I once heard a story about a young boy’s family who went to his grandmother’s house for dinner. Once the food was placed on the table, the boy quickly fixed his plate and began to eat. His mother said, “We haven’t asked God to bless the food yet. You know that at home we always say a prayer before we eat.” The boy replied, “But we don’t have to say a prayer here. This is grandma’s house. She knows how to cook.” This silly story illustrates how easy it is for prayer to be neglected, and we should be careful not to make a habit of neglecting to pray because prayer is a blessing for two primary reasons.
First, prayer is a blessing because it is the avenue through which we are invited to communicate with God. Do you remember what God did before He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? In Genesis 18:17, we are told that “The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do.’” In other words, God decided to communicate His plan for Sodom and Gomorrah with Abraham because of His intimate relationship with Abraham. Did God need Abraham’s approval? No. Did God need Abraham’s input? No. Did God owe it to Abraham to keep him in the loop? No. God shared His plan with Abraham simply because God loved Abraham. After hearing God’s plan, Abraham boldly and respectfully expressed his concerns and requests to God. In Genesis 18:23, we are told that “Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” Then Abraham began negotiating a bare minimum number of righteous people that would prevent God from destroying Sodom. Did God grow impatient with Abraham’s requests? No. Did God chastise Abraham’s brazenness? No. Did God get angry at Abraham for this negotiation process? No. God graciously allowed Abraham to communicate with Him, to weigh in, to share His thoughts, concerns, and requests. What God did not allow is for Abraham’s will to usurp His own. Abraham’s interaction with God illustrates that prayer is a blessing because it is the avenue through which God invites us to communicate with Him. No wonder we encounter statements like “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2), “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and “pray at all times” (Ephesians 6:18) throughout the Bible. The implication of these verses is that God wants to hear from us, and the lesson to be gleaned from Abraham’s example as well as these passages is that God invites us to communicate withHim, and that makes prayer a blessing.
Second, prayer is a blessing because it is powerful. The New Testament authors advocate for the consistent use of prayer because it has the ability to affect change. Paul instructed the church in Philippi to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6), and James said, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). Nowhere is this mentality toward prayer illustrated better than in the aftermath of Herod Agrippa’s persecution against the leaders of the first century church. According to Acts 12:1-5, Herod executed James and then, after realizing his actions pleased the Jews, arrested Peter with the apparent intent of executing him. The night before Peter was to stand trial before Herod, the church gathered to pray (Acts 12:6, 12). They were in a heightened state of concern because there was a very real possibility they would lose Peter in addition to James, and their response to such a dire situation was to pray for God’s intervention. In fact, Acts 12:5 says that “earnest prayer for [Peter] was made to God by the church.” This detail indicates that they did not think the matter was too big for God to handle nor did they think the matter was too far gone for God to address. In other words, they approached prayer with the belief that God was listening, had the power to do something about the situation, and would heed their requests as long as they aligned with His will. This example of the first century church’s prayer life indicates that they did not consider prayer to be inconsequential. Instead, they treated prayer as though it was the most important tool at their disposal, and the lesson to be gleaned from them is that prayer is a blessing because it has the ability to affect change.
Since prayer is a blessing, we must not neglect it or abuse it. In order to prevent neglect and/or abuse, there are two things we need to understand about prayer.
First, we need to understand that prayer is an essential part of our relationship with God. Before presenting the model prayer, Jesus gave some instructions about prayer. In Matthew 6:5, He said, “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites” and went on to criticize attention getting prayer. Then, in Matthew 6:7, He said, “when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do” and went on to criticize performance based prayer. Did you catch the clause that appeared in both of those verses? In both statements, Jesus said, “When you pray”—not “if you pray” but “when you pray.” That word “when” indicates that prayer is an EXPECTATIONrather than an OPTION. Thus, we must regularly participate in prayer so that we are not guilty of neglecting to fulfill one of God’s expectations.
Second, we need to understand that the purpose of prayer is not to inform God, as if He doesn’t know what is going on, nor is it convince God, as if it is a method of negotiation. Instead, the purpose of prayer is to consult God. The reason prayer is more akin to a consultation is because prayer is ultimately designed to align our will with His. This is exemplified in Jesus’ garden prayer when, after asking God to “remove this cup from me,” He concluded by saying, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In like manner, we must prioritize the pursuit of God’s will in our prayer life so that we are never guilty of attempting to abuse prayer for our own selfish ambitions.
I once read about a prayer practice in which early African converts to Christianity apparently engaged. Each individual reportedly had a spot in the thicket where he or she would go to spend time in prayer with God. Over time the path to such places became well worn through the individual’s frequent travel upon it. However, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent because the well worn path began to disappear back into the brush. When this happened, fellow believers would kindly remind the negligent one that they needed to reignite their prayer life by saying, “The grass grows on your path.” Is grass growing on your path? If it is then you are failing to benefit from the blessing of being heard by God.