Have you ever had that moment when you realised that you have been doing something your whole life but had never asked what it is?
I remember pushing back against my mum’s request for me to use manners at the dinner table with the question, “What are manners anyway? It’s just an extra word that someone decided was important to say.” Of course, I asked the question to be difficult and my mum’s response was rightfully to shut down the question, but I could also tell she didn’t have an answer.
So, what are manners anyway?
I started asking myself the same question about prayer. A topic most Christians would take a millisecond to affirm that they know a great deal about.
Here are the 5 best lessons I learnt when I asked "what is prayer?"
1) It's a three way conversation: Talking, listening, responding
Prayer is so much more than a wish list, it’s a dynamic and at times, messy relationship.
Talking to God is easy enough to understand but listening to God can become a bit more of a fluid concept.
There is no limitation to which God can speak to you. Whether or not you’re listening is another question.
Ultimately, being able to listen to God comes down to whether you can silence your own internal dialogue enough to hear the voice of God.
When you read scripture what is the voice that you hear? Often, we read scripture with the wrong voice – we either project our own voice, or worse the accuser’s voice onto God’s words.
I have learnt a lot about prayer through my marriage, for example I have learnt that listening to my wife isn’t just the act of hearing the words she says, but responding to the words she has said. It’s not enough to say I heard her when she asked me to put my socks in the clothes basket, but then not do it.
The evidence of my listening is in responding. It’s the same with God, our prayer life is only as powerful as our response.
Prayer is just as much about our awareness of God as it is about our dialog with Him.
Prayer doesn’t need to look like prayer, you can be praying whilst being fully engaged in a conversation with someone.
To live with the awareness that God is constantly present and engaged in your life changes everything about the way you do life and the decisions you make.
Thinking about God constantly is only the first half of living with an awareness of Him though, the second half is knowing what He is thinking about you.
Jesus revealed through his prayer life that his ultimate goal was to align his will with the Father’s.
No more and no less.
Jesus surrendered his prayers to the Father knowing that He was the source of power that their fulfilment was hinged on.
This is where positive self-motivation and prayer part ways. Prayer isn’t about our own encouragement, it’s about the fulfilment of God’s will.
4) Instinctive to humanity
I believe prayer is instinctive to humanity…not just Christians…humanity!
Every tribe, tongue, nation, religion and person has some sort of prayer language built into them from birth.
It may take the atheist longer to speak his or her first word but I’m sure the moment of crisis will come when they secretly throw up a Hail Mary
5) Western Christianities expression of prayer is not the full picture
I often get frustrated with my western, ridged, lineal way of thinking.
One of the greatest loses to the western church I believe is the demonization of other cultures and their spiritual expression.
I believe every culture needs Jesus, but I also believe every culture has within it a revelation of the nature of God that we can all learn from.
I long to learn to connect with God the way our nation’s first people connect with the land, or the way the monks connect through deep meditation. We could learn a great deal about prayer from the Korean church, who’s church is built on prayer.
Here's how to apply these lessons to your life
- Start dialoguing with God and then respond to Him.
- Learn what God actually thinks of you.
- Put your dreams in God’s hands and see if He gives them back to you to pursue. If He gives you a new dream align yourself with His dream for your life. It will be more fruitful.
- Get back to basics. As my footy coach always says, your first instinct is normally your best one.
- Be open to learning from all people, even the people and places you think are furthest from God.
I have also written a blog sharing 3 reasons why we pray
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