By Ben Simpson
Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
What is prayer?
It is a great question. Prayer is often explained as communication or presence, a means of lifting heart, mind, and soul to God. Those are good answers. Prayer is all of these things. I bet you have heard a definition like this before.
Undoubtedly you have also received the impression that prayer is something that you should do, either as a religious duty or because of its effects. Prayer is encouraged as an act of obedience or a way of obtaining divine intervention. “God commanded us to pray,” someone shared, or, “Prayer changes things.” That got your attention, so you gave it a try. Or maybe you didn’t. Today is the next best day to start.
While it is true that prayer is commanded and brings about change, and that prayer is communication and a way of being fully present to God, are these the best places to begin thinking about prayer? When the emphasis is placed first upon our speaking and listening, or our obedience and expectations of God, perhaps things are out of order.
Perhaps we should begin with God.
Eugene Peterson writes, “Prayer is language used in personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want or respond to before God. God speaks to us, our answers are prayer.” Peterson strongly believes that the Psalms teach us the art of conversation with God. He also argues that in order to learn how to speak with God, we must first acknowledge that God has offered the first word. We haven’t just been commanded to speak to God, we’ve been invited.
For the next several weeks we will consider prayer afresh, exploring what it means to talk with God. We will ask straightforward questions: “What is prayer?” “Why should I do it?” “How do I do it?” “What, when, and where should I pray?” And finally, “How do I grow in my prayer life?” We will consider a few answers, too. Our first answer is that prayer is response. When we speak and listen, we turn our attention to God, the God who speaks and calls and hears and is revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Jeremiah 33:3, the prophet records God telling his people, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” That is an invitation. God initiates the conversation. God also promises revelation. God is about to do a new thing, and prayer brings us in on what God is doing, giving us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to perceive the goodness, and grace, and mercy, and justice of the Everlasting God.
Karl Barth wrote, “Prayer is a grace, an offer of God.” Before prayer was emphasized as a duty, it was given as a blessing. Prayer is God choosing to extend fellowship to human beings through the act of communication.
God revealed himself and spoke first. We respond. Our response is prayer.
Rather than first thinking of prayer as something we do, think of prayer as something God initiates. How does this shift change your attitude toward prayer?
God, help me today to see your grace, your initiative, your movement toward me, and my desire to respond. Teach me to pray, to experience fellowship with you, to speak and listen to you, and to be confident that you hear and are leading me. You have spoken in Scripture, are present with your people, and active in our world. Help me find my place in your kingdom story as your good and faithful servant. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.