Monday, 09 July 2012
I recently put up a post that some might see as prayer-bashing. My intention was to highlight ways in which I believe prayer has been (sometimes) misrepresented, and to touch on what I see as one very important purpose of prayer, that is, to relate to God on a personal level. This is an issue with me that goes beyond just prayer; I see in Christian society a lack of personal relationship with God, our Father.
Many Christians just don't know their own God, and it pains me to see it, as this is the fundamental basis for our entire being as Christians. Without a personal relationship with Christ, for whom we are named and alongside whom we align ourselves, there simply is no reason for Christianity at all; without the connection, communication and love between you specifically and your adopted Father, you as a Christian are just a regular person in a nice Sunday hat, following rules without reason for the sake of making your picket fence appear white. These are the kind of Christians who visit church on Easter and Christmas, or who go every week and listen to the nice music and the smooth-talking preacher, and then go home without letting any of what was said sink in. These are the kinds of Christians who don't desire a deeper knowledge of their God and who are comfortable with investing the minimum or keeping to the status quo.
As far as I can see it, someone who truly fits the term 'Christian' will always seek a deeper and stronger relationship with their Father and their Beloved as long as they live. And as long as they live, they can never have 'enough' God. They continue to seek His face as they continue to know Him better.
Which brings me to one of the practical reasons for prayer. As I stated earlier, prayer is a complicated subject, and there are many reasons for its existence and many benefits to its practice. The simplest, which I've already discussed to some degree, is to communicate with our God as we would anyone else. To know Him better and to love Him deeper. To talk to God, something that many people seem to over-complicate.
Prayer's biggest and, for me, most-used purpose is to allow the flow of communication, the fodder on which our relationship with God feeds. Talking to God as much and as often as you can is like potting a plant in good, moist soil. A personal relationship with God doesn't just spring up fully mature once we give our lives to Him; it grows and blossoms like a plant, and our communication with Him is the soil that feeds it. Our love for Him grows deeper and stronger; our devotion to Him must be nurtured and fed. It will become a tree, the strength of which will support every other aspect of our Christian lives. We must have this one thing, or nothing else, including serving God, our worship of Him, our devotion to Him, our praise for Him and living our lives without sin, will not stand up and will crumble.
The more we can keep this flow of communication constant, the better. It's like talking to your spouse; if you don't talk, your relationship will flounder and eventually die. Talking, whether or not you talk about anything important, is the backbone of any relationship. It is what allows two people, as they grow and develop, to do so together rather than separately. People 'grow apart' because they just stop talking to each other. Talking can be about important issues or everyday things, it can be crying or laughing or discussing whose turn it is to do the laundry.
You can talk to God in the same way. Talk to Him while you're busy washing that laundry, or doing whatever other mindless task. Invite Him along when you're doing something fun; think of God as a friend accompanying you wherever you go, and talk to Him as such. Ask Him where that missing sock is, and maybe He'll tell you. If you haven't already, I think you'll find that God replies to you. He isn't some empty void you throw your voice into; conversations with Him are two-way.
But there's also another very practical purpose for prayer, and that is to help us to understand when God is speaking to us and to recognize His voice. God and I speak nearly constantly every day, and very seldom does God speak loudly. He uses that 'still, small voice' we've all heard about. The best way to hear that voice is to sit down and concentrate, and meditate in prayer with a quieted heart. But we can't always do that. I do suggest it as often as possible; if you don't have the time, make the time. You might feel silly at first, but clear away everything for an hour and sit and meditate with your Creator. There's a whole Universe full of God out there, and it can only help you to get in touch with a little of it now and then. But at times when that isn't possible, we can still hear from God. He still speaks to us and we can still listen, even when there are thirteen other things going on at the same time. The more we pray and listen to God's voice, the more learn to recognize it when it comes, and the clearer our understanding becomes.
Now, God is able to make us understand even when we've never heard Him before, but it can also be easy to get our messages mixed up. Ask God a definitive question, get an answer, and you might wonder (as I have) whether the answer really came from God or from your own mind, or worse, from demonic forces trying to lead you astray. It's easy to get yourself so confused you feel like you can't hear anything, even your own thoughts, and you don't know which way is up anymore. (At these times, it can be helpful to remember that God is powerful enough to use you despite you, and you might have to point to an option and trust that God lead you to pick the right one. Or ask God to make the choice for you, which is really what you were doing all along.)
If you are already familiar with the voice of God, you'll recognize it better and know it when it comes. I've done a lot of stupid things and made some stupid decisions because I thought God had told me what to do. I was either unfamiliar with the voice of God or allowing my own mind to invade and persuade me. Keeping in constant communication with God sidesteps these pitfalls; you will either recognize God's voice, or you will know what isn't God's leading because it falls against the direction in which you and God were already heading. When you and God are heading down a path and something comes along that seems to shoot you off into the woods somewhere, it probably isn't God that's leading you there. Cling to Him, and He will take you in the right direction.
What do you think is the purpose for prayer? When have you heard God speak? How can we become more adept at listening to God's voice and discerning it?