One of the basic, fundamental components of our faith is prayer. Throughout the Bible, prayer is modeled and commanded. The entire book of Psalms is a collection of prayers. John 17 gives us an intimate look at a prayer of Jesus. Matthew 7:7-12 is an invitation to pray. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is obvious that prayer is one of the essential building blocks of our faith.
Having established the importance of prayer, it is important to understand that there is a right way and a wrong way to pray. Jesus addressed this in a parable, found in Luke 18:9-14.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
If I could condense what Jesus was saying in this parable, it would be that one man talked at God and one man talked to God. The Pharisee arrogantly extolled his perceived virtues expecting God’s applause. The tax collector humbly confessed his sins seeking God’s mercy.
As I was going through my devotional routine, I was struck with the difference between talking at God in prayer and talking to God in prayer. Too often, my prayers fall into the first camp instead of the second. Too often I spend my time in prayer telling God what He ought to do, instead of listening to what God has to say to me. The real difference is not so much the content of my prayers, but my attitude in prayer. Jesus challenged those we were confident in their own righteousness. He commended those who really understood their need.
Prayer is an invitation for us to open our hearts to God and then allowing Him to speak back into our souls. It is not intended for us to inform God of things He is unaware, or for us to demand action from God. Prayer is developing a trusting relationship between our heavenly Father and us, His children. Prayer is based on trust; a firm belief that God knows what is best for us and will accomplish it. Prayer is about expressing our concerns, wishes and desires to God, but then allowing Him to sort those things out in an appropriate way. Prayer is intended to be an intimate conversation, not a demanding monologue.
In our consumeristic world, it is so easy for us to fall into the trap of talking at God in prayer. We go to Him with our laundry list of requests and expect Him to act like a heavenly Amazon Prime, with overnight delivery. Instead, like the tax collector, we need to approach God with humility. Because of what Christ has done for us on the cross, we can come boldly into God’s presence, but we never have the right to come arrogantly. We approach our Father without fear, but also with awe and respect. God wants us to come to Him and share all that is on our hearts. He also wants to share His heart with us.
No one likes to be talked at; neither does our heavenly Father. God has invited us into an open and honest conversation, where we can share all that is on our hearts. He has promised to actively listen and then to speak back into our situations. It is our job to listen to what He has to say.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.