Prayer is how we speak to God, asking for what we or others need. How to pray and petition God? Most of us find it hard to pray even if we are fascinated with prayer or want to pray or need to pray. Many of us have discovered that consistent prayer is hard; sometimes we haven’t the words, or we are self-conscious. We may find it hard to pray because we are disappointed and angry with God. Life can be brutal and leave us broken, confused, withered and disoriented with God. We may find it hard to pray because sometimes it seems that prayer is a waste of time. We pray, but then nothing obvious changes. We feel that we have more important work to do than just sitting around and praying, feeling like this may be a huge waste of time that could be a better expended if we could be out doing something, solving or saving something. Prayer may feel like one-way communication. We pour our hearts out to God but we never seem to hear anything back from Him. (Who wants to make phone calls to someone who never responds to anything we've said? ...especially if we have poured our hearts out to them while saying it?) So, what is it about this prayer time that Jesus regularly had with the Father that we want to incorporate into our life? What can we do in prayer that allows us to be truly open to the Father's leading us in our life choices and our life's mission?
There are two things to notice immediately about how Jesus prayed. Jesus planned and protected his prayer time. It wasn't something he did while he had a free moment or two, Jesus intentionally made time to pray. Jesus also chose to pray in a place where he could talk with His Father away from other people. If we are going to touch the lives of people like Jesus did, we need to have some planned and protected and private prayer time each day. During Jesus' prayer time, He was convinced, guided, reminded, or re-routed in His mission to do his God’s will to share the Good News with the world.
Can we come to expect God to speak to our hearts when we pray? Can we expect a response from God when we pray? There’s a story about a poor boy who had no shoes. A neighbor saw him praying and made fun of him: “You pray so much. If God really existed he would tell someone to buy you a pair of shoes.” “I’m sure God does tell them,” replied the boy, “but they don’t listen.”
I believe that we can and should expect God to respond. We know the Holy Spirit works in our lives. While God's response may not come with audible words, we certainly should expect Him to respond. This response could be a strong purpose in our hearts or the motivation to step out and do something for the Lord. This response might be a Bible passage coming to mind or the words of a Christian friend or a spiritual song. This response might not be immediate but may come to us as we dedicate time each day to prayer. We may have to wait, paying attention to who and what God brings into our lives. It may be that what is said by someone sticks in our hearts or minds, or what we hear from spiritual friends sticks, or what we remember from Bible passages we read, or what opportunities are placed before us, or what thoughts the Spirit stimulates within us. Our prayer time should focus on God's purpose for us rather than what we want from God—although all prayer is valuable in that it opens us to the movement of the Spirit in our lives. As we center our hearts and minds on the Father's will for us, we must trust that He will lead us to His purpose, His mission, for us.
Praying the psalms and reading the Bible can help center our prayer lives. Rather than rushing through these readings, we let our heart rest on each key thought. We give the Spirit time to move us, to convince us, and to guide and lead us. This union with the Father over the Scriptures, while inviting the Spirit to lead our hearts, opens us to the will of the Father. This kind of prayer requires effort and focus. This kind of prayer is more than coming with a list of things we want God to do for us. Instead, we come to have our hearts tuned to join God in His work of redeeming a broken world. This prayer-work changes us. We choose to enter into this focused time of prayer ready to make an effort, ready to listen, and ready to wait on God. We pray ready to be forgiven of sin, ready to recalibrate our life to the Father's, ready to respond to the Spirit's leading, and ready to follow Jesus into ministry with a focused and renewed sense of mission. Prayer re-aligns our heart and our life to God so that we can enter into the work He is already doing. Then we will find our life resonating with His mission for us. Keep praying!