In Timothy Keller’s book “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God,” Keller tells us “To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be wholly depend on God for everything.” There is nothing more important or enriching than having a personal relationship with God. When you take time to walk with God each day through prayer, your relationship will grow with him. As Christians, we are called to pray. Philippians 4:6 tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” While many of us strive to have an active prayer life, growing in intimacy with God is a challenge for many Christians, simply because we haven’t received guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. Simply put, we were never really taught how. Yet, there’s hope, particularly when we enter a practice of prayer that works for us, and we are intentional about it.
If you’re looking to grow in your relationship with God, it’s important that you understand what prayer is. According to Keller, prayer is a conversation, an encounter. “All prayer is responding to God. In all cases God is the initiator – “hearing” always precedes asking. God comes to us first or we would never reach out to him.” Many of us are programmed to believe that we are the one’s seeking God, when God is really the one seeking us before we even raise our prayers to Him. “Prayer as a spiritual gift is a genuine, personal conversation in reply to God’s specific, verbal revelation,” says Keller. When we understand God better, we pray better. While many of us engage in conversations that are relatively superficial, engaging in prayer with God can be more than that. Keller says “Persons can exchange information without much self-disclosure. Some conversations, however, go deeper and we sense that both of us are revealing not just information but our very selves. The conversation then becomes a personal encounter, a true connection.” This is the relationship we hope to have with God through prayer, seeking God through deep, meaningful, open and connected conversations. Prayer is vulnerable. When we fully engage in this act, we begin to open ourselves up in ways that we may mask to the ones we are closest to. The beautiful thing is that when we allow ourselves to let go through engagement in prayer, we can develop a relationship so powerful that we sense fullness, a completeness that is hard to walk away from.
We should actively participate in prayer. Too many of us fall short by only lifting up our concerns to God when we’re in situations of need and desperation. According to Keller, prayer is a duty and a discipline. “Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not…We should pray when we feel like we’re not get anything out of it.” No, this won’t always be easy. Keller writes “Prayer is always hard work, and often an agony. We sometimes have to wrestle even in order to pray. When those hours of the day come in which we should be having our prayer-sessions with God, it often appears as though everything has entered into a conspiracy to prevent it.” How many of us can relate to this? We get sidetracked and tell ourselves later or tomorrow, and the time doesn’t ever really show up. Why? Because we’re not truly intentional about it. But as Christians we are in constant need of prayer. There may be times where God grants us peace and tranquility, but we never outgrow a need to struggle and persevere in prayer.
There are different kinds of prayer we lift up to God. Keller says there are three basic kinds. “There is ‘upward’ prayer – praise and thanksgiving that focuses on God himself. We could call this the ‘prayer of awe.’ Then there is inward prayer –self examination and confession that bring a deeper sense of sin and, in return a higher experience of grace and assurance of love. That is the prayer of intimacy. Finally, there is ‘outward’ prayer –supplication and intercession that focuses on our needs and the needs of others in the world. This prayer requires perseverance and often entails struggle,” Keller says. Knowing the three types of prayer to God will help you better understand where your prayer focus is.
If you want to ultimately grow in our relationship with God, you have to self-examine and repent but not simply as a response to the sins you know we’ve committed, but as a way to continuously grow in your relationship with our Heavenly Father. Keller explains “Our prayer life is the place where we should examine our lives and find the sins that otherwise would be too insensitive or busy to acknowledge. We should have regular times of self-examination, using guidelines that come from biblical descriptions of what a Christian should be.” If we want to better our prayer life, it’s imperative that we are in tune with the Scripture, studying and understanding where our spiritual fruits are. These spiritual fruits can be anything from love, joy, patience, and self-control among others. When we know what these fruits are in our lives, and we become in tune with them, we can then take the time for spiritual check-up and examination by engaging in those fruits during prayer and meditation.
We are taught as Christians that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God, but we fall short. But when we work at our prayer lives daily, and make it a point to be accountable with God, we begin to enter a space of full vulnerability and openness to receive God’s work in our lives. Prayer is more personal and powerful when we accept prayer not as a daily or daunting task, but as a way of life. When we strive for closeness with Him, we grow in our intimacy with Him and can ultimately deal with the everyday challenges we face. Let go and let God in your life today.