The Privilege of Prayer
All throughout history, and across religious practices, people have prayed. Prayer is an instinctive practice, ingrained within the core of human nature. Catholics recite novenas, litanies, and liturgies written by the saints. Muslims lay down their rugs and pray five times a day, reciting the Qur’an in unison. Similarly, Jews traditionally pray three times a day. In the non-Abrahamic tradition of Buddhism, followers use wheels to pray for the accumulation of wisdom and merit while also sending out positive energy into the universe. Even the weary atheist, watching all that they know crumble before their eyes, desperately utters a few words to a God that he doesn’t even believe is there to listen.
Prayer is a global phenomena that inhabits all traditions and involves most people at some point in their lives. It is our natural instinct and deep desire to commune with the Divine Being. From the primitive peoples and suburban families to young urban professionals and A-list celebrities, all people pray. Sixteenth century Reformer John Calvin wrote that “there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity,” and as a result, “the seed of religion is planted in all.” Yet it’s not until we grow aware of the beauty of prayer, and the Divine Being that we commune with, that we find true life in it – and that’s where most of us struggle.
What is Prayer?
I define prayer as a grace-filled response to the conversation that God first started with us, allowing us to encounter him. The heart behind prayer is a desire for God – to know and be known by the Father in a deeper way. This must be our motivation. Jesus himself prioritized time with the Father – this was the source of his power, confidence, teaching, ministry, and vision. In the same way, and following in his likeness, he calls the Church to pray. Prayer must be central to all that we do, as the intimacy cultivated through time with the Father affects all else.
We so often treat prayer as a way to get things from God that we fail to see it as a way to get more of God Himself. In reflecting on his own prayer life, Phillip Yancey puts it like this: “I used to see prayer as a spiritual discipline, one of those things you’re supposed to do. Now I see it as a spiritual privilege, an opportunity to communicate with the Creator of the universe who loves me and gives me the ability to converse.” The Psalms prepare us to treasure Christ and train our hearts to desire him more. David, the author of most of the Psalms, wanted the presence of God more than anything. Psalm 42 says “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” While it is unclear who wrote Psalm 42, the Psalmist expresses an intense desire to know God intimately. As the deer pants for the water, so our souls thirst for the living God. We have been invited to appear before the Father in prayer, and we know that He hears us and He delights in us. This is the privilege of prayer.
As John Calvin said, across time and culture, we all have an awareness of divinity, but through prayer, we get direct access to the Divine One. In his presence, and through prayer, that awareness becomes a grace-filled encounter where we know God and are fully known by him.