This is part 5 of a 5 part series. (Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).
Everything. To put is as simply as I can, we should pray about everything. We can never forget that prayer is the fundamental basis of our interaction with God the Father. He is our Father and we are his children. He wants to hear from us about everything. The easiest place to look is to the prayers of Jesus to get an idea of what this sounds like.
Matthew 6:5-13 gives us a solid layout on what our prayers can be like.
In John 17, we have what is known as the High Priestly Prayer. First and foremost Jesus prays for his own glory to be made known as he returns to the Father (John 17:1-5). Second, he prays in recognition of the faithfulness of God in bringing to Jesus those whom he had chosen out of the world during his earthly ministry and for them to continue spreading the word of God (John 17:6-19). And thirdly, he prays for all of those who would come to believe in the name of Jesus Christ, that they would be in perfect unity just as the Son and the Father are in perfect unity (John 17:20-26).
And the last prayer of Jesus I want to return our attention to is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was filled with sorrow (Matthew 26:38), stressed with terror to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44), and in absolute full knowledge of what was about to transpire in the last hours of his life (John 12:27). While in this full knowledge of what the Father’s will was, he still prayed whether it would at all be possible for this suffering to not have to happen. Twice he prayed for it to pass. But both times he also conceded that the Father’s will be done.
Looking through these three prayers, there are several things we can take away that are all elements of our interactions with God in prayer. From the Lord’s Prayer, we see a prayer that 1) worships God 2) asks for physical daily needs 3) asks for forgiveness and 4) asks for spiritual perseverance. From the High Priestly Prayer, we see a prayer that 1) worships Jesus 2) intercedes on behalf of believers, i.e. the Church and 3) intercedes on behalf of the lost. And then in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see a prayer that 1) lays fear, anticipation, and doubt down at God’s feet and 2) takes up trust, faith, and hope in the good sovereignty of God’s will. This list is not exhaustive by any means of all the things we can pray. Again, we can pray to God about everything. But what we must remember is when we ask him to do something in the name of Jesus, we are asking him to cooperate in accordance with the person and character of Jesus Christ as he is the perfect fulfiller of the will of God. Praying does not necessitate us asking for something. But when we do, what will be granted to us is that which God has chosen in accordance with his perfect will.
What’s the interaction worth?
We have spent the majority of this discussion talking about prayer that is specifically asking God for something. We have looked at what it means to pray in the name of Jesus Christ. We also looked at how we can understand the reality of our life experiences after not receiving the answers that we had asked for. But what we haven’t yet looked at is what results from interacting with God through prayer on a regular basis, irrespective of receiving what we have asked for. As we said before, our interaction with God is conversational and relational which is best described as call and response as opposed to give and take. So how is our relationship affected by interacting with God through prayer?
One consistent truth that I have seen in myself and others is that while prayer may seldom change your circumstances, it almost always changes your response to them. In other words, prayer may not be answered in accordance with your request, but a simple, universal side effect of engaging with God on such a personal intimate level is that of how you respond to your circumstances. Romans says that we can either invest in the Spirit or invest in the flesh (Romans 8:13). You will get a return on your investment either way. You will either get a return of anxiety, worry, and as Paul says, death on your investment in the flesh (Romans 6:23). Or you will get a return of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and as Paul says, life on your investment in the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 8:10). Jesus says that prayer is the antidote to falling for temptations (Matthew 26:41). The spirit can be willing, but the flesh is weak and the only way to strengthen our spirit is to invest in his Spirit and we do that by engaging with God on a personal level through prayer. James tells us that as we draw near to God, he will draw near to us (James 4:8). In other words, we will never be the only one engaging in this relationship. I think it is of utmost importance to notice the emphasis of this verse. By stating it in this way, James removes the concept of us not being engaged by God. We know that by the very character of God, as he indwells us by His Spirit, he is always with us and always near (Matthew 28:20b). And James says that when it comes to us relationally engaging with him that he will always respond to us. We will never be left talking to ourselves. As we draw near to God, and interact with him through prayer, he will always be drawing close to us to listen.
Lastly, Paul instructed us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances because that is God’s will for our lives in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Now for those of us that struggle with multitasking, how can we attempt to not just be doing one of these three things in our daily lives, but doing all three of these things while going about our daily business at all times? I can tell God thank you, very gleefully, while praying and get all three of these at once. But that is only for one brief moment in time. I’m sure you have heard about many ways to live with a prayerful spirit, or maintain a thankful mindset, or have a joyful heart and that in this habitual manner of living we can maintain the authenticity of this verse in our lives. I think those are all great. But it’s still unrealistic for me personally. Even if it is just maintaining a thankful heart, rather than literally saying thank you incessantly, I still fail. I certainly fail at having a constantly joyful mindset. We’ll be running two minutes late to get anywhere and I’ll be losing my mind. I step on one of my son’s toys and all thankfulness and joy have gone out the window, but at least it revives in me a pray as I yell, “Dear, Lord!” However, while I think these are nice ways to approach this verse, I feel like Paul is trying to convey a deep relationship between these things that is inseparable. It can be thought of as a trinity of spiritual disciplines. As God is three persons, inseparably existing as one God, these are three spiritual disciplines, inseparably expressed as one exercise. As you pray more, you inevitably will experience more joy the more time you spend interacting with your Father. The more time you spend with your Father the more thankful you will be in life. As any one of these three increases, the other two inevitably follow. As we pray more, we have more joy, and are more thankful. It is an inevitable symptom of spending personal time interacting with God the Father.
Is it any wonder?
As it is God’s will for our lives in Jesus Christ to be more joyful, thankful, and prayerful, he is always working to more closely conform us to the image of his son Jesus. Our relationship with God is most of all for the purpose of glorifying him by identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ as he is the perfect image of the invisible God (Romans 8:29). By engaging in the spiritual discipline of prayer, we are intentionally spending time interacting with God on a personal intimate level that inevitably leads to reflecting his Son more and more.
As we deepen this relationship, our faith and trust in God stands firm in all that we experience in life. Our prayers are prayed with the full knowledge that as we petition God in the name of Jesus Christ, we also acknowledge that, above all else, we desire for his will to be done. The emphasis has thus been appropriately realigned to the glory of the Father through his son Jesus Christ. Jesus lived and breathed only as the Father lived and breathed through him and everything he said and did was to the glory of the Father. When we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whether or not our petitions are answered, we can be sure that the time we spend in personal interaction with God the Father through prayer will result with us living and breathing more and more aware of the Father living and breathing through us.