Why Does God Encourage Us to Pray?
It occurs to me that the quality of my prayers reflects the tone and depth of all of my relationships
Recorded by Brother Chris Sales
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 ESV).
Without a doubt, our relationship with God is the most important one in our lives. And yet, we all know that it waxes and wanes, affected by the vicissitudes of circumstance, health, and mood. That tendency toward inconstancy is not in Him; it is only in us.
Sometimes we use Him like an ATM machine, drawing on Him only in times of need when crises consume us. But God is not a machine that satisfies our periodic or immediate needs. God is alive and feeling, and He expects us to invest all of who we are in our relationship with Him.
God has invested so much in His relationship with us.
We realize we often neglect this greatest of relationships, failing to devote the time we need to keep it healthy, growing, and deepening in love and understanding. As I reflect on my own relationship with the Father, who has saved me from hopelessness, it occurs to me that the quality of my prayers reflects the tone and depth of all of my relationships. There is much work to do.
We all know that comfortable rut we fall into, the repetitive conversations that keep us engaged in a kind of warm and safe dialogue free of the dangerous turbulence of utterly open and transparent conversation. God speaks to us frankly in His Word, sharing Himself, His hopes for His people, His pleas for their obedience and loyalty, His hurt when they reject Him, His deepest intentions and plans, and His desire to save us from sin and death. And most importantly, He tells us about a vast and deep love that moved Him to sacrifice His beloved son so we might have hope.
God has invested so much in His relationship with us. His Word provides one half of a conversation, and we supply the other half through prayer. If my daily conversations with God are perfunctory, repetitive, superficial, and spoken or thought in a way that keeps Him at a “safe” distance from my wounds and my brokenness, then do I really love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind (Matt 22:37)? Do I trust Him (Prov 3:5-6)?
God encourages us through Paul to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18). To paraphrase: “Talk to me; talk to me a lot, not only when things are good or when you’re in terror and can’t find a way out of trouble. I want you to share with me all the time.”
That is what the passage is saying to us. He wants to know us, and He wants us to know Him and to see ourselves more clearly. We all have an abiding need for connection. God made us connect to Him and each other. Often, we wish those closest to us knew us better and that we knew them better too. But vulnerability is hard in this superficial world of Facebook fake glamor and idealized self-promotion.
Conversations that require the most vulnerable transparency between two people can alter the direction of a relationship and a life with a fiery, transformative power. But fire scorches, and these conversations involve courage and honest frankness that our culture avoids.
If one starts with a decision to disclose, there is always the risk of rejection, scorn or mockery. Will this person I care about or love continue to love me if they see and hear all my towering babel of inconsistencies, weaknesses, frailties, and heart-rending sorrows? Will they still stand by me? Will they want me?
Job pours himself out to his friends, crying out with shocking public grief and disappointment, mingled with stubbornly held strands of hope that keep him tethered to an Almighty God he cannot understand.
The person he has known and believed in all his life looks like He has abandoned him, and Job risks slipping into the encroaching darkness of despair as he contemplates the losses he has sustained and the grief that is drowning him. Uncomprehending friends exacerbate this grief with genuine initial efforts but then descend into the bitterest acrimony and condemnation. Job’s anguished vulnerability and naked disclosure of what is in his heart surely move us to the core.
Prayer is not poetry; it is not always pretty. Sometimes prayer is ugly, awkward, halting, and sometimes jumbled and inarticulate, but God considers our situation and condition and gives us compassionate help in that process (Rom 8:26-28).
Job’s passionate and exhausted outpourings (his prayers) are dangerous conversations that culminate in God speaking out of a tempest that directly reflects the surging emotional waters in Job’s heart. As he speaks, we know we are pigmies beside him, for this is a godly and righteous giant of a man.
He does not trundle out trite and well-worn phrases of the variety we can relate to in our public and private prayers. He cries out in agony; he shrieks; he argues; he pleads; he is truly, wholly, and only himself without masks, shorn of subterfuge and any kind of pretense, utterly vulnerable and diseased, a brave and broken man.
He, as good as accuses the LORD of not knowing what He is doing in bringing such horror into his life unjustly (in his mind). God does not strike him dead for impertinence. He knows the pain and turmoil this man is in. He stretches him to the breaking point and brings him closer to Him. Job’s prayers are vivid and intense. God encourages us to cry out to Him, to connect with Him in honest and heartfelt prayer (Psa 34:6; 61:2; Lam 2:18).
In the end, Job does not get answers to his questions. He humbles himself before God, accepts His actions, and recognizes the enormity of his ignorance. God is not always easily understood, but His actions are to be accepted with humility and, in the end, in quietness.
In compassion and with loving pity, God nurtures Job back to an even greater stage of maturity and strength. And what does God say to his friends? “My servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly.” (Job 42:8-9).
God talks to each of us in our own storms
Job is transformed through the experience of bereavement, loss, prayer and contemplation of the words and works of El Shaddai. We sit in shocked wonder as we read this book and realize that God talks to each of us in our own storms. Sometimes it takes a storm to turn and burnish a human heart. It may take a wilderness wandering to change us. It may require a shuddering, sweaty, bloody night-time garden wailing to the Father, without eloquence, polish, or refinement of expression, to put us into His hands, to trust Him completely. And this kind of prayer makes us better people than the people around us.
Job prayed for his friends, and a key part of our prayer life must be a concern for and lifting up of prayer for others. Continuously doing this deepens our relationships with those we pray for and strengthens families and ecclesias. (Eph 6:18).
We are encouraged to pray for guidance. None of this life in the Truth is natural or easy for us. We stray so easily and often off the path we should be on. Thus, the Psalmist writes, “Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow.” (Psa 25:4, NLT).
Our only hope for remaining in the faith and healthy in it is through the work of God in our lives, so we need to constantly pray for Him to guide us. We bring our wounds and shame to the Father and continually pray for the forgiveness of our sin, an enduring need in the days of our flesh (Psa 51, 32).
We pray for God’s Kingdom, “Let your kingdom come!” (Matt. 6:9-13) to keep that hope alive in our hearts. We pray for the preaching and the preachers of God’s Truth so the Gospel message may be heard among us and in the world in this age suffused with darkness.
Paul writes to the Ephesians:
God encourages us to make prayer a living, daily, continuous conversation with Him. That conversation is greater than any other we could ever have, and it changes us, readying us for life to come. As in all things, we become better at it with practice, and in time we find ourselves praying all through the day. And in times of trouble, through prayer, we come to grips with situations and recognize who we are and who God is. In Job and our lives, we see that prayer is the anvil on which God hammers out an enlarged faith in his struggling children.
May we all become men and women of prayer, and may that have a transformative power for our community.
Toronto West Ecclesia, ON