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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Is Prayer?

Have you ever felt far from God, separated by feelings of failure and personal problems?  The secret of a close relationship with God is earnest prayer.  Prayer is a relationship with God.  And what happens when we are in a relationship?  We learn.  We grow.  We change.  We listen.  We love.  As we pray, we learn more about God.  We grow more in our walk with Him.  We change (for the better).  We listen more to Him.  We love Him more.

In short, prayer is time with God.

As I began reading and studying on prayer, I knew that to begin with, I would have to define it.  I wrote down: Prayer is communication with God.  It seemed simple enough.  But then I looked at those first two words—Prayer is…—and began to add.  Prayer is your lifeline to God…Prayer is a weapon against evil…Prayer is not a way to control God, but a way for us to submit to Him…Prayer is what best glorifies God.  Pretty soon, what was meant to be a basic intro to prayer turned into twenty pages of notes and quotes.

So…I thought it would be fun to let professionals tell you what prayer is (don’t worry…I cut the twenty pages down).  However, don’t just skim through a post of quotes.  Actually let their words sink in, because much of what you read here will be needed to fully understand the posts that follow.

All About Prayer:  Imagine meeting your best friend for coffee at your favorite café.  Your friend knows everything about you.  You can count on your friend being exactly where they say they’ll be.  Anytime you need them, you can call and they won’t be upset with you.  They are willing to listen and respond with love and concern.  That is just like prayer.  The only difference is that your best friend is God.  You can talk to Him about anything that concerns you.  Tell Him your desires and passions.  Share your concerns for your loved ones.  Talk out your fears with Him.  Prayer is our direct line with heaven.

Matilda Andross:  Prayer is more powerful than habits, heredity, and natural tendencies.  It can overcome all these.  It is more powerful than the forces that hold the planets in place.  Prayer, though it comes from the heart of an unlearned child of God, can suspend the laws of the universe, if such be God’s will, just as the sun stood still when Joshua prayed.  There is no other power on earth that the enemy of souls hates and fears as he does prayer.  We are told that ‘Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.’

Henry Ward Beecher:  Prayer covers the whole of a man’s life.  There is no thought, feeling, yearning or desire, however low, trifling, or vulgar we may deem it, which, if it affects our real interest or happiness, we may not lay before God and be sure of sympathy.

Winfield Bevins:  Prayer is one of the foundational disciplines of a disciple (John 15:4).  Prayer is personal communion with the living God.  It refers to the greatest privilege a Christian can have—access to God Himself.  Through prayer, disciples become intimate with the Lord.

Prayer is the medium that brings individuals into contact with the same Spirit who inspired the writers of the Bible.  To hear what the Spirit of the Lord is saying through the Word, you must encounter God through prayer.  Without the assistance of the Holy Spirit in prayer, our Bible study will be in vain.

Ambrose Bierce:  Pray, v.: To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

E.M. Bounds:  Prayer is of transcendent importance. Prayer is the mightiest agent to advance God's work.  Praying hearts and hands only can do God's work.  Prayer succeeds when all else fails.

Prayer is the easiest and hardest of all things; the simplest and the sublime-est; the weakest and the most powerful.

Prayer is the genius and mainspring of life.

Prayer honors God, acknowledges His being, exalts His power, adores His providence, secures His aid.

Phillips Brooks:  Prayer is not conquering God’s reluctance, but taking hold of God’s willingness.

Thomas B. Brooks:  Prayer crowns God with the honor and glory due to His name, and God crowns prayer with assurance and comfort.  The most praying souls are the most assured souls.

John Bunyan:  Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin entice a man to cease from prayer.

Oswald Chambers:  Prayer is not an exercise.  It is the life of the saint.

Prayer does not equip us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry:  Prayer is the practice of the presence of God.  It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made.  Prayer is the place of admitting our need and claiming dependence upon God.  It is the exercise of faith and hope.  Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son of God, Jesus our Lord.

