So this idea in Sunday’s lesson that we should pray because we’ll receive power from it just doesn’t seem that great to me. There are a lot of people out there — and I have been one of them — who pray just because they’re told they are supposed to, even if they don’t think very highly of God or think much about Him at all.
They don’t have a picture of Him as their Love and their Friend; they see Him as a distant King Who can grant gifts. And they are told to speak to Him because it’s their duty and because they can make requests and ask for miraculous healings and the like.
Obligation Implies an Impatient God
I think that type of prayer distorts their picture of God even more. It’s prayer out of obligation, which implies that He is a demanding, impatient person with very little understanding of how relationships work. But real prayer is a joyous sharing of the self with the only Person Who will ever understand you fully.
It’s a privilege. It’s delicious. I used to relish my times of prayer because I could feel myself growing and gaining new thoughts and new mental pathways. When I had painful times in my day, I got excited because I knew I would talk with God about it that night. So I know it’s possible to anticipate prayer like a rich dessert, and yet people command us to pray, rather than motivating us to want to do it.
Working to Express God’s Love in Every Medium
I think we as teachers and evangelists should be doing everything possible to express, through every mode of communication, through every art form, an absolutely amazing love coming from God that just makes you tear up and weak at the knees and makes you automatically want to cry out to God.
People need to see Someone Who is so friendly that they just want to chat with Him and tell Him everything. We as teachers and evangelists — as Christians — need to express an atmosphere of such peace and delicious love people want to be inside that experience.
It reminds me of how C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia makes you feel like you really want to be in Narnia with the Christ-like Lion Aslan. Or how a great preacher tells stories God’s love and faithfulness that touch your heart.
But maybe there’s something I’m missing. Maybe even if someone doesn’t really think highly of God, they could still pray in a trite formula and that would be better than no prayer at all. We all start somewhere. I know that’s where I started.
Well, what I know for sure is that if people were so excited about God that they could hardly wait to spend time with Him, that would be the best of all. And so I want to put energy and hard work into expressing a God Who is so loving that people catch that desire.
Prayer Formulas are Training Wheels
To be fair, in the later days, the lesson explains some of the prayer habits of Jesus and the apostles and highlights principles of prayer that seem all right — Jesus going out early in the morning to pray, for example. It also gives a general outline of prayer: starting with praise and thankfulness, moving into confession, and finally making requests.
I just don’t want to pray in formulas, I guess. Prayer for me is just opening up about my life to a Friend. It’s not about meditating on a verse from the Psalms, as the lesson suggests, because for me it’s about sharing my actual, real life, not something David wrote.
Well, there’s probably nothing wrong with using formulas sometimes. But I would hope they’re only the first step in a learning process. With practice, you can eventually talk to God as a Friend, if you trust Him to accept you, if you catch a vision of His love. And I recommend never pretending to feel more for Him than you really do; instead, ask Him to reveal Himself to you in the way that you need.
And finally, after many conversations with God, every breath seems to be a prayer as you realize that you want to have the atmosphere of Heaven with you everywhere you go, in every situation of life.
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)