There are many people who have given prayer an honest try and become frustrated with it because they don’t experience something. So what is the purpose of prayer? What should happen?
What do you expect to happen when you pray? Do you expect to feel physical sensations? Do you expect to hear God? Do you expect to have clarity with all of your problems? Or with even just one? The more that I think about it, we have unrealistic expectations about prayer. This is a big reason why we get frustrated with it, and I can definitely relate. All of these things can happen, but they are the exceptions, not the norm.
So why should we pray?
“The spiritual life is not primarily about certain practices of piety and techniques of prayer, but about a relationship. It’s about responding to the One who has created and redeemed us, and who loves us with a love stronger than death, a love that desires to raise us from the dead. Much of that is true of human relationships is also true of our relationship with God. Human relationships of friendship or marriage need time, attention, and care for them to continue and to grow. The same is true of our relationship with God. We have been called to union but we need to respond.” – Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of all Desire
Prayer is the primary means of developing a relationship with God. Let me compare it to a regular friendship. You come to meet someone by being introduced by a friend. In a similar way, we come to know God by being introduced by a friend. We come to actually know someone by talking and spending time with them. Likewise, we come to know God by hearing His Word in scripture and by conversing with Him in prayer.
How do we listen to God in prayer? I have often struggled with this idea. I’ve always been waiting for Him to speak to me or to put images or words in my head. But God likes to enter into the world quietly. One example of this is how Jesus could have descended from the sky when He came, but instead He chose to be born by a woman: a baby who was completely dependent on His parents. In prayer, God enters in very discrete ways. He has absolutely put words or phrases in my head or even images, but in a much less profound way than you’re probably imagining. The goal is not to have this happen, but they can be pretty sweet gifts at the time, helping me to direct my attention one way or another.
But prayer is just boring! I guess I haven’t addressed this yet. I have experienced boring prayers. Boring prayers are usually when I’m not actually praying, I’m just pretending. But sometimes we will have a dry time and we will have a lot of difficulty entering into prayer. In these times we especially need to remember to ask Jesus to help us.
“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” – John 14:13
Why is it so hard to enter into prayer in the first place? Remember, in prayer we have free will, just like any other time. Often I find myself just sitting there waiting for God to come and take over my prayers so that I don’t have to do anything, I can just revel in His glory. But that never actually happens. I actually have to concentrate in order to do that. I need to place myself in His presence. There is a very significant difference between simply thinking about issues of your life and offering them up to God in prayer and asking for His help. I fall into this trap too much, be careful of it. Ask Him to help you to pray. It can be very helpful if you’re having difficulty concentrating to pick a passage from scripture or spiritual reading and reflect on it. A very simply way to start praying is to repeat Jesus’ name to yourself. Sometimes I can tell that the Holy Spirit is especially present and good emotions come up (gratitude for His mercy, awe at His majesty, sorrow for sin, desire to be more faithful, etc.), and from that point on my prayer becomes insanely easy where I completely lose track of the world. That’s the whole point of prayer I guess, to be with God in that intimate way.
“For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” – St. Teresa of Avila
There is a place for oral prayers in growing in our relationship with God, as well. If you let them be boring and repetitive, then you’re wasting your time. But if you “chew” on the words that you are saying, they can be as powerful of a prayer as you can say, especially prayers based in scripture like the Our Father, that Jesus taught us.
“A single Our Father said with feeling has greater value than many said quickly and hurriedly.” – St. Francis de Sales
I’d encourage you to pick at least one time every day to designate for prayer, and hold yourself to it. Just as you only learn to swim by swimming, you only learn to pray by praying! Then from there, find ways to pray at all times (1 Thess. 5:17). Just throwing up a random “thank you Jesus” every once in a while is a good start. The end goal is to constantly have Jesus on our hearts in all that we do.
To conclude, prayer is important because it allows us to get to know God and enter into a relationship with Him. Just as you can never be friends with someone you don’t talk to, you and God aren’t going to be very tight if you never pray.
What are you putting first in your life?
material things <<< human relationships <<< your relationship with God