“Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us.” – C.S. Lewis
So many of our understandings of praying come out of an old covenant view of the world. We are thinking that we are alone most of the time and enter God’s presence when we go to church or go to prayer. We do not see ourselves as united with our God all the time. This Old Covenant thinking produces prayers that do not fit the reality of our new life in Christ, and the life of Christ in us. We pray that our God would “be with us” as we undertake some endeavor – a trip, a meeting, an activity. We forget that He is always with us, closer than our own thoughts. Old covenant thinking.
We pray for the Holy Spirit to come to us or visit us. The Holy Spirit lives in us at all times if we are truly disciples of Jesus. This kind of praying is akin to asking a person who lives in our home to “stop by and visit sometime.” If the Holy Spirit feels distant, or we do not sense His presence it is because we have distanced ourselves from Him. Like the old bumper sticker that read, “Far from God? Who moved?” Again, old covenant thinking and praying. And there are many such examples of how our prayers are stuck in thinking that was made irrelevant some 2000 years ago.
Such Old Covenant thinking in praying often turns the tables on our relationship with our God. It is far too easy to become the ones who tell Him what to do, and to place our God into the position of being a servant to our wills. We think that our God needs to be told what to do, when in the New Covenant it is the Spirit of God within us who interprets our prayers to the Father with groanings too deep for words.
You are not praying to a God who is up there or out there somewhere. He is within you, closer to you than your thoughts. He knows you far better than you know yourself. He knows your motives, needs, desires, shortcomings, pains, and fears. We must begin to think in New Covenant terms if we are to pray New Covenant prayers.
Andrew Murray once said, “Some people pray just to pray and some people pray to know God.” I fear those who just pray to pray, who pray because it is expected or is a cultural habit, or who pray to get God to work may have missed the central purpose of prayer and of their relationship with their God. Our prayers are primarily to know our God deeply and pursue conversational intimacy with Him. They are to deepen our sense of oneness and communion with Him, and they are a primary expression of our abiding in Him. If our prayers are primarily for these purposes, our lives will be focused on the right things. If our prayers are primarily to tell our God what we want or what He needs to do, we may be missing the most vital aspects of our relationship with Him.
Effective prayer then is that which draws us into a deeper communion and intimacy with our God. This means the key to effective prayer is our purpose. To know our God intimately, to grow deeper in communion and oneness with Him is our first and foremost purpose for praying. This is what Fredrik Wisloff, the Norwegian theologian and pastor, meant when he said, “You may pray for an hour and still not pray. You may meet God for a moment and then be in touch with Him all day.”
A key factor that may be keeping us from experiencing a deep New Covenant prayer life is our lack of awareness of His presence within us and in our every situation. We must pray that our God will train our minds to regard every moment as being in the His presence. We are never apart from Him, not even for a moment. Effective praying will be focused on deepening a conversational communion with our God every day. It will be about His life being lived in and through us.
This focus must guide us in all of our praying and intercession. When these New Covenant realities under-gird our prayers we can reasonably expect our requests to be answered. E.M. Bounds stated: “Those who know God the best are the richest and most powerful in prayer. Little acquaintance with God, and strangeness and coldness to Him, make prayer a rare and feeble thing.”
In a very practical way, how we pray defines the quality of our spiritual condition. How we pray will reveal how we are living with our God every day. At the same time, how we pray can improve and strengthen our spiritual condition and draw us into a deeper relationship with our God. If we are living in the New Covenant daily, we can pray with confidence. Here is the power in prayer.
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.” — Brother Lawrence