Christian Answers:  Prayer is the connection of the soul with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to Him.

Jim Cymbala:  Prayer is the opening of the heart so we can receive all these good things that God has for us every day.  It's like sitting down at a table that God has prepared for us.  He says, 'I have everything you need today – all the grace, all the wisdom, all the provision that you need – but sit down at the table and eat.  Don't be so rushed and so busy and try to live without My supply.'

Mark Driscoll:  Prayer is conversing—communicating with God.  This includes speaking out loud.  This also includes silent prayer.  Prayer can include journaling.  For some, it includes songwriting and/or poetry.  It’s communicating, speaking with God in the most general sense.  Prayer also includes listening to God.  Silence and solitude.  That’s how we build our relationship with God.

Billy Graham:  Prayer is spiritual communication between man and God, a two-way relationship in which man should not only talk to God but also listen to Him.  Prayer to God is like a child’s conversation with his father.  It is natural for a child to ask his father for the things he needs.

Priya Johnson:  Prayer is the utterance from your spirit to God.  In simple terms, talking to God is called prayer.  It’s the simple opening of one’s heart to our Father in Heaven.  It’s coming to Him and telling Him everything in our heart.

Chiang Kai-shek:  Prayer is more than meditation.  In meditation the source of strength is one’s self.  When one prays, he goes to a source of strength greater than his own.

Peter Kasirivu:  Prayer is going to Him and spending time in fellowship with Him.  Therefore, prayer is intimacy with God.

In Genesis 5, it notes that Enoch lived long and walked with God. this chapter, it mentions plenty of other people.  It mentions how many children they had—some had plenty more than Enoch.  It mentions how long they lived—many lived longer than Enoch.  Yet...Enoch is the only one mentioned as having walked with God.  This shows us that it doesn’t matter how long we live, or how much we prosper.  What matters is our relationship with God.

Prayer is waiting upon God.  Prayer is not just about getting a fix for your problems, but having a relationship with God—and relationships are not built by speed, but by time (Isaiah 40:29).  Most of us do not like to wait.  We have cars and microwaves and broadband and Federal Express...there is always a rush to get somewhere or do something.  We want to put God in this instant mode.  But God cannot be rushed.  God desires time.  He wants us to spend time with Him.  You might ask, “What am I doing in prayer?”  Just.  Be.  There.  Remember those early times with your (eventual) spouse?  You spent all of your time with each other.  You talked about just talked.  That’s what God wants with us.  And when we do that, God exchanges our weaknesses with His strength.  He takes away our failures and gives us His abilities.

Tim Keller:  The point of prayer is to get the heart back in the true orbit.  To worship and center on God.  Prayer is not to say that He’s’s to make Him central.

F.B. Meyer:  Prayer means not always talking to Him, but waiting before Him till the dust settles and the stream runs clear.

J.I. Packer:  I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.

Arthur W. Pink:  Real prayer is communion with God, so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours.  What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts, and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him.

Prayer is not so much an act as it is an attitude—an attitude of dependency, dependency upon God.

John Piper:  Earnest, heartfelt prayer is the means by which we couple ourselves to the locomotive of God's power… The Bible tells us not to put our trust in men.  What can man do?  The most valuable thing people can do is pray to a God with whom all things are possible.

Prayer is not a bell to call the servants to satisfy some desire we happen to feel, it is a battlefield transmitter for staying in touch with the general.

Prayer means asking God for things.  By "things" I don't mean objects – stuff.  I mean, generally, whatever your heart desires or needs.  And, of course, what your heart needs most is God – to know Him and trust Him and love Him and obey Him.

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God.

The essence of prayer is the expression of our dependence on God through requests.

