Every born again believer, especially from other faiths have experienced the problem of learning how to pray. Invariably the answer is – prayer is all about talking to God. But how does one start a conversation with the Creator of the world, the Almighty God so that the prayer requests are heard and approved. Some say it is about claiming the ‘promises of God’ in Scripture while others advise us to open our hearts to welcome God in. But does someone really have the ‘master key’ to this question.
In the wilderness, after His baptism and anointing, Lord Jesus fasted for forty days and nights while praying and at every opportunity He prayed. But He is God and why did He need to pray and above all what did He pray for during these forty days and on other occasions (Matthew 4:1-2). In the wilderness “He was with wild beasts and angels ministered to Him (Mark 1:13) for He had been provided dominion and authority of Adam. Disciples were well aware of lack of knowledge and training about praying and sought Him to teach them ‘as John the Baptist also taught his disciples. Were the disciples inquiring about mechanics of prayer – bow down, fold your hands, close your eyes and start “Dear Lord” and finally end with Amen? In answer the Savior Lord gave them the format of “Lord’s Prayer” as an example to follow in offering prayers.
Greek word ‘proseuchomai’ is translated as prayer but it also means to exchange wishes and desires or to interact – without ceasing, continual and without interval. In Hebrew the word used for prayer is ‘palal’ and it also means making a petition, intercession or supplication. The root word for ‘palal’ is a Canaanite word for the notched edge of a sword – cut or notch caused on the blade after hitting a hard surface like a rock. Such impact causes backward flow of kinetic energy from the impact, through the blade, onto the arm and this a strong force that had caused the damage.
Prayer is release of kinetic energy or setting spiritual energy in a notch to create a physical and spiritual impact. It is pouring out energies toward God through the petitions to create an impact and receive the multiplied power back as an answer. The Scripture urges us to ask for without asking we are not likely to receive. But with that comes the caution ‘not to ask for wrong motives’, even hidden motives, for that would amount to directed energies in a wrong direction for impure motives (James 4:2-3). God is not likely to reinforce an energy field of prayer that does not bring any glory to Him. A prayer by a family of three, asking for a large mansion or asking for a super luxury car to be used for dropping children to school are such examples.
We are in a battle zone, surrounding on all sides by the enemy forces – ‘god of this world and his evil forces of darkness’. The aim of the battle is not only to cause maximum attrition but to kill the king and this effort failed, though darkness engulfed the land from 12.00 to 03.00 PM while Lord Jesus was on the cross. In the game of chess trapping the king to checkmate is the aim but in this battle the enemy king disguises himself to avoid detection. King David had his most loyal ‘band of 37’ that was willing to lay down their lives for his safety and protection (2 Samuel 23). Nothing can reach the protected person but here the aim of the enemy is to stop pour communication with our King, the Savior Lord. Our desires of the flesh, distractions and sinful acts stop us from reaching out to God and a state of continual prayer is the weapon we have to break the enemy barriers and purify our motives.
Yarmulke, the Jewish skull cap, is worn by the Jews as a reminder of being in God’s presence always to do everything unto Him and for His glory. The cap is a prompter to pray without ceasing while thanking Him for everything in all situations.
Getting close to God – Jacob was on his way to Laban’s house after fleeing from Esau and on the way he slept on the ground with a stone as a pillow. He saw a ladder in his dream where on top of the ladder stood God with angels ascending and descending the ladder. Adam, the name first given to man is derived from ‘adamah’, meaning earth from he was created from the earth where his root is. But God’s breath not only gave him life but also connected him to the heavenly realm. Like earth, man has inherent capacity to produce a rich bounty of fruits to benefit self and others. He has been given free will to choose the realm he wants to live in – earthly or heavenly, where the ideal for him is to live on the earth but aspire to reach and emulate the heavenly. In his sleep Jacob could achieve this through his soul, connecting with heaven, a connection made possible by God to show him the access available (Genesis 28:11-17).
On waking up, he exclaimed, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it” and the Hebrew words used to express this are,‘ve-anokhi lo yadati’ (Genesis 28:16). Word ‘yadati’ means ‘I know’ while ‘lo yadati’ means ‘I did not know’ and the other word ‘anokhi’ means ‘I’, this making the sentence to actually become –“and I, I did not know it’. The letter ‘I’ in this gets repeated, implying that when I stop knowing ‘I’, only then do I see anything else. Jacob was saying that I was so immersed in my own problems that I did not know God was here. Apostle Peter realized this while answering Lord Jesus’ question ‘Do you love Me?’ to respond, “Lord, You know all things”. It was his final surrender to the Lord, to be blessed with the responsibility “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17).
Only on stepping beyond the shell of self and the earthly realm of egocentricity, we open up to the Creator to sense His presence.
