When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6: 6

 

The way that we approach prayer can be a very interesting and highly variable subject. There are a great many ways to engage in prayer. Most people pray in ways that cover a wide range of styles and intensity. Some people express themselves in very formal and proper ways and some are highly emotive or truly casual in their attitudes and words. This is how it should be, for God made each of us as an individual and He relates to each of us individually. However, there is one thing that I believe is universal. That is the simple fact that God is neither impressed nor is His attention gained by the cleverness or by the form of our words. The point of engaging in prayer is not so that God would be aware of us. We are instructed by God to engage in prayer in order for us to become more deeply attentive to God.

 

In this verse from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not teaching against public or group prayer, for there are other instances when He engages in very public prayer. He is teaching us to approach prayer in a manner that runs against our culture. Christ wants us to understand that God is infinitely more interested in the relationship with us than He is in the form of our engagement in that relationship. The Father is fully aware of who we are, of what is happening in our lives, and of what it is that we truly need. He is also completely secure in who He is; thus, God does not need for us to express words of praise and adoration to Him. It is us who do need to recognize the character of God and to acknowledge His nature so that we can enter more fully into a life that reflects the love and righteousness that the Lord is pouring out upon us.

 

So, why does Jesus tell us to go into a private place and pray words that only we might be aware of? This is an issue of intimacy and of trust. The Father desires for us to drop our guards and to become utterly vulnerable before Him. He wants us to stop being wise, all-knowing and competent in the ways that our world teaches us to be in order for us to be able to recognize the sort of absolute dependence upon God that leads us to the surrender of our hearts and our minds completely to His will. When we pray to God in our own words with no other audience in mind than the Father, what we say may come out in unstoppable torrents or it might be uttered in only the sounds of the silence of inexpressible emotion. Form carries no weight with the God who already knows everything that is on our minds and whose intent is to bless us with the abundance of His grace, love and provision. Jesus is sharing with us what He already knows to be true. Prayer is an unending and unrelenting dialogue with God the Father, and it is a fundamental aspect of living in a very real state of present-time, deeply intimate relationship with our Lord and King.

 

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You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2: 9

 

This is a true statement about everyone who knows God; for a relationship with the Creator involves a total change in all of our core forms of identity and expands our connections and affinities by an unimaginably large factor. As we are in Christ, we are also included in this very select but substantial family that occupies God’s household; thus, we are among a group of people that God has committed to love and to protect despite our lack of worth or our unloveliness.

 

When the Lord possesses a person, He doesn’t just grab us and hold us captive. Rather, He wins us over by showing us that He has a love for us that penetrates to the depths of our need and that His love is the only truly unconditional and unchanging one that exists. As we allow the Lord to possess our hearts and our minds, His Spirit works on them to transform us into people who also understand God’s will and who act out of righteous love. It is a part of our human nature to fight back against God’s possession, to hold on to parts of our old ways of viewing life and of living it, but darkness tends to fill these areas where we hold back.

 

One of the best things that we can do to eliminate these dark corners from our hearts is to express our praise for the Lord. This praiseful practice can to become a daily part of how we live until it is an important part of who we are. Just consider the goodness that Christ brings into your life, read of God’s mercy and grace in His Word, thank Him for the ways that He has touched the lives of those around you, and develop your own thoughts of the ways that God’s presence infuses your world. Then, start to talk with Him about it. As you let God know how much you notice and value who and what He is to you, He will speak these same truths back to your heart in ways that will make them even clearer and more understandable. The best way to fill your day with light is to continually speak praise for God from your heart. As you do this, He will shine the warming light of peace, joy, and freedom onto every step of your path.

 

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4: 2

 

Although prayer is something that Christians do at regular or set times in certain settings, it is much more than that. During many of our worship services we have established times for prayer. People determine to take planned parts of their days and devote that time to prayer. We set aside days of the year and hours of some of our days for prayer. All of these prayer practices are good things and honor God’s desire for us to be people who engage with Him with prayer. Yet, these practices are only part of God’s intent for us to be people of prayer.

 

God listens with great interest to the words that we speak to Him. The Lord enters into these times of deep personal expression with the fullness of His presence. The Holy Spirit is with us fully and totally, and He works within us to show us the words that we need to pray. The Spirit also assists us in hearing and in understanding what it is that the Father is saying to us. Christ goes before us to proclaim His people worthy to speak our petitions and to lay the words of our hearts before the Holy One, righteous God Almighty. The Father hears us, engages with our lives, and grants His grace, mercy, and blessing to us. As we pray, we are in deep and intimate communion with our God, and He is involved in like manner with us.

 

Paul’s instruction for us reflects the realities of life. As our days develop and too often spin away from our desired course, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that prayer is a vital part of our foundation of faith. There are many situations in life that are best handled in and through prayer; yet, our natural tendency is to solve the problem and pray in thanksgiving after all is well again. God desires for us to see it the other way around. He wants for us to turn toward His will and to fully operate out of His truth in all matters, from routine to momentous. This orientation of our hearts and minds toward God is best accomplished through an on-going, all-encompassing practice of prayerful communication with God.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.

1 Timothy 2: 1

 

Paul sets forth an interesting thought here, for he tells us that we should be engaging in prayerful worship with God that involves a very broad list of people, for “all” is about as inclusive as that group could get. When I am considering a time of prayer, my tendency is to talk with God about my family members, my friends, the people that I might be aware of in other settings that are usually related to these same people, and sometimes national and international leaders. This is a fairly large yet manageable list. Yet, this is only the start of what Paul is saying about prayer and us.

 

This list of prayer forms is also really comprehensive. It is a lot bigger than just the simple, “Thank you for my family” or “Please heal my cousin’s dermatitis”. These are both fine, for they are included in the list; however, take a close look at what is being said. We are being told to engage prayer in a total and comprehensive manner. It is to be done on our knees and standing and shouting praises, framed in humility, seeking God’s intervention and involvement in other people’s lives, grateful and remindful of all that God does for us and for all people. Prayer is passionate, constant, a special event, and an every moment necessity. It is to be engaged in the morning, in the middle of the day, at night, and at every time between, and we are to pray about and for everyone.

 

This last thought is perhaps the most amazing and profound thought to me. I think that the point here is that if I embrace this idea and make it my practice, God will begin to cause a very powerful change in my attitudes toward others. He will redirect my thinking and the attitude of my heart toward many others so that I will begin to see them more like He does. The group that I am instructed to pray for includes people that I don’t like, those that don’t seem to like me, leaders of government, especially leaders who I believe are wrong or who are wrongly motivated, the person at work whose habits infuriate me, the neighbor whose dog is noisy, the person who has profoundly wronged or hurt me, and everyone who I struggle to understand or to relate to.

 

Christ sees the world and the people in it quite differently from the way that I do. He sees the beautiful potential, the perfect child that He created, and the deep sadness and the chaos that is the result of people’s separation from Him. Our Lord sees all people with eyes of love and compassion, and He seeks to be granted the opportunity to graciously redeem everyone from their lost state. Thus, He directs us to put on His attitude, to see the people of this world as He does, and to become active agents for His redemption. Christ directs His people to engage and to energize His calling to us in constant and comprehensive prayer.