As my mid-section droops, my reading glasses increase in strength and as I get a bit on with the middle of my rigorous, wonderful life in Christ, I ask myself, "What am I learning about deepening my communion and so, my relationship, with God and Jesus Christ?” About "prayer"?
In response, I’d like to share six learnings and leanings — things I’ve learned or am coming to know more fully — about intimately engaging with Father in heaven. These impressions beaded themselves together in a spiritual necklace, if you will, of personal reflections, as I considered the approach of the National Day of Prayer.
1. The law of asking
Why does God — the literal Father of our spirits — ask us to pray if all-powerful? There are lots of answers offered, but a salient one in my mind is that there is a fundamental law of asking. God operates by many laws — including those of justice and mercy and agency and the law of asking (1 John 5:14, Matthew 18:22).
As one Christian writer puts it, "To gain a knowledge of divine truth, man must obey the law by which he can receive personal revelation from God. In addition to receiving the ordinances of the gospel, that law requires that man ask of God and that he love and respect his fellow men." (H. Andrus, "Principles of Perfection," Deseret Book: 1994)
2. Satan, the adversary, is not neutral on the matter of prayer
As one Christian Latter-day Saint woman said, "the adversary is not neutral about prayer. He not only doesn't want us to pray, he will try to stop us from praying." (M.A. Edmunds, "Year of Powerful Prayer, Deseret Book, 2013)
I've come to learn to recognize how brilliant an administrator of distraction and diversion he is as I desire to more fully engage. I must make a willing determination to recognize the source of those interruptions and overcome them by praying. He is really an adversary despising his spiritual opposite, our Advocate. Because prayer is the key to the door of the Advocate's and Father's power and presence, it shouldn't surprise us that Satan will be viciously attempting to thwart every effort to talk with God. I'm getting better at remembering that.
3. There is a difference between gratitude and worship
I've been reflecting on my worship and the nature of true worship on and off for a couple of years. In studying Mary, the mother of Jesus; the Q/A between Jesus and the woman at the well; Paul’s expressions; and the Psalms, I've come to learn more about worship. Worship is more than thanksgiving and gratitude, though it's a close kin to each. Gratitude can ignite worship, but the two are not synonymous.
I'm learning that worship is real self-abandoned adoration and expressions of joy at what God is doing, has done, will do — expressed from us to him. I like a metaphor John MacArthur used about the incense ascending to heaven in the Tabernacle. The perfume is a sweet scent arising from us straight to heaven. It can't be duplicated and it's a gift from us to God.
Imagine: Every God-driven force in the universe, powered by his love and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, is operating now to work the maximum good for the vastest number of his children. That's something to be awed; that speaks of a Godhead to be revered and honored.
4. Hourglass principle: getting deeper in prayer
It's easy to start talking with God and let out whatever spills over from our mind's databank at the moment. That's the top of the hourglass. As we stay at it, persist, continue to pray, pass the surface skim, the superficial stuff, thinking of what is really in our heart, more substance evolves, a flow begins to come. The Spirit intercedes, helps us to say what was in our "wordless center" or to bring it forth in thought and feeling.
It's in that space that we speak and feel our deepest desires, longings, hopes, thoughts, regrets. Breaking through, we reach God, we discover what's in our heart that we may not even have realized — and we pour it out. We pass through the center of the hourglass.
That's where we feel the connection, we know we have been heard and received and we are changed by the very engagement with God. We are filled with peace. We get up and we know he will also provide answers; we are changed whether or not our circumstances immediately are. We know they will be touched by his hand. We move forward in faith, expectantly. We can move about anxiety-free. I believe that. I know that to be true.
5. Crying out is not synonymous with praying
I thank the gospel writers and Bill Gothard, who wrote about this, for driving this home. I love Psalm 107. When those afflicted cried out vocally — in all types of circumstance, hardship or vulnerability, represented by the four descriptions in this psalm — deliverance and answers came in a significant and notable way (“The Power of Crying Out," 2002). I cry out more.
6. Prayer: get real, just sayin’
Prayer isn't or shouldn't be ritualistic, flamboyant, artificial or disconnected from real and present struggles and circumstances. This is something I've felt for a long time, since coming to know God in 1980. Praying is not “saying a prayer." It's talking with God, anywhere, in any sincere way, though he has given us a template to assist us.