What Prayer Is
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Prayer is to the Christian what breathing is to a healthy person. Without prayer a Christian dies. Breathing is spontaneous; in many ways so is prayer.
Prayer is like a river that returns to its source, for prayer has its power in the Spirit of Christ working life in the heart of God’s child; that life returns again in prayer to God who gave it. It is the expression of the thirst for God that makes a stag panting after the water brooks an apt simile (Ps. 42:1).
Prayer is lovers’ talk, for it is a holy conversation between the living and eternal God and the redeemed child of God in which both speak to each other in the most intimate relationship of love.
Prayer is a child coming to his Father, knowing that his Father loves him and will provide for him in every need. We must begin our prayers, the Lord says, with “Our Father who art in heaven.”
In prayer the believer enters consciously into God’s presence. There is an earthly element in prayer, for in heaven we will not pray any longer, at least not in the sense in which we usually speak of it. We shall see Christ face-to-face (1 Cor. 13:12) and be consciously in Christ’s presence every moment. But here on earth we are preoccupied with many things, and God is often far from our thoughts. Prayer is the pause in our often busy and hectic lives that brings us face-to-face with God through Jesus Christ. Prayer is also heavenly, for it takes us out of this world and carries us soaring on the wings of prayer into God’s own dwelling place.
Usually we think of prayer as those moments when we fold our hands and close our eyes and it is usually necessary for us to do this, because we are easily distracted and our minds are easily turned away from being in God’s presence. But folding our hands and closing our eyes are not essential to prayer, nor do these actions guarantee prayer. A mother, while all but overwhelmed with the cares and duties of tending to the needs of her family, may offer a silent prayer to God as she has her hands immersed in dishwater. A child, taunted by cruel classmates, may seek grace from God to (not)retaliate against his tormentors. A father, forced to listen to foul language in the shop, may, while operating his press, seek strength to witness properly to those who take the name of his God in vain.
To remember that prayer is consciously to be in the presence of God in order to carry on a holy conversation with Him will help us to understand how Scripture can admonish us to pray continuously. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul literally says, “Pray without ceasing.” There are no qualifications, no limitations, no explanations that would ease the force of the command, but only this: “Pray without ceasing.” The same admonition is repeated in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (6:18). In Colossians 4:2 the members of the church at Colosse are urged to “continue in prayer,” and to the church at Rome Paul writes that they should continue “instant in prayer” (12:12). This is the high calling to which we are called, the goal of sanctification in our lives. To walk every moment in the consciousness of being in the presence of God is that for which we strive here in the world, but which shall be ours only in glory.
When You Pray, pp. 1-2