If you’ve ever gone without water for long, you know the dryness of your tongue that feels swollen, the crusty edges of your lips and the inner yearning for something to sate your thirst. You can get momentary relief with a glass of alcohol or milk or honey, but what your body craves is water! If you have lived long without prayer, you may not even realize how much your spirit is missing it, but “taste and see that Yahweh is good.” (Psalms 34:8) Pray. It is like water to our souls.
Prayer can be very confusing. It has been abused and misused and misrepresented since ancient times. Its first mention in the Bible occurs in Genesis 20, when God told Abimelech to have the prophet, Abraham, pray for him. But the history of prayer goes back centuries earlier, even before the flood when “people began to call upon the name of Yahweh.” (Genesis 4:26) So prayer started out as a means of communication with a God who was somewhat distant and absent from His creation, because of the developing sin in the pre-Deluge generations.
By Abraham’s day people worshiped false gods, thinking a formed image of a beast or bird or man was able to answer prayers. Part of this was probably because some prayers to these false gods were answered, possibly by coincidence, possibly by evil spirits who were intent on deceiving mankind and keeping us from developing a relationship with The God Who Is There, the Creator, the One True God.
So prayer became diluted or polluted as though it was a negotiation between a distant and unconcerned god and his peons. But real prayer, from the first days that people began to call on the name of Yahweh, was always about the relationship. From Abraham’s conversations with Him, the pattern was established that prayer was not some eloquent language exclusive to a priesthood from which common people were excluded. Samuel understood this relationship when he pointed out, “man looks on the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Many of the other kings and prophets realized God’s constant Presence and awareness of our thoughts and actions (Psalms 139:2-4; Isaiah 37:28; Jeremiah 33:3). But somewhere along the way, it became fashionable to make a show of praying, to show off one’s righteousness by praying on street corners or in prominent places of worship (Matthew 6:5). As Jesus instructed, such prayers go no further than their listeners’ ears . . . “they have received their reward.”
But then Jesus brought prayer back to the heart, back to the relationship with Father, back to getting to know The God Who Is There. “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. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:6-8)
As we have discussed before, prayer is supposed to be a conversation with our Father (January 18, 2015). But a baby cannot hold a very profound topic very long, and we, as newborn babies in Jesus (John 3:3) may find our conversations very one-sided, like a child crying and cooing and gurgling at his mother holding him in her arms. We often do not even know for what we should pray or how to talk to God (Romans 8:26; James 4:13-15), much less hear or understand what He wants to say to us.
But PRAY, we must. If salvation is like being born again, if reading and studying God’s Word is like eating food (1 Peter 2:2), then prayer is like water to our souls (Isaiah 32:2; John 7:38). A human can go for up to three weeks without food before experiencing serious effects. Water is much more serious. One can rarely survive a week without water, and that depends on his initial hydration and medical condition.
In the same way, people can “survive” spiritually for some time without hearing, reading, or studying the Bible. Even if they are given false teaching, as long as the basic choice to follow Jesus is in place, their spiritual life can survive for some time. But without prayer, the water to our souls, born-again Christ-followers will not be Christ-followers very long.
So we begin to pray, like babies, with just what we want, what we think we need. Disciplined Prayer, though, should always be developing, just as taking in food and fluids develops the body. While cute in a baby, pity the 30 year old man who still only cries, coos and gurgles his wants and needs. We should be learning about faith in prayer, the difference between praise and thanxgiving, how to intercede, what it means to pray in the Spirit and pray with the understanding, even what it means to debate with God.
Further, prayer should not be a one-way talking to God. Moses promised the people, “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen,” (Deuteronomy 18:15) referring to Jesus, the Messiah that was to come. Again, just as a new born baby does not understand what he hears, we will not understand Father’s words to us unless we practice listening. Sometimes you will “hear” correctly, sometimes you will misunderstand. Sometimes you will hear perfectly what He is saying, other times, you may garble the language and mess it up miserably! But you will be learning to hear Him, if you have “ears to hear” (Mark 4:9,23).
So if you are not a disciplined prayerer, begin today and every day to explore avenues of prayer. Taste the different types of communion with The God Who Is There. Recognize His voice as your Father begins to speak to you. Read about a Catalog of Prayer (March 8, 2015). Worship Him. Thank Him. Trust Him. Even debate with Him! Seek Him, though “He is actually not far from any of us.” (Acts 17:27) And listen for Him. He is here, and He is not silent.
“Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (Jesus, John 18:37)
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55:1-3)
Prayer effectively assists us with the next Discipline of the Spirit-let Life – Purity, January 22, 2017.