“…But I give myself to prayer…” (Psalm 109:4)
There was a time I didn’t pray. I saw no need for it and thought that, at best, it was a ritualistic act performed by religious people of whom I was not. Then, some things happened ((I’ll skip the numerous details) and I was converted. That’s when I began to pray. Most of the time, I did it out of a sense of duty, although I believed it was important. The truth is, I didn’t rank prayer highest on the list of “spiritual” things I enjoyed doing or participating in. A lot of the time, it felt like work. It occasionally still feels that way, but more times than not, now, I pray because I experience a deep need to pray…to seek beyond myself to satisfy the hungers of my soul.
Dwight L. Moody (19th century American evangelist) was speaking to a group of children in Scotland. To get their attention, he asked them a question, “What is prayer?” He was expecting the kind of simple answers children might give, but one little boy said this, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”*
It was an extraordinary answer for one so young and suggests his parents took seriously the admonition, “Train up a child in the way they should go; when they are old they will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Reading this account last week caused me to think more about my reasons for praying. Here are a few:
- I pray because I believe that GOD is who He says He is. I believe He is Creator, morally perfect, transcendent (beyond the limits of experience and knowledge), eminent (perceivable) and personal.
- I pray because GOD has done and is doing for me, through Jesus Christ, what I could not and cannot do for myself: given me a new life free from the stain of sin, proven sufficient for my weaknesses, given me freedom from the fear of death, and a conviction that even after the death of my body, the redeemed me will live on in the risen Christ.
- I pray because prayer sensitizes me to awareness of GOD, His presence, His love, His peace, His will, His words. As mystical as it may sound, I commonly experience all of this. It’s not enough for me to become acquainted with Him from a distance; I want to be acquainted with Him in the same way that many, many table conversations intimately acquaint me with those on the other side of the same table. The more we talk, the more aware and appreciative I become of who they are.
- I pray because I am confident that reliance on self and human wisdom apart from GOD is both vain and deceitful. Jesus was right; life’s lasting fruitfulness is found only in Him; apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Prayer opens my inner vision to the reality and depth of my poverty and smallness and the great privilege offered me to freely share in His great riches.
- I pray because there are still times when I am morally wrong and need to repent of those things (reverse course and turn towards GOD) and confess them to be free from the guilt. He freely and mercifully offers forgiveness and I receive it, gratefully.
- I pray because there are spiritual and material needs all around me and I have an obligation to approach GOD on behalf of those who have those needs that they too might share in His riches. GOD has shown me His love, mercy and grace and encourages, even challenges me to do the same for as many others as I can. Prayer is one way I do that.
Some may say they look to other means to experience some of what I have shared, things like meditation or therapy. I think meditation can be good. It is even better when it opens us up to the realization that we need more than we can self-generate. And I definitely don’t have an axe to grind against therapy. I have recommended therapy to former parishoners from time to time and have utilized it myself after experiencing a family trauma and the need to make a major life decision. Two of my children are therapists and the work they do is valuable. Even with that, I don’t believe we can separate emotional health from spiritual health and actually be healthy. That is an unfortunate dichotomy rooted in human but not godly wisdom. They are two sides of the same coin (life).
Seeking GOD’s presence for the pure sake of being with Him, expressing thanks, petitioning Him for the things I need and desire, and interceding for others is something to which I now look forward.
I pray because GOD is no longer a part of my life; He is my life.
* Found in Deep Fire, Daily Challenges for a Burning Heart, Harold Vaughn (ed.). p.237.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2021. All rights reserved except when otherwise noted.