Approached by God (V) – The Words of Prayer

When we meet together to pray, it’s easy to feel inadequate or not eloquent enough to lead in prayer.

Often I’ll sit in silence, or worse, fall into the verbose, formulaic, incantations. But I’ve found that the knowledge that prayer starts with God also helps me as I seek to understand how we should pray when we meet together.

The way we pray takes its shape from the relationship that we have with God.

I’ve lost track of the times I’ve stood to lead a group in prayer and begun my invitation for people to pray with me with the words ‘prayer is just talking to God’. It’s a phrase you’ve probably heard yourself, trotted out particularly during a campus mission week or ‘Open Church’ Sunday.

It can be a helpful way of emphasising for people that we don’t need special words or postures or human mediators in order to come to God in prayer. And it’s true, prayer is ‘talking to God’. The danger is when we lose sight of the fact that prayer is talking to God.

There is no relationship that any human can enter into where he or she is at more of a disadvantage in terms of knowledge, power, and goodness. We are completely overmatched, we are not even playing on the same cricket pitch, in the same solar system. There is no way to bridge the gulf between creator and creation unless God himself condescends to our level. We should rightly be terrified to utter a noise in the throne room of God, let alone ‘just talk to him’.

Yet we have been approached by God as our God. We pray as his utterly dependent creatures, dependent for the words, for the breath, for the consciousness, and for the desire that we express to him in prayer. A new born child is not even close in its utter dependence on its parent, as we are in dependence upon our heavenly Father.

It is this dependence that is a great source of comfort and confidence to me in prayer. And it helps us to understand how we should pray. We don’t need the big words, the impressive, well formulated, three part Symphonies of Prayer. I’m not even sure we need the expressive grunts, or repeated ‘Lords’. I’m sure you’ve heard Jesus’ words on this subject many times:

““And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt 6:7-8 ESV)

Before God we are very simple people, and our prayers should be very simple. Any gaps in knowledge or expression will be adequately made up by the Holy Spirit’s groaning (Romans 8:26-27). We should ask God for things because we are in a position where all we have to offer is requests. One of the most beautiful things I have ever come to know is that when I make requests of God, he understands them as praise.

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