As we listen to God, we should answer. This is prayer—our response to the revelation and unfolding of God’s heart. “My God, Thy creature answers Thee,” said the French poet, Alfred de Musset. Prayer, understood in that way, is an extension of our visits with God rather than something tacked on.
Our meetings with God are like a polite conversation with a friend. They’re not monologues in which one person does all the talking and the other does all the listening, but dialogues in which we listen thoughtfully to one another’s self-disclosure and then respond.
One of my colleagues describes the process this way: If we’re reading a note from a loved one in which we’re praised, loved, appreciated, counseled, corrected, and helped in various ways and that individual is present in the room while we read, it’s only right that we should express thanks, reciprocate love, ask questions, and in other ways react to the message. It would be rude to do otherwise. This is prayer.
If you don’t know where to start, pray David’s psalms. His life was characterized by prayer. In Psalm 109:4 David wrote, “In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.” The translators supplied “a man of,” but the text reads simply, “but I am prayer.” Prayer was the essence of David’s life and his genius, as it is ours. We have this access to God, this intimacy with Him, this opportunity to receive all that the heart of God has stored up for us. It is the means by which we receive God’s gifts—the means by which everything is done. David teaches us to pray.
Prayer is worship. Our praying should be full of adoration, affection, and fondness for God that He is who He is, that He created us in order to have someone on whom He could shower His love, that He stretched out His arms on the cross, and that He intends, in the fullest sense, to make whole men and women out of us. In worship, as the old word worth-ship implies, we declare what we value the most. It is one of the best ways in the world to love God.
Prayer is the highest expression of our dependence on God. It is asking for what we want. We can ask for anything—even the most difficult things. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (philippians 4:6). Anything large enough to occupy our minds is large enough to hang a prayer on.
Prayer, however, by its nature is requesting. It is not insisting or clamoring. We can make no demands of God or deals with Him. Furthermore, we’re coming to a friend. Friends don’t make demands. They ask and then wait. We wait with patience and submission until God gives us what we request—or something more.
David wrote, “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (psalm 131:2). David was in exile, waiting for God, learning not to worry himself with God’s delays and other mysterious ways. No longer restless and craving, he waited for God to answer in His own time and in His own way. He is able to do far more than anything we can ask or imagine, but He must do it in His time and in His way. We ask in our time and in our way; God answers in His.
Prayer is asking for understanding. It is the means by which we comprehend what God is saying to us in His Word. The process by which we gain awareness of His mind is not natural, but supernatural. Spiritual things are discerned spiritually (1 corinthians 2:6-16). There is truth that can never be grasped by the human intellect. It cannot be discovered; it must be disclosed. Certainly we can understand the facts in the Bible apart from God’s help, but we can never plumb its depths, never fully appreciate “what God has prepared for those who love Him” (v.9). We must pray and wait for truth to come honestly into our minds.
Prayer moves what we know from our heads to our hearts. It’s our hedge against hypocrisy, the way by which we begin to ring true. Our perceptions of truth are always ahead of our condition. Prayer brings us more into conformity. It bridges the gap between what we know and what we are.
Prayer focuses and unites our fragmented hearts. We have a thousand necessities. It’s impossible for us to purify them and simplify them and integrate them into one. David prayed, “Give me an undivided heart” (psalm 86:11). He wanted to love God with his whole heart, but he couldn’t sustain the effort. Other interests and affections pulled him and divided him, so he asked God to guard his heart and unite its affections into one.
The prophet Isaiah wrote: “He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back” (isaiah 50:4-5).
Centering on God each morning should be done as though it had never been done before. In that quiet place He comforts us, He instructs us, He listens to us, He prepares our hearts and strengthens us for the day. There we learn to love Him and worship Him again. We esteem His words and defer to Him once more. We get His fresh perspective on the problems and possibilities of our day.
Then we should take His presence with us all through the day—journeying, pausing, waiting, listening, recalling what He said to us in the morning. He is our teacher, our philosopher, our friend; our gentlest, kindest, and most interesting companion.
He is with us wherever we go. He is in the commonplace, whether we know it or not. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” Jacob said of a most unlikely location, “and I was not aware of it” (genesis 28:16). We may not realize that He is close by. We may feel lonely and sad and desolate. Our day may seem bleak and dreary without a visible ray of hope, yet He is present. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (hebrews 13:5-6).
The clamor of this visible and audible world is so persistent and God’s quiet voice sometimes is so faint that we forget that He is near. But not to worry: He cannot forget us.
In God’s presence there is satisfaction. His lush meadows are boundless. His still water runs deep. There, I say to myself, “[I] will lie down in good grazing land, and there [I] will feed in a rich pasture” (ezekiel 34:14).