Prayer is one of the most important things a follower of Jesus does. I have become convinced of this as I’ve been looking at prayer this year. It is an activity that allows people to communicate with God, to hear from Him, and become attuned with His passions and pleasures. When we submit ourselves before God in prayer we allow Him to enlighten and change us to be more like Jesus. Prayer is one of the central activities that enables us to follow Jesus in everyday life.
I love the way Nathan Foster describes his experience of prayer in his book The Making of an Ordinary Saint. He writes:
‘Now when I pray, I create movements in my mind. I push my attention toward a person or situation. I spend a lot of my prayer time simply sitting with God, thinking and listening while we exchange pictures of what we would like to see happen – co-creating. I was recently praying about an event where I would be speaking, and I imagined the Holy Spirit brooding about, filling the room, covering the cracks, and then I thought of the people, and I saw their frustration, their disillusionment with life and maybe even God. I turned my attention to the Father, and I felt his longing for them. I pray with hunches, movements and nudges. It’s a flow, a dance, a movement of grace bathed in love. I don’t disconnect. I pray with my eyes open.’
This is a great description of prayer. It’s different from the way that most are taught to pray. Knowing what to say is one of the obstacles we encounter when we pray. The definition above doesn’t focus on words. It isn’t driven by what is said but is based on relationship. Prayer should be relational. It’s easy to forget this. When we do our prayers seem cold and often sound more like a list of requests.
There’s nothing wrong with telling God our needs. He wants us to do this. But prayer is so much more. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessaloniki he instructs them to ‘pray continually’ (5:17). Surrounding this instruction is others about rejoicing, doing what is right, giving thanks and being open to the Holy Spirit. If prayer were simply telling God everything we need Him to do for us then it is impossible to pray continually. Indeed it is also impossible to pray continually if it is to do with speaking.
What are we to make of Paul’s instruction on prayer? There are 2 options:
- Paul is using hyperbole. He is trying to make the point that prayer is vital to following Jesus. It shouldn’t be an afterthought but a reflex action.
- Prayer is more like a rhythm. It is an intentional, on-going awareness and attentiveness to God’s presence. It is as though our communion with God prompts us to bring other people and situations into God’s presence. This is what Foster describes.
I can relate with the second option. One of my former workplaces was on the same road as a brothel. As I would drive past it every morning and afternoon I would find myself praying. I would pray for the ladies working there. I wanted to see them freed from their job. I prayed for their safety and well-being. I wanted them to know God’s deep love for them and that sex is much more than a commodity to be traded. I prayed for the men who visited. Sure there are some who were just there for gratification but many bear the scars of a lifetime of rejection. I longed for them to find healing. I wanted them to know that God won’t reject them even if much of society has.
This is prayer that goes beyond myself and my needs. It is a to-ing and fro-ing where Jesus is invited into my world and I am drawn to bring things to Him. It is a way that Jesus is part of my everyday.
How does prayer allow you to follow Jesus in everyday life?