Perhaps the most important of all the spiritual disciplines is prayer.
We often think of prayer as an act of worship--something we offer to God to affirm his greatness and our dependence upon him. And while this is a good thought about prayer, it doesn't go far enough. Prayer is more than worship.
Simply defined, prayer is conversation with God about what we and He are doing together. We talk to God and we listen to God principally not because we fear him or respect him, but because we like him. We love him. We want to spend time with him. We want to talk with him about things that are important in our lives and the lives of others. And we want to know what is important to him. We listen for his voice.
Now, it's an amazing thing to be able to talk to the Creator and Sustainer of everything, the King of Glory, the Ruler of the Universe. If we wished to have an audience with the king or queen of a nation, we probably would not be able to gain it. If it were possible to gain the opportunity to speak with an earthly ruler, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. But God, the Ruler of all, makes himself available to us all the time. Any time. Day or night, in good times and bad, we can meet with God and talk with him about everything. "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 14:16).
How do we pray? There are a number of answers to that question, many of them very good. For instance, many Christians like to pray according to the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Each of those facets of prayer is important, and the ACTS acronym is very helpful to some believers. Some Christians particularly benefit from using a prayer book (e.g. The Book of Common Prayer). Some folks use the ancient prayer book of God's people, Psalms. I myself have found it beneficial to "pray the psalms"--that is, read the words of a psalm as a prayer--especially in times of stress. Some churches have special prayer ministries wherein folks who are particularly gifted in intercessory prayer will pray for people. Some groups meet especially for prayer, such as the "Moms In Touch" groups that meet in many schools. Many Christians through the centuries have benefited from the using "breath prayers" (prayers that can be uttered in a single breath), such as "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
As I see it, the form of prayer is not nearly so important as the attitude of prayer. The humble heart, eager to spend time with the Lord, is free to approach God. Prayer "ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father," writes Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline, p. 33). "It is the discipline of prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit."
Jesus's friends and followers asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11). His instruction to them was to pray not for show or for other people to see. He gave his disciples a model prayer, and for 2000 years followers of Jesus have prayed these words of Jesus:
Our Father, which art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
The teaching of Jesus on prayer is a reflection of the life that Jesus offered. The familiar words "Our Father which art in heaven" does not mean "distant, fearsome deity who is far away in space and time." Instead, it means "loving father who is right here with us, always near us." Just let that sink in for a moment! Because of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is available. Just as Jesus talked to God when he lived here on earth, we can talk to God. Although some people see the recitation of this model prayer (called "The Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father") as a dry, lifeless exercise, that certainly doesn't have to be the case. The simple act of praying this prayer as a beginning to each day can have life-changing results.
And that's the real aim: life change. As with all the spiritual disciplines, prayer brings us into communion with God, who changes our hearts.
How about you? Do you pray? How has prayer impacted your life?
**Note: There are many good books on prayer, and reading them is extremely worthwhile. The very best I have ever read is Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home by Richard J. Foster. I recommend it most highly.
This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!