Dr. David F. Ingrassia // 04.11.2016 // Charlotte Awake
Prayer. We know we need to do it. We talk about it. We have notebooks filled with requests.
Prayer. It changes lives. It changes communities. It changes nations. It changes everything.
Prayer. It’s the language of heaven and communication with God’s Spirit. It’s the heartbeat of faith and lifeblood of the believer. It’s the present whisperings of an anticipated eternity.
Prayer. Jesus did it. Peter and Paul did it. Martin Luther did it. Jonathan Edwards did it.
Prayer. Frankly, we are more or less clueless.
WHAT IS PRAYER?
For insight, we turn to one who some call, “America’s greatest theologian”— Jonathan Edwards, 18th century New England pastor in the Great Awakening. Edwards’ view of prayer was inseparably tied to his understanding of God’s redemption and character. So, Edwards says that “…prayer addresses one who is altogether lovely and beautiful (Ps. 50:1-2).” Simply put, because of Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross the believer can now commune directly with God.
Or even more simply, prayer is an intimate encounter with God, not simply an opportunity to present a “Honey-Do” list of repair requests for our broken lives. It allows us the experience of knowing Him and being known by Him. It is entering “…joyously into God’s presence… to be in the sanctuary of the ‘Being of ALL Beings.’”
How very different is this understanding of prayer as an intimate encounter with God from our typical approach of presenting Him a ledger, debiting requests on one side and crediting His answers on the other.
We approach prayer completely wrong when we restrict it to petitioning God for favor. Communing with God in prayer becomes an act of worship, of resting in Him, not a daily reminder of things yet to be accomplished by His divine intervention. Prayer exists in the realm of BEING, but we continually push it into the treadmill of DOING, which is why it lends itself to perpetual requests on a spiritual “To Do” list.
HOW MANY WAYS TO SAY “ESOTERIC?”
In truth, the way we tend to view prayer in terms of check lists is understandable. This highly esoteric understanding of an almost transcendental experience drives most practical believers nuts—not the least reason being that “esoteric,” by its very definition means it is understood by only a few.
And the more we enter into the conversation about the nature of prayer, or plumb the depths of Andrew Murray’s classic works, the more the subject appears abstruse, obscure, or arcane (picking from a veritable cornucopia of trite synonyms).
Perhaps we may view those who seem to understand prayer as “super-spiritual,” or conversely, as “spiritual slackers” who should be more Martha-ing for Christ than Mary-ing at His feet. And frankly, apart from skipping out on the dirty dishes, most of us, if honest, are more comfortable cleaning up the kitchen than in trying to decipher the heart of Jesus by sitting at His feet. Just how does that work anyway?
We don’t need another dictionary or thesaurus, or to mystically tune our ears to the sound of one hand clapping beneath a tree. We just want to know how to pray. It is, after all, the simple question the disciples asked the Lord.
BOTTOM LINE IT FOR ME
Since this is not a multi-volume treatise, but just the first of few more posts to follow, let’s just drip some wet paint onto a theological canvas and come up with a working definition of prayer in light of the insights given from America’s greatest theologian.
DEFINITION OF PRAYER:
“Prayer is a lingering encounter with God, which allows us the experience of knowing Him as we are known by Him.” (And that is only possible because Jesus made peace for us through the Cross.)
FINALLY: HERE IS OUR LIST
And now at last, here is the list for the rest of us who couldn’t care about one hand clapping under a tree, and who pretty much pray like Martha, but secretly wish we could repose like Mary. Here’s Martha’s cheat sheet to help her pray like Mary.
• STEP 1: Close your “prayer request” book for the next two weeks.
• STEP 2: Open the other book—your Bible. NOT your smartphone. This kind of relationship building with God needs paper, not pixels. Trust me. Find one in a used bookstore—if they still exist. A paper book slows you down and allows you to wander. When it comes to prayer, that’s good.
• STEP 3: Read the Book aloud. Yes, ALOUD. To whom? God, of course. But why read to God when He already knows the Book? Answer: because He likes it. You are building a relationship with Him. You are not instructing Him, nor telling Him a bedtime story. He likes it when you read His Word to Him. It affirms before heaven and earth the truth He has already decreed. On top of that, if you are always looking for words, this gives you words right away.
• STEP 4: When you are done reading, close the book. How long should you read? Until you get tired or your mind wanders away. [Note: God never gets tired, nor does His mind wander. You can talk with Him as long as you want and He will always listen and give you His full attention.]
• STEP 5: Finally, if you love God, tell Him and give Him at least reason why you do. If you don’t know if you love Him, tell Him that too. If you are not sure He is there or if He is listening, then tell Him you are searching for Him. Those who seek Him diligently, find Him. Trust Him on that. He said so (Proverbs 8:17).
And that is how you start to pray. Next we will talk about why God answers prayer, and sometimes why He does not.
 Hannah, John D. 2016. “Jonathan Edwards’s thoughts on prayer.” Bibliotheca Sacra 173, no. 689: 80-96. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2016), p 86.