Praying is the way we mirror God.  A mirror faces away from itself to its source of light so that it might have some use in the world, and prayer faces away from itself toward God so that it might be of some use in the world.  A mirror is designed to receive light and channel it for the good of others, and prayer is designed to receive grace and channel it for the good of others.  The value of a mirror is not in itself, but in its potential to let something else be seen.  And the value of prayer is not in itself, but in its potential to let the power and beauty of God be seen.  A mirror is utterly dependent on the source of light from outside itself, and prayer is the posture of the childlike, utterly dependent on the resources and kindness of the heavenly Father.

Prayer is more precious than life.

Prayer is the means of grace that God uses to keep us secure and cause us to persevere to the end in faith.

Prayer is intentionally conveying a message to God, and that prayer can be at least five different kinds of message:
-         You can ask for something—this is the most basic meaning of prayer, and God delights for His children to ask Him for help.
-         You can praise Him or marvel at Him or give expression to your adoration of Him.
-         You can thank Him for His gifts and his acts (which is not the same as praising Him for His nature).
-         You can confess your sins and tell the Lord that you are sorry.
-         You can complain to the Lord.  It’s not good to have a complaining heart.  The heart should trust God in all His sweet and bitter providences.  So why then say we should complain to the Lord?  Because sometimes our hearts do complain about the circumstances God has given us, and even though our hearts shouldn’t do this, it is better to consciously direct it toward the Lord than to think He doesn’t see it.  Acting like you are not complaining is hypocrisy and will make you a very phony, shallow, plastic person in the end.

Chuck Smith:  Prayer is the most important activity a born-again Christian can perform.

Charles Spurgeon:  Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus.  It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honor of a Christian.

John R.W. Stott:  Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or bending His will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his.

A.J. Swoboda:  Prayer is trust in the form of silence and contemplation and honesty.

To be sure, it’s almost certain that God didn’t invent the garden because He needed more vegetables.  He invented the garden and put Adam and Eve in it because He wanted someone to walk around with and talk about vegetables.  ‘God, how did you invent carrots?’  ‘How’d you pull that whole sunset thing off, God?’  The garden is about friendship, not farming.  God could have simply invented a carrot if He was hungry.  God’s invention of the garden was simultaneously the invention of prayer.  Prayer, I guess, is a result of eating the fruit in Eden, isn’t it?
“Before that, prayer consisted of nothing more than coming out of your tent right by the avocado trees and walking up to God by the river and saying, ‘Hey, wanna go swimming?’  I think that was the sort of thing God was after when He started the world.  Afternoons with Eve and Adam.  Just being together in the river by Eden.  Soon, though, eating the fruit forced their modes of conversation to change.  It went from face-to-face to eyes-closed-for-a-minute, ending with an ‘amen’ and ‘in Jesus’s name,’—like a married couple deciding to relate only by tweeting each other through the day.  What a sad replacement.
“From walking with God in Eden to formulaic statements...But while the Bible says that the first Adam led us all into sin, the Bible also says that a second Adam came who would redeem everything.  His name was Jesus.  Jesus came to redeem and turn around all the ridiculousness that the first Adam created.  It is implied in the Bible that the second Adam got done everything that needed to be done.  No one else could do what He did.  Prayer is practicing the realization that you are not the third Adam.  Someone else already got the stuff done that needs to get done.
“Prayer just keeps the book open.”

Mother Teresa:  Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself.

John Wesley:  Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for Him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than His love, and the desire of pleasing Him.

Lord, I thank You for the words of these much wiser speakers and writers.  I thank You for providing me the time and patience to find them all, organize them, and use them for Your purpose.  I thank You for trusting me with Your message.  I pray that this post shows the reader that prayer is easier than many believe, yet more vital than most make it.  That it is an exciting and marvelous gift that You have given us, yet not something to be taken lightly.  Lord, I pray that these words speak to as many as possible, and that the Spirit moves in the reader (and myself) to begin a new, focused, dedicated, and fervent prayer life.  I pray this all in Jesus’s name, amen.

Next week:  Why we pray.

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