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Understanding Prayer


By Benjamin H. Liles

          Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know. ~ Jeremiah 33:3, Holman Christian Standard


          I have to admit that today I'm feeling a little bit left of center. Let me explain why. I'm not the best at prayer. I do pray, but I can't begin to tell you how to pray, what to pray for, or how to build it. Seriously. This is what I mean by "left of center." So, how can I teach on something that I feel I lack? The truth is that while I feel my prayer life is devoid, or of little effect, I do believe there is a way to understand how to get it developed.

          Building an active prayer life with God, I think, starts with Him being the active participant. Do we willingly come in contact with Him at the outside? Or is it Him quietly coming to us and showing Himself to us? Jeremiah records the words God tells him, "Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3, New American Standard). We call on Him it would seem. Or do we?

          Moses recorded: "There was also born a son to Seth, and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on Yahweh's name" (Genesis 4:26, World English). I have a question here, however. How do you call on someone you don't know the name of? That would feel a little awkward. The men that are spoken of in Genesis 4:26 must have received the Lord's name otherwise how else could they "call on" His "name?"

          When Moses was sought out by God, He responded to Moses by saying, "God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:14, King James). But how did Moses know he was being called by God? Exodus 3:2-3 provides that answer: "The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.”

          It seems God calls to us in the way we will understand and give Him an adequate response. To me, that means prayer is actually initiated by God, not so much by us. John records in his last letter, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20, Berean Bible). He invites us in a calming and personable manner.

          Really, it's the same as when Abraham took on by faith what he did. "The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you.

             "I will make you a great nation, 
              and I will bless you.
           I will make you famous,
             and you will be a blessing to others.
              I will bless those who bless you,
             and I will place a curse on those who harm you.
          And all the people on earth
             will be blessed through you.”

            So Abram left Haran as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. At this time Abram was 75 years old. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and everything they owned, as well as all the servants they had gotten in Haran. They set out from Haran, planning to go to the land of Canaan, and in time they arrived there" (Genesis 12:1-5, Expanded).

          I guess what I can say definitely about prayer and in developing it is that it starts with God; who calls us to have a relationship with Him. It grows and builds through our faithful service in Him. In Abraham's case God called, Abraham obeyed. It is this reason the writer of Hebrews writes of Abraham, "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:8-10, New American Standard). 

          Our relationship with God, even in prayer, depends on our reaction to Him. Faith, even though it is defined as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval" (Hebrews 11:1-2). In other words, the faith and obedience we give God determines how we will live before and with Him, or if we choose to disobey Him, the lack thereof. 

          Knowing this then in understanding prayer, how to build it, how to listen and all starts off with us listening to God. It's a chance to allow Him to use you to not just be used in and by you, but to help you grow; to mature and to live a life of service to Him. It's a call in which He wants to reveal Himself to you. It means He wants to walk with you, to show you things you could never dare to dream on your own. It is a calling in and of itself where He's basically daring you to go and help change lives. 

          Really and truly, I on my own, I don't know how to adequately pray. Truly, I don't. Even this morning, I kept hearing this as I was thinking about what the real purpose of this website/blog, this ministry is about. I have come to the conclusion the purpose God is calling me is to "Empower and enrich by giving encouragement in evangelizing His word" to those who desperately need Him. I do all of this because I feel called to do so. Yes, I am doing it by faith and obedience to that calling. But I also do it because I love Jesus for what He's done on my behalf. He saved me from the punishment, which I deserved, by taking it Himself, thus extending His righteousness to and through me. That's how I see it.

          Father, I don't always understand the way You desire me to go. I can't always understand what it is You show me. I go as I sense You doing this work in and through me. In a way I believe it's not just You wanting me to be more like You, but to follow and learn from You. If this is what an active prayer life is, me depending on You and You therefore showing me what You are doing, then I'm all for it. I'd rather be used by You than not to be used at all. It's like You said to your servant Isaiah, "Whom will I send? Who will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8, International Standard). I still don't have an idea of what prayer is, how to do it effectively, or live my life using it. All I know is it's Your way of showing me what it is You're doing. If prayer is dependence and reliance on You, I can and am willing to do it. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.