I started this write up thinking that prayer should be the easiest thing to do, but by the end of it, I decided that there is a need to have ‘Conversations With God Part II’! It is not that prayer is complicated, but because it is about COMMUNICATION, it really isn’t as simple as all that. There are many books about communication, many facets to communication, and many considerations for effective communication. So, it makes sense that communication with God will also require some understanding. There are different types of communication with God, and the primary one is personal prayer, which everyone desiring a gainful relationship with Him should do and develop.
Even though prayer is not all that simple, it isn’t so complex either. It is right that we ask how to pray. The disciples also asked Jesus, and He didn’t mock or chastise them (Luke 11:1). They’d seen so many different people from different religions pray to God in so many different ways, and the whole thing just seemed confusing to them. It can be the same for us. I think that for most people, prayer is like a towering mountain that they don’t know how to climb, but a lot of people can’t admit that they need help or guidance on how to pray. The fact that it is a very personal experience also makes people afraid to seek counsel or share their challenges, lest they might be criticised.
However, there are many natural abilities we develop through study. Even consider sex! Many marriages are saved by reading good educational books about sex. Marriage counselling is also important and sought by many couples because they realise that something that should come so natural to them, i.e. communication, can be rather tricky and challenging. So they seek help, and read books on how to better communicate with and understand each other. All abilities also need practice to be perfected, otherwise, not only will you not improve – you’re also likely to lose that ability!
My decision to write this post arose from a prayer time I was having. Even though my zeal for the Lord has recently been re-awakened, I found my prayer life to still be limited. Because I thought it was simple, I didn’t make much effort to develop it. I wanted to be moved by my emotions in prayer, but I have learnt that prayer really isn’t about my emotions. In fact, I should check them at the door. However, recognising that I need more understanding, I asked God to teach me how to pray. He showed me that prayer is in fact a conversation, and needs to be approached and handled as such. The way we approach prayer determines, and is determined by, our relationship with God; how we perceive Him and receive Him. Everyone’s experience will differ. I received God’s leading to write ‘Conversations With God’, which I would write by His inspiration daily for one week.
Prayer is a skill that can and must be developed, and the best teacher is God Himself! Just like the best person to teach you how to make love, is your partner! After all, he or she is the one you are trying to please. However, though it needn’t be daunting, it is true that religious people make it so, as many see it as an avenue to show off their righteousness. They are like the Casanova who thinks he is such a good lover and ‘makes love’ to satisfy his pride, whether or not his many partners are satisfied. If you are trying to please anyone other than God when you pray, you are a Casanova, and He is not at all moved by your performance. But if your desire is to please Him, even if you are inexperienced, He will rejoice at your effort, and gently show you how you can go higher with Him.
If you, like me, have struggled with this issue of prayer, then I hope I can minister to you through this post. If you are doing just fine in your prayer life, you should still read on, and perhaps you can help shed some clarity by your comments. Let us edify one another in love (Rom 14:19, 1 The 5:11).
Generally (not in all occasions), I see prayer as a long running (or series of) conversation/s with God. There are also communal prayers (which won’t be discussed here) and other irregular prayers (e.g. praying in tongues and prophesying). When you have a conversation with somebody, you initiate (build on) a relationship with that person. And when you speak with them again, you will (consciously or not) make reference to your initial (previous) conversation, so that you do not need to re-introduce yourself, or speak as if you don’t know anything about this person. If you are really having a conversation, you will hear what the other person has to say as well. In the study of Communications we learn that communication is only said to be complete when both sides have received information from each other, even if the response is only an acknowledgement that the message transferred by the initiator has been received. Prayer requires speaking and listening to God.
Now, there are different types of conversations. The differences are based on; firstly, the personalities involved, then the nature of the relationship, then the relationship level, then the circumstance and then finally, the emotion (or mood). The way you converse with your long-time lover in times of peace, will be different from times of strife. It will be very different from how the conversation would go if you only just started your relationship and were experiencing trials. You would also have a different conversation with a neighbour bothering you late at night, than you would with your brother. Conversations can change relationships from good to bad, bad to worse or from bad to better too (by the emotion (angry or loving) we bring in our communication)!! However, different circumstances require that you adjust (reset) your mood (emotion), so as not to make a situation worse by being faithless, accusing or angry. This aspect of mood – which affects our tone, pitch and general presentation (non-verbal communication) – says more than the content of our communication. Checking your mood shows that you are considerate and respectful. If you have good conversations with someone, you will have a better relationship, and your conversations will take on a new level!
