other historical research informs us that since time immemorial, humans have prayed either to the one, invisible, true and living God as revealed in the Bible . . . or to human-devised, visible idols and gods that can’t see, hear, speak, or move.
Prayer to someone or something perceived as greater than ourselves seems to be almost instinctual among the vast majority of humans. Even those who claim to be atheists refer (and sometimes pray) to a God they claim they don’t believe in.
From the Bible we learn, of course, that our first human ancestors—Adam and Eve—enjoyed unbroken fellowship and communication with God until that relationship was broken and communication diminished by the entrance of self-centered, self-absorbed sin into the human condition.
After the “fall” of Adam and Eve, prayer seems to have declined somewhat until their grandson, Enosh, was born. At that time (for some unknown reason not stated in the Bible), humanity once again began “praying and worshiping in the name of GOD.” (Genesis 4: 26)
With rare exception, all humanity has prayed in some fashion ever since that time—to God or to gods and idols of their own making.
What Is Prayer!
In its distilled essence, the basic definition and purpose of prayer is to maintain open and free, two-way, ongoing conversations with God, bringing us more into alignment with his plans and purposes for our lives and his plans and purposes in the lives of others for whom we pray . . . and enhancing, enriching, and building our growing, eternal relationship with Him.
Effective prayer (James 5: 16) is a highly skilled, focused, transcendent endeavor involving much learning and practice by trial-and-error.
Effective prayer doesn’t come easily. There’s a price to pay—a price of much time and much effort . . . and more time and more effort . . . and more time and more effort.
In my own limited experience, I have never met an effective pray-er who told me it’s easy to pray or that prayer comes naturally. The only Person I know to Whom prayer likely came naturally (but not necessarily easily) was Jesus while He was here on earth in his full humanity.
Prayer can bring us great peace, joy, and satisfaction, but it does take our commitment, persistence, dedication, time, and hard work.
Prayer transcends all finite limitations of time and space, always winging its way to God’s throne of grace in eternity; Note clearly: God’s throne is a throne of grace (the foundations of which are righteousness and justice), not a throne of judgment! By the way, in the Bible the word “justice” always means “to make all things right.”
In responding to prayer God has absolutely no bounds and no limits in scope, magnitude, place, and direction. Nothing—absolutely nothing!—is beyond the reach of our prayers . . . and God’s responses to our prayers. He always responds out of love and grace for the ultimate good of all humanity.
Since all God’s judgment against humanity’s sin was poured out and completely dissipated on Jesus on the cross, God never responds in judgment to our prayers.
We must never fear God’s judgment. If we humans must fear anything, it should be ourselves. We humans are our own worst enemies—not God, not Satan (a fully defeated and disarmed foe) . . . but ourselves.
Continued next month
“Stop fretting and worrying; worry is simply a misuse of your creative imagination. Instead of worrying, pray! Let praise and thanksgiving shape your worries into prayers. Let God know your requests—make them clear and definite. Then you will have God’s unspeakable peace, transcending all human understanding. That peace will surround and guard your hearts and minds through Jesus.” –Philippians 4: 7 and 8, modified
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Revised and Updated November 2020