Growing up, prayers were introduced to me as rote memorized words that were repeated regularly to God. Some were recited daily, like grace before meals. Others were generally reserved for our corporate weekly gatherings and were exhorted together out loud.
Since my first introduction to prayer, I have grown in my understanding and practice of talking with God. My time spent in prayer is so rewarding and fulfilling that I often forget how many years it has taken for God to lead me into this rich and meaningful practice of spending time with Him.
So, what is prayer?
People pray in all cultures, and everyone prays in a crisis. Why do we do that?
I grew in my understanding of prayer through a course called Alpha. For more than 20 years, millions of people have taken the Alpha course to explore life and faith in a friendly, open and informal environment. Kensington offers an 8-week session, starting this month, designed to explore foundational questions of the Christian faith over a shared meal while getting to know people. It is for everyone, regardless of backgrounds or beliefs. One of the Alpha speakers, Nicky Gumball, sums up the importance of prayer perfectly: “Prayer is the most important activity of our lives. It’s the very purpose for which we were actually made: to have a love relationship with God. And all love relationships thrive on communication. The more we communicate, the more we grow in love, the more our love flourishes. And it’s the same in our relationship with God.”
It’s that simple! Prayer is communicating with God. There isn’t another way to grow in love. It would be weird to expect to grow closer to God without communicating with him. It would also be weird to rely exclusively on a one-way conversation, without giving God some time to speak as well.
We pray to have access to God the Father! He is creator and lover of our souls! His love for each of us is complete, unconditional, and beyond our wildest hopes. Ephesians 2:18 says, “For through Jesus we both (Jew and Gentile) have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
We also pray because there are rewards. Matthew 6:6 tells us, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”.
And we pray because there are results. Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
OK, I’m going to be honest, this is where I sometimes get caught up. Does God really reward prayers? And is it true that there are always results from our prayers? Doesn’t it seem like the “results” are arbitrary and inconsistent at best, and absent at worst!? I won’t lie, this is something I have to continually wrestle with. Maybe you’re like me, and your prayer time often feels more like a wrestling match than a polite conversation. There was a time I would have been embarrassed to admit that because I thought it was a weakness and that I lacked faith.
But I have learned that God can handle anything I bring to him, including my doubts, fears, confusion and anger. It was when I learned to pray in complete honesty that my love relationship with God became real and deep. I can trust God to know me completely and love me completely. It doesn’t make sense to try hiding parts of myself from him!
So, what is the truth in these scriptures? Here’s what I find to be true. God does reward us. His rewards are: His presence, peace, perspective, and power!
And there are results from prayer. God answers prayers with “yes,” “no” or “wait.” He may not be comparable to a genie in a bottle who grants our every wish exactly how we hoped. But, I don’t believe that is what He promised. When we ask, knock, and seek, we will find. We will find God! And that is our true and ultimate joy.
Finally, how should we pray?
Do you struggle with where to start or what to say or do when you pray? I’ll conclude with this simple format suggested in the Alpha talk on prayer. THANK YOU. SORRY. PLEASE. (And then, don’t forget to wait and listen. God just might have some things to say to you as well!)
Prayer is one of the many topics we dig into during the Alpha course. We have Spring Alpha courses kicking off at several Kensington campuses. Come join us to share a meal, watch an Alpha talk, and have interesting discussions at your table around weekly topics like prayer, the bible, how God guides us, and more. Everyone is welcome, and no questions or ideas are out of bounds. Learn more and register at www.kensingtonchurch.org/alpha
-Charlotte Kelly, Kensington Orion Discipleship Director