All these varying factors mean that no two conversations, even between the same two personalities, can ever be the same. There’s also a difference between the conversations we have with other people and the conversations we have with God. This is due especially to the first factor: the personalities involved. Nobody addresses a King the same way they would address their mates. You just don’t do it – even if the King is friendly, and you guys ‘get on’. When you get in the presence of the King, you have to recognise his person for who he is, and give honour to whom it is due. In the same way, when we come before God, no matter the nature or depth of our relationship with Him, we have to show Him reverence! We have to come to Him knowing that He is God alone, and the Lord of all things. That is why when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He started with: “Our Father, which art in Heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name” (Matt 6:9).
After recognising His Lordship, you are able to converse with Him by the nature of your relationship. Our relationship to God is likened repeatedly to a Father/Child (Matt 7:11; Luke 6:36; Luke 15:11-24) relationship, where He is the Father and we are the children. That is the nature of the relationship that Jesus highlights. There are also the relationships of Master/Servant (Matt 24:45-46; Matt 25:14-15), Teacher/Student (Luke 6:40, John 13:13), Shepherd/Sheep (John 10:27; Matt 25:32) and of course, Friends (Luke 12:4; John 15:13-15; Matt 9:15)! But when we approach God in prayer, it is usually as a child going to his/her Father to ask of the Father, and the Father, who loves the child, welcomes him/her and gives freely (John 16:23-24; Luke 11:13; Rom 8:32).
Now, the relationship level represents how close we are to the Father. We know, from worldly relationships, that we are not all close to our fathers. We know that in some households, you can’t approach your father for anything, but must go through your mother. There are also differences in the relationship level as we mature, so that our relationship may be closer now with our father, than it was when we were little. This is usually because we have grown in wisdom and understanding, and can relate more with the responsibilities and feelings of our father, because we too are taking on parenting duties, and are being role models. But for some, as they grow older, they can grow more distant from their father. Every Father/Child relationship is different, and though they are usually characterised in phases (infant, adolescent, teenager, young adult, mature adult), we will each experience these phases uniquely. In the same way, we mature in our relationship with God. There may be periods of stagnation (no growth) or periods of backsliding (childishness), which can affect our closeness to Him, and also the development of our conversations (prayers).
Now, circumstance is also a key factor to our conversations with God. It can affect the frequency of our communications, the passion of our expressions, and even our decision to communicate! When things are hard, we may pray more for help, compared to when things were easy (when we often forget our need for God). For others, they may pray less in hard times (due to their perception of God and expectation that they deserve better for their commitment – resentment), because when things were easy, they knew how to thank God and delight in Him. The difference between these two behaviours is dependent on the personalities of the people in relationship with God. We are not supposed to be so controlled by our circumstance, but should be faithful and thankful in every circumstance (1 The 5:16-18). If we know that God is just to the kind and the wicked (Matt 5:45), we will not feel judged or wronged when things are not working our way. We will know that, because we love Him and are called according to His purpose, all things will work together for our good (Rom 8:28). Circumstance is key because, as humans, we are moved by it, and it affects our emotions and mood. It is good to recognise your circumstance before you pray…and make more effort to be grateful or to be hopeful (depending on whether times are good or bad).
Another word for emotions (mood) can be attitude. This is the final consideration when starting a conversation. We are all able to control our emotions and moderate our attitude, whether in good or bad times. There is a saying that ‘no one makes you feel anything’!! If you feel inferior, it is a decision you made. If you feel lonely, that too is your choice. You can learn the comfort of solitude, and the liberation of self-esteem. Sometimes, our mood has nothing to do with the person we are communicating with, but because we have not put it in check, it can affect our conversation (and then our relationship) with that person! It can also rub off on them (if they are human and do not know how to resist offence), and destroy our chances of a good conversation. With God, the wrong attitude will affect our listening capacity, and we may not be able to hear from Him!