Does prayer change God or His attitude towards us? – No, God is love and His other attributes are unchangeable. Prayer has two dimensions – one mysterious and the other not. The evidence of far too many answered prayers that have changed fate of individuals, remain a mystery as to the reason for the answer from God. There is a famous story of a holocaust survivor who had lost his will to live in a concentration camp and one night he poured out his heart to God in prayer. Next morning his duty was changed by the guards to work in the camp kitchen and he survived on potato peelings. God judges the hearts and a cry beyond self, from the depths of the heart is heard and answered by Him (Jeremiah 17:10). How He does this is in itself a mystery.
The second dimension, the non- mysterious part – changes us for if the prayer is not answered immediately many feel that they should look for some other source and backslide. The strong in faith persevere, ‘thanking God in everything’ and eventually get a revelation or understanding about their request itself. The Hebrew word ‘lahitpalel’ is translated as ‘to pray’ but its literal meaning is ‘to judge oneself’ and this can only be done by stepping out of self and analyze as a third person. It is then that the ‘I’ falls silent giving awareness that I am not the centre of the universe and reality starts causing transformation in the soul.
How does prayer change me? – ‘All of creation reflects God’s glory’ and His miraculous deeds are evidenced daily (Romans 1:20). The Holy Scripture, written by different writers over a span of many centuries carries the same central message of God’s glory for there is only one guide to all writers – The Holy Spirit. There is nothing concealed and the failures of the mighty are clearly revealed – the sinful deeds of ‘man of God’s heart’ – King David – and his confession and earnest repentance (Psalm 51). The Scripture has three dimensions– 1. Creation – God in nature; 2. Revelation – God in His Word and 3. Redemption – God on the cross. Prayer on the other hand answers two questions – what do I need from life and what does life need from me?
The indwelling Holy Spirit knows the mind of God, intercedes for us according to God’s will and also teaches us to pray, leading us on the same line (Romans 8:26-27). Prayer is less of speaking and more of listening – to the Holy Spirit about what to ask and also to the answer. This listening is only possible through the ‘silence of the soul’ which is achieved after having spoken everything possible before God and there is nothing left to say, except ‘vain babblings’. It is in that silence that we realize we are not alone and feel His Divine presence like Prophet Isaiah did in the Temple (Isaiah 6).
I am here on the earth for He wants me to be and He has set a task for me that only I can do in the way that He desires. I can perform all that properly through abject surrender to Him in prayer to seek guidance, authority and power. This humble submission transforms us while we undertake His kingdom work on a daily basis – not as a chore but as a pleasing responsibility in every situation – offering thanks for the chance. Prayer is not to force God to change but to help change our understanding of our role in His Kingdom. In the awe inspired silence of the soul we cry out ‘surely God is in this place’ for He is everywhere and then I forget the I and start knowing Him. In this silence we meet God like Prophet Elijah did and finally get to hear Him.
Learning the ‘right way’ to pray – I have learnt by the process of ‘osmosis’ – through watch, connect, grab and adapt. Nobody teaches for nobody knows the correct or the perfect way in today’s world and we can only learn by observing others who are good and develop a personal style through trial and error. It is, however, wrong to equate praying with our talking to others for we cannot communicate with God in that manner. His ways and thoughts have no similarity with our thoughts and ways and are different as the sky is from the earth (Isaiah 55:8-9).
How do you relate to someone who is not like us – We do not attempt to communicate with God. Rather we make ourselves available to Him to become the object of His thoughts, though He has us ‘inscribed on the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16). It is not a natural skill for our nature is sinful and we have make an effort to learn this, to learn how our spiritual side operates. Spirit of man communicates with the Holy Spirit in quietness for to know God stillness of body, soul and spirit is needed (Psalm 46:10). To become human from our debased state I need to know God, connect with Him in prayer for without this I will always be less than what He intended me to be.
Lord Jesus and John the Baptist taught the disciples so that they could learn and then become teachers for others. Prayer is a feeling of distress, of dependence on God alone while judging self and placing our shortcomings before Him to seek His help in overcoming the same. It is not for getting depressed or discouraged but of hope in God, His grace, His mercy, His love and compassion that caused His Son to become man. Prayer starts with a look inwards before any words are spoken to bring before His throne what I really am, confession of weaknesses, my concerns about everything, my sorrows, my regrets, even the inevitability of my death and my self-created idols. This leads me to emptiness of my soul and realization that all depends on what I am about to speak before His Divine throne. Then something happens before I speak and hope comes from “Our Father in heaven” for He cares about me.
Prayer begins where I of me ends and He takes center stage in every sphere of my very being. Then it does not remain my narration of myself but becomes an attempt to gaze into His heart and carve a special niche for myself there. Then my despair of weakness and lack gets charged by His might, my darkness gets illuminated by the light of His glory leading to hope and rejoicing. It is then that an understanding of my present situation dawns and I thank Him even for that to glorify Him through my thanksgiving. My prayer then becomes a part of His eternal glory!