Prayer has come up in the news in more recent times when a terrorist attack has happened – we are encouraged via social media to pray for Paris, pray for Nice, or something like that. But I think for many people prayer just seems, well, odd. Why would people do this?
And, of course, prayer is not just something Christians do. Some religions pray in very formal set ways, some focus on a holy place or the mediation of a holy person. Why might people pray? Well, maybe someone will pray if they want something. Or maybe they just seem to have run out of options that they can fix themselves and need some help. Or perhaps they see prayer as a kind of religious duty that will make their god happy with them.
It is easy to become confused about prayer.
So why do Christians pray? For all kinds of reasons. To someone who is familiar with another religion, Christian prayer seems so informal. Christians pray in public and private, in church buildings and in their homes, about big things and little things. Sometimes Christians are motivated by some pressing need they have, sometimes they pray for more ordinary things. This brief article won’t go into the ‘what’ of prayer; it aims to explain a little of the ‘why’.
Sometimes Christians might pray simply because “it’s what Christians do”. From early on in the Christian life people are taught that prayer is important and are encouraged to start a regular habit of praying. And there are commands to pray too, including a prayer Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6.
But really, praying because it is something Christians should do is not enough of a motivation. There are many things I know I should do, like exercise more, that I am not motivated to do if I only do them because I should. If we see prayer as a duty to perform we will likely not be all that keen to do it, and it will always seem like hard work and a struggle.
In church lately we have been working through Romans 8 and have come across some key ideas that help us think about prayer in a more helpful way.
The first big idea from Romans 8 is the fact that God is our Father if we are Christians. Trusting in Jesus doesn’t just mean our sins are forgiven and the debt is paid; no, it also means we are adopted into God’s family. Christians have an intimate relationship with the Almighty God, so much so that we can call him ‘Abba’ which translates kind of like ‘Dad’. In a loving parent-child relationship, the child will want to talk to their father about all kinds of things, thanking, asking, just talking. That’s a great way to think about prayer. Prayer is not to be some duty you feel you need to do; no, that’s not the way a child would think about speaking to a loving father. “Oh well, I suppose I should speak to Dad again.” No, we should think of God as loving to hear from us and listening and caring what we have to say.
The second big idea in Romans 8 is that all Christians have the Spirit of God within us. Which means that even when we pray wrongly, or don’t really know what is the best thing in our circumstances, God still knows. And God’s Spirit assures us that God really listens to what we ask for and knows exactly what we need. And because God is all powerful, He can actually do the things we ask of Him.
Christians pray like children talking to a loving Father. Don’t see prayer as a chore! It is a wonderful gift to have the Almighty God listening to you! All Christians should use this great gift more often. It’s not speaking into the air; it is talking to One who really cares.