Therefore, before we communicate with God, as with anyone else, we must check our attitude. We will have the right attitude if we considered the first four factors in our communication – Who is God? Who am I to Him? What is the level of my faith? What circumstance affects me now? With these done, we should be honest about our mood, and change our attitude to one of faith and love! This is a time to be humble, to see ourselves as we are and confess our sins to God. We shouldn’t be like the self-righteous Pharisee (Luke 18:11-12). We must also guard against making a show of our prayers, as if it is unto men and not God, who sees our heart (Matt 6:5-6; also 1 Sam 16:7). This is also a time to look in our heart to see if there is any bitterness there, because Jesus said that our offering (or worship) will not be acceptable to God if we are begrudging someone (Matt 5:22-24), and God will not forgive us, if we cannot forgive others (Matt 6:15). In our short comings, we can ask God to help our unbelief (Matt 9:24) or help us to forgive, and give us a pure heart (Psa 51:10; also Eze 36:26), believing that He is able and willing to do these (Jam 1:6-8). Then we can approach Him with confidence (Heb 4:16).
Now we have covered the bases, all that is remaining is the content of our prayers. Should they be long or short? Should they be frequent, regular or occasional (as we feel like it)? What words should we use and avoid? What sorts of things should we pray for? Jesus’ teachings on prayer are good reference points for us. From a study of Matthew 6 and Luke 11, we can learn the following:
- They need not be long to be significant (Matt 6:7-8);
- They should be minimally daily (Matt 6:11); but preferably continual (1 The 5:17);
- Avoid vain repetitions and recitals (Matt 6:7);
- We ought to pray that:
- God will meet our daily needs (Matt 6:11; Luke 11:3);
- God will forgive us our sins (Matt 6:12; Luke 11:4);
- God will keep us from temptation (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4);
- God will deliver us out of our trials and protect us (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4).
We should be bold enough to ask of God, because we know who He is, and what He is to us and that, no matter what, He is good and He loves us unconditionally. We can come to Him time and time again with the same issue until we receive an answer to our prayer (Luke 11:8; also Luke 18:3-5). We can ask of Him anything, because He has everything within His reach, and is willing to give us (Luke 11:13; also Jam 1:5). We should also ask of Him what we need to perform our assignment in this world, believing that He has given us the power to do even greater things that He did (John 14:12).
The prayer, so far, seems to be all about us getting our relationship right with God and our needs met. But the conversation doesn’t stop there. Now we have addressed our issues, we must address the issues that are important to God – the souls of the unsaved and the well-being of His Church. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus taught that we should pray for God’s will to be done (being primarily that none should be lost (Matt 18:11, 14; 1 Tim 2:3-4)), and that His Kingdom may be established on Earth (through the growth of His Church and the Reign of Christ). We must not neglect to pray for others, and bring their issues before God too, which is our reasonable service as ministers of God.
The reason we first present our issues to God is the same reason we would secure our safety on a plane first, before assisting someone else (even if that someone else is our child!). We must get ourselves right so that we can be useful to God in the Vineyard, which is our purpose. Remember what Jesus said about first removing the log from our eyes (Matt 7:5). If we pray for ourselves, and do not pray for others, we have not understood the purpose of prayer ultimately. It is not about us, and will never be about us. It is about us being used by God. It is the reason He empowers us so, not so that we can be proud about our gifts! So, we must always take time in prayer to remember those in need around us, and ask God for guidance as to how he wants us to meet those needs, for the sake of His Kingdom. This is where listening skills in prayer is very much needed.
There are people that you will usually remember to bring before God. These are family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, church members and other groups you affiliate with. You may remember your country, and specific people in leadership, who have authority over you. However, apart from praying for those your easily remember, you ought to take time to wait on God to reveal needs to you, and remind you of others you may have missed. That friend who said she’s going through an issue and asked you to remember her in prayer. Or the stranger whom you ministered to, who God has brought back to mind for more intercession. Or perhaps your cousin in a different country, who called to say there’s tribulation there, and you should pray for them and their fellowship.
