Have you ever been frustrated by Prayer? Perhaps you don't know what to say? Maybe you ask yourself: "Should I adopt new terminology when I talk with God? Should I kneel, or go to church, or take a walk? Can I be casual with God, or should I revere Him as holy, with a degree of fear and awe?"
The best perspective I've received in the area of prayer is a diagram (above) that I saw when I was a young man, thirsty to better know the God who'd rescued me. Let's unpack this diagram.
The foundation of this diagram is a Bible verse that contains an obvious truth (one we often forget): God Knows What We Need Before We Ask Him. In fact, those are the exact words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when He says:
"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." – Matthew 6:7-8
Let's think this through. If God knows what I need before I ask Him, does that mean I don't need to badger God incessantly about my Grocery List of wants and needs? Because, He already knows? Really? Huh. That's sort of freeing.
The above diagram is solid, simple counsel. If God (Triangle/Trinity) already knows what I need, I (StickMan) don't need to obsess about my needs (X) in prayer. Instead, I can begin prayer by gazing at God, for who He is. I spend time with Him, rehearsing:
- His goodness and His sovereignty over all things and situations
- His mercy for my weaknesses
- His power over creation (and hopefully over my heart)
In other words, I stay put. I spend time gazing at the beauty of the Lord. How? By immersion in His Word. I read it. I write it out. I think about it. I reflect on what it reveals about God's character and heart. Above all else, prayer is designed for us to gaze at God.
But what do I do with my requests (X in the diagram)? I choose to glance at them, resisting the urge to make them more powerful (in my mind) than God. The problem most of us experience is we gaze at our requests, but only glance at God. We need is to gaze at God, but only glance at our requests.
Note the dotted line and the solid lines. The dotted line reminds us to merely glance at our needs (after all, God already knows them, right?). The solid lines remind us how prayer really works. We gaze at God, and then God Himself goes about the business of meeting our requests (in His own way, His own will, His own time).
You might ask, "Dan, does this mean I shouldn't make a laundry list of people, their needs, my needs, etc. to pray for?" I'll admit that's a hard question to answer. And remember that Jesus commends the poor widow who persists in a prayer of petition (Luke 18:1-8 – however, note that her persistence is for only one thing and she's desperate). Full disclosure: I use several pages at the back of my journal as a prayer list, filled primarily with people and needs. Nevertheless, I don't allow this list to crowd out my gaze at God in prayer. I choose to gaze at Him, knowing only He can solve needs.
So there's freedom, but I think gazing at God is better than gazing at your requests. I can confidently say: the repeated recitation of a need or name doesn't twist God's arm to get your way. Remember, He knows the need before you mention it to Him the first time (let alone, the 100th time). So, err on the side of gazing at Him, and merely glancing at your requests.
Prayer will no longer feel like a Have To but a Get To. Go ahead, give it a try. Open your Bible and reflect on what it says about him. Perhaps read Psalm 27 back to him, beginning sentences with, "Lord you are ..."
I'll get you started: (Psalm 27):
"Lord, you are my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? Lord you are the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? ..."
Gaze at Him!