Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about prayer. She said, “I don’t want to bother God about my problems; I want to do things on my own.” At first glance, that is a noble sentiment, but I realized that she didn’t understand the purpose of prayer, and as I thought about it, I wondered if I did either.
I thought of one of my favorite hymns, “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire” by James Montgomery:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
Uttered or unexpressed
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast
Prayer is the burden of a sigh
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath
The Christian’s native air
His watchword at the gates of death
He enters heav’n with prayer
Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice
Returning from his ways
While angels in their songs rejoice
And cry, “Behold! He prays!”
Nor prayer is made on earth alone
The Holy Spirit pleads
And Jesus at the Father’s throne
For sinners intercedes
O thou by whom we come to God
The Life, the Truth, the Way
The path of prayer thyself hast trod
Lord, teach us how to pray
The hymn is instructive. Prayer is simple language that even a child can learn. Even a thought as fleeting as a sigh coupled with desire to know God is prayer. Prayer doesn’t need to be eloquent or prepared in advance.
Prayer isn’t memorized or read, though it can be if it is sincere and prayed in accordance with the spirit. Hypocritical prayers avail nothing. God hears even the thoughts and intents of the heart.
“Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath”? Why is prayer vital? God knows what we need before we ask Him, so why would we need to pray? Maybe my friend was right, maybe we should try to show our faith by being independent. Do we weary God with our asking things that He already knows?
I think of my little granddaughter, Hazel, as she learned to walk. She would totter back and forth between her two parents. They held out their arms and encouraged her with excited tones and gestures. They squealed with joy when she made it. Hazel was filled with delight when she fell into her daddy’s arms.
I think God is like that. He wants to know the joy of our progress in every step we take toward Him. As we pray, we can feel His delight in us. We can’t know that delight unless we are in the habit of communicating with Him in prayer.
I have come to understand that prayer isn’t about asking for things and receiving them; it is about learning the language of Heaven. It is about conversation. It is about getting to know God as a friend as well as a benevolent benefactor.
There are many examples in the Bible about men who had conversations with God and came out stronger because of their father-to-son chats. Adam and Eve had many conversations with God. They were in His presence daily until they ate the forbidden fruit.
Then there was a conversation that taught them the consequence of their choices and placed them in a position to pray. Adam grew as he called upon God. I imagine he learned much about planting, hunting and the laws of the universe in daily conversation with God.
Noah learned how to build the ark in conversations with God. There was asking, listening and following through in those prayers. Noah had no prior knowledge about rain, or how to gather the animals, but he asked and God spoke to him.
Abraham learned that he was going to be the father of many nations in his two-sided conversation with God. He learned that Sodom and Gomorrah would not be destroyed if there was found one righteous soul in the city.
He also learned his greatest test was to be the sacrifice of his son, Isaac, and was relieved that he passed the test without slaying his son. Those conversations, called prayers, paved the way for Abraham to receive his promised blessings.
Joseph, who was sold into Egypt, learned about Pharaoh’s dreams through constant communication with God. Joseph fulfilled his mission and came to understand that God’s will had been carried out through the bad choices of his brothers. As a result, Joseph’s heart was softened toward his brothers, and he was able to completely forgive them.
Moses had many conversations with God. The first was when he stood before the burning bush. There is much we can learn about prayer by looking more closely at this conversation:
And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
Moses had a question. He wanted to know why the bush burned without being consumed. He went to find out. We all have questions God can answer.
And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
The Lord tells Moses to take off his shoes because he is on holy ground. The Lord wants us to prepare ourselves for prayer by recognizing that we are on holy ground when talking to Him. Reverence is so important in prayer.
Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
Moses recognizes his own insignificance before God and he humbles himself.
And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites ...
Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.
Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
The Lord gives Moses his mission, as He will with us. Moses felt inadequate and expresses his feelings. The Lord reassures him.
And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
The conversation continues as Moses expresses his weakness, and the Lord takes away his excuses by teaching him that He, the Lord, is all powerful and will be at Moses’ side in every trial. Finally, Moses gains courage and goes into Egypt – and ultimately becomes one of the greatest deliverers that ever lived.
Conversations with the Lord are “the Christian’s vital breath,” as the song indicates. Prayer is the language of Heaven and is the means whereby the Lord teaches us about our mission in life. He teaches us His reasoning behind the trials we must pass through. He will, as He did Moses, make our weaknesses become strong and we will become all that we can become.