People ask us to pray for them all the time, and even when they don’t, God can bring up a specific person (or even nations) to mind. It could be that that person has a need, or you have unresolved issues with them that God wants you to address in prayer. If you don’t take time for God to reveal needs to you, your time with Him will never grow deeper than your own wants and needs. And just like a family member who is detached from their family, and doesn’t know what is happening there or what the needs of different members are, you will be detached from the things of God, and will not be able to fulfill your ministry. You will be forever receiving but not giving, and your joy will not be complete, because you do not love like the Father loves. Jesus said it more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). You may justify being wrapped up in your own issues because you have a lot of needs, and time seems to evade you so that your prayers are always rushed, or you’re constantly too busy to spend time (with God, friends or family). However, you will not be able to build your relationship with those who matter most if you do not allow time for them or show concern to them and for the things that matter to them. You need to get out of yourself. Start by praying for others (1 The 5:25).
The aim of a prayer life is to become more like God. Not only being changed within, but reflecting that change in how we act, how we speak and how we love. Until we read 1 Corinthians 13, and think: “Oh wow, I’m just like that!”, we’re still a long way off. The type of love we are to practice is the one that is sacrificial and unselfish, like Jesus. He said we should love others just like He loved us, even to laying down His life for us (John 13:34). Sometimes, the only cure to selfishness (self-obsession, self-centredness etc) is self-crucification! Simply, deny yourself and take up your cross (which is your ministry and fellowship with Christ). Read Mark 8:34.
As you give yourself to helping others and caring for their concerns, you will find that you have no time to worry about your own. You may also find that there was nothing to worry about anyway! Your troubles, which you fostered through worrying, are handled by God. When you show Him that you care for others (by working for Him), He is duty bound and obligated by His own name, to care for you and meet all your needs (Matt 6:25-33). He makes things to be all right with you too, and grants more grace and mercy to you. Then your joy will be complete.
Apart from listening for needs to pray about, you should also listen for messages from God. If you’ve made a petition to Him, or asked for wisdom to resolve a particular issue, don’t rush away. Wait a little, and you might get something. Prayer isn’t about talking, it is communion with God, hence the analogy of conversation. God does speak and makes His will known to those who seek Him with a pure heart (Matt 5:8). In your conversation, you will hear Him through your conscience, which is the primary way that He reveals His will. You should habitually take note of the things you receive from Him, and you will find that He sharpens your hearing, and you are able to discern His voice (John 10:27).
There are many different ways that He will make Himself heard, and if you have a relationship with Him, you will know which way He predominantly uses with you. If you need to make a decision on something, you should see what God has to say about it by checking your conscience, considering wisdom and consulting His oracles. You should also be guided by the revelation He gives, His empowerment, and other internal and external factors. They are explained below:
- Peace. This is probably the most common. If you’ve made a decision about something that God doesn’t agree with, He will not give you peace about it. You might find that you keep asking Him to ‘answer’ or ‘bless’ your decision, and the only thing you feel is nausea! There is an inner peace, which is accompanied by joy, which God gives to show that this is the way you should follow. Follow peace.
- The Voice. God speaks. Rarely it is an audible voice. Usually, it is a still small voice within, which leaves peace and not fear (2 Tim 1:7). Sometimes, it is just really wise counsel that is normally against your thought, and seems to have come from nowhere, which addresses your problem accurately. This is guidance from above.
- Intuition. This is different from your conscience. It is a form of wisdom that sparks your awareness that something is not right. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but there is a giveaway sign that you have perceived by God’s mercy, to withdraw from a situation. This intuition leaves you with confidence, and not anxiety.
- Righteous Judgment. It is similar to the conscience, but different. We all know right from wrong, even if those things were never written or taught to us (Rom 2:12-16). We know what is just and fair, because God has given us the ability to discern what is right and to choose what is right. There are many things that the answer is clear to us, and the only problem is that we don’t like it. Jesus said to make a righteous judgment (John 7:24).
- Scriptures. The Bible has already revealed the heart of God, and His will for men. God is not a god of disorder or contradiction, but of Wisdom and Truth. If what you are doing is in conflict with the laws of God, the greatest being LOVE, which are revealed in the Bible, you can be sure (without any additional bolt of lightning from heaven) that you’re in error. All scripture must be read and understood in line with the Chief Cornerstone (Eph 2:20), Jesus (and His teachings), by Whom came grace and truth (John 1:17). God often brings to our minds Scriptures in prayer or grants new understanding during Bible study/reading.
