My very first blog of this website was Please Pass the Salt (January 4, 2015), about prayer and why God would like us to pray when He knows everything from the get-go to the let-go. He sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), knows the thoughts of our innermost hearts (Psalm 139:1-6), has a plan for the end of the world and beyond (Daniel 12) . . . so why does He need us to pray? Well, the fact is He does not need us to pray, but rather we need to pray to learn to get to know Him . . . and each other.
Prayer is the practice of two-way communication with The God Who Is There (). It is where we begin to listen for Him and learn from Him (). It involves praise, thanxgiving, petition, intercession, Spirit-prayer and debate, to name a few forms of prayer ().
One way to explore prayer is to read the Psalms. Here is a library of hearts (mostly King David’s, but others, too) reaching out to commune with God. From praises to intense pleas for relief, the psalmists wrote songs to communicate with God, but also to hear from Him. If you want some practice in prayer, read three Psalms a day (save one day for 119) and you can read the entire Psalms in two months. If you read one a day, you can absorb this entire prayer library in six months, and you will probably gain more from the slower ingestion of the prayers, allowing yourself time to enter into the psalmist’s pleas or praise.
The main intention of prayer is not for “commercial consumption,” that is, for others to hear. The focus of prayer is communication and communion with God. We need that personal time alone with Him as much as Jesus did when He would take long hours away from the crowds (Matthew 14:13, Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42) or even His disciples (Mark 14:32-36) to spend time with Father, Daddy. Even when praying “with” other folks, we need to keep our focus on Who this communication is directed toward.
There is this other dimension of prayer though, that is often overlooked: prayer so that other humans will hear. Unfortunately this is the only reason some pray, to be heard by men. They have their reward (Matthew 6:5-6), whereas the reward of the communicator with God is to get answers to prayers and requests out of communion with The God Who Is There.
Yet there are times when it is appropriate to let others in on the communion. Jesus demonstrated this beside Lazarus’ tomb. “Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I know that You always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:4-42). In fact, the entire Psalms are written for us, showing us that prayers of praise, intercession, debate and petition are not just for the prayerer and the answer he expects from God, but for us to “hear” and learn how to pray; i.e. for our benefit if we “hear” the prayers.
Now this is where the path becomes tricky, in that we must be careful when praying with other ears in attendance that we not fall into one of two traps: praying for human approval and praying to inform others. The first trap is what we already addressed: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. (Matthew 6:5)
The second, however, is equally dangerous, but is slightly different: praying for others to hear, but trying to instruct in our prayers. This can take the form of correction or sermonizing in prayers. “God, please help Mrs. So-and-so to not gossip so much;” or “Father, please make Mr. Such-and-such see that he is wrong on this . . . “ Not good when spoken in the hearing range of others.
The other form is to pray, “Lord, as you said in your word, Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, Elaboration, Illustration, Conclusion.” While it is very appropriate to “pray the Scriptures” back to God as a reminder to Him, and us, of what He has said and promised, we must be careful to whom we are praying. Read David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 7:5-16 for an excellent illustration of this principle. Our “reminders” to God and to ourselves should not be taken as an opportunity to show off our expository skill or eloquent artistry. (Save that for another blog. 😉)
Rather when we pray with others hearing us, it should be an invitation into a conversation we are having with Father. It may be easiest to develop this habit of corporate prayer by including a “physical cue” like an empty chair and pretending Jesus is sitting there with you. (In fact, HE IS!) Thus it becomes a group discussion, with deference obviously given to who is speaking to the One who matters most in the conversation, but you will find yourself less likely to “accuse” a brother or sister or to wax eloquent for show if you are really recognizing the Presence of God in your communion as a group.
So pray often, without ceasing in fact (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and pray for and with each other as you pass the salt. And if you think of me,