Basics: Breathe prayer

by Kyle
published June 20, 2015


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I’m not sure about the context, and I don’t remember where I saw it, but the picture immediately resonated as true. An older woman was sitting at a table in a restaurant with a teenage boy, presumably her grandson. She was looking at him with a less-than-pleased look on her face. He was wearing noise-cancelling headphones and looking down at his phone. The caption read something like, “Put your phone down! She just wants to talk to you.”

I wonder what happened when the waiter came by. I wonder if the promise of food finally prompted the boy to put down his phone. He might have very quickly engaged with the people around him when he wanted something from them, but I wonder how quickly the headphones went back on when the waiter left.

The picture immediately draws our disdain. She obviously loves him desperately. Why doesn’t he see that? Why doesn’t he care? Does he just care about anything but her covering the check when he’s done eating and has everything he wants?

Do you pray any differently? Can the same questions be asked of your relationship with God?

Author and Bible teacher Hank Hanegraaf points out Christianity in America has become “A message that beckons multitudes to the table of the Master, not for the love of the Master but for what is on the table.” We tend to be exactly like that teenage boy, saying to one who loves us so much, “Just leave me alone. I’ll let you know when I want something, and you can get it for me, OK?” We don’t really want more of God. We just want more of his stuff.

But that’s not what prayer, or really life in general, is supposed to be. How often does God sit at the table like that grandmother, looking longingly into our eyes, wanting a real conversation but only enjoying our voice when we command him to give us what we want? How much better would the picture be if the boy was looking back at his grandmother? How much easier would it be for her to pay the check at the end of the meal if he did?

The New Testament gives constant instruction on prayer. Every time it does, however, the picture of prayer is never the same as the boy with his grandmother. Prayer is supposed to happen in the context of an established and intimate relationship with God. Jesus instructed his disciples to begin praying by addressing God as “our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). The reason Jesus told his disciples to ask God for what they need is because of that same relationship with the Father (Matthew 7:7-11). Appeals to God for wisdom are ignored unless they are accompanied by the kind of faith that flows from an intimate relationship with God (James 1:5-8). Only the sincere and persistent prayers of someone connected to God in a close relationship “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Jesus only promised to give that which is asked for “in [his] name” (John 14:13), which means it is consistent with his will. How do we know his will unless we are in a daily, conscientious relationship with him? To emphasize the relational aspect of prayer, Paul commanded that we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Martin Luther reiterated this concept when he said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

Prayer happens naturally as the result of a relationship with our creator. It’s like breathing. Prayer is not the same as a letter to Santa Claus. Real prayer is real intimacy with the Master, Creator and Savior. C.S. Lewis called it a “real nakedness of the soul.” Anything other than that is superficial selfishness.

There is one verse which proves an exception to this. If you’re thinking, “I don’t have that kind of intimacy with God yet. Where do I start?” this is the verse for you. Philippians 4:6-7 commands us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Instead of anxiety and worry, we can go to God in prayer and supplication (read: asking for stuff). When we do that along with thanksgiving (read: scouring our lives for things we can thank God for), God’s word promises a constant response from God: peace. He doesn’t promise what we ask for. If you’re anxious, you’re not enjoying the intimacy with God that conforms your will to his and connects your prayers to his action. Praying this way, though, forms that intimacy.

Prayer like this wins us peace because it reminds us that God is still God. We thank him for having done what only he can do, and we realize in our requests that only he can do the things that we need. We remember how great he is, and we draw near to him. And when you “draw near to God ... he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

What is the purpose of your prayer? Is it to draw near to God? If so, you’ll get what you ask for. Is your goal to get what God wants? Then you will. Or is your goal just to satisfy your own lusts and desires? If you want what you want when you want it, don’t hold your breath.

As you draw near to God, he’ll show himself to you. As you draw closer together, you will converse with him like anyone else, and you will pray the same way you breathe, and your prayers will “work.”

What do you think?

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