- Prophets. God used prophets in the past, and uses them even today. Prophets do not always have the appearance that they are prophets. Someone can be used as a prophet for one specific purpose, and may not even know that they have been used to communicate a message. God likes to use people to accomplish His purposes and may send a prophet to tell you which way to go. It may be your pastor, or your friend or a stranger. If you discern that they have spoken ‘wisdom’, do not reject the confirmation in your spirit (1 John 4:1), because you do not like what they have said. Check the other ways God confirms His word to what the prophet has revealed, and let the truth guide you. Only the humble are blessed by a prophet. You should thank God if you have been favoured to receive a message by His servant, and not shoot the messenger!
- Dreams and Visions. God can give us dreams to reveal His will. Dreams happen when we sleep. However, visions occur when you are awake, usually when you are praying or worshiping God. You may also have a vision in a dream, which is like a dream within a dream. You must pray for wisdom to discern the meaning, and also draw lessons from your dreams, which can guide decisions you make each day, or even the direction of your life. As a way to develop understanding and insight into your dreams, it is good to jot them down.
- Supernatural Occurrences. These are things that happen that you have no explanation for. Perhaps they break natural laws (miracles). They may happen before your eyes, or may be observed after they have happened, as a mystery. Pray for God to open your eyes to see what He is saying, so that you will not miss the message. You should also record these, because they are great faith builders when you are wondering where God is in a trial. You can remember the miracles He has done in times past, and be thankful and hopeful.
- Abilities. When making a decision about what to do with your life, your natural abilities are important to consider. They should be developed so that they are perfected for use. Abilities are given for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31) and the growth of His Kingdom. We shouldn’t be like the wicked Jesus spoke of, who buried his talent (Matt 25:26-27). Rather, we should exercise them in faith.
- Gifts. God also gives us special gifts (spiritual ability and prosperity), by which we can accomplish His will. If you do not know them or think you have any, you should pray for them to be revealed, and for God’s empowerment to do what is right. Even if your gift is intangible, you might be favoured, such that opportunities open up to you. When you are in His will, He will make grace abound for you (2 Cor 9:8), and you should continue in it that grace.
- Circumstance. Factors are variable agents that affect a situation. God can use your circumstance to let you know His will. Like when He closes a door for example. Try as you may, you cannot open the door. The answer is NO. Circumstance is not a clear judge, but it gives guidance as to what God’s will is.
- Passion. Our likes and dislikes are also factors. God doesn’t delight in working against us, but He has given us certain passions, to lead our lives in a particular direction, to fulfill a particular purpose. We should pay attention to this, even as we do not make the excuse of not doing everything we don’t like (or doing everything we like). This mode of knowing God’s will is more confirmatory, when other ways also convey His approval.
So, we have discussed our approach to prayer, its purpose and empowerment. Prayer has been said to be the life blood of a Christian. Worship is our essential connection, comparable to an umbilical cord, to God. Without it, we will surely shrivel up and die spiritually. Prayer, praise and thanksgiving are all different forms of worship, where prayer is the conversational aspect. As we mature in our prayer life, our praise and thanksgiving will also improve, and vice versa.
Praise and thanksgiving do not necessitate a response from God (though He may respond), but is a result of our immense awe and appreciation, which we often cannot and shouldn’t hold back (Luke 19:40). In our conversations, we will praise God (when we recognise who He is), and we will give Him thanks (when we consider what He has done). Praise and thanksgiving should precede prayer (Psa 100:4), but should also be embedded in it, and ideally close our time of worship too. We ought to continue in praise, thanksgiving and prayer throughout the day, abiding in worship continually.
This is the end of the first part of ‘Conversations With God’. I got the inspiration to write part two midway into writing this part because my understanding was being opened and I saw that there was so much more to this than I first imagined. I also realise that I needed this time to correct my own understanding, as there are many things that I don’t take time to do in prayer. I hope you have also been inspired and enriched. In the next part, I will look at what hinders our conversations with God, and how to break those barriers.
Photo credit: http://www.victorychurch.ws
If you liked this post, you might like CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD PART TWO
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