Prayer is a mystery but it is an important part of God’s plan.
The secret mechanisms and workings of prayer are not fully revealed to us and so remain a mystery. Why, for example, does the omniscient God (who knows everything in advance) and who is all powerful, ask his people to pray? We cannot explain, classify, analyse or understand everything because God’s thoughts and ways are not our own. God wants us to pray because it “is good, and pleases God our Saviour” (1Timothy 2:3). On several occasions in the Bible, God asks for prayer before acting or intervening. For example, God speaks to Abimelek and says he will be saved from punishment as Abraham will pray for him (Genesis 20:7). Note that this intervention by God arises from the prayer which He himself has commanded: “he will pray for you and you will live” (Genesis 20:7).
Another biblical example: God says to Eliphaz that Job will pray for him and that he will be forgiven (Job 42:8). God could have acted autonomously but, instead, he calls for Job’s collaboration and participation before acting and intervening.
The apostle Paul wrote: “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1Corinthians 3:9). God wants to work with men to accomplish his plans.
Prayer is not a way of getting what we want but, rather, the way of becoming who God wants us to be.
Not what I want but what God wants for me. Jesus himself expressed this in prayer when he said: “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In fact, praying is letting yourself be moulded or sculpted by God. It requires our availability, time, openness and desire to become who God wants us to be. Praying involves making ourselves available for God to allow him to carry out what he has wanted for a long time. Through prayer, God wishes to change us.
Prayer is the overflowing of our hearts.
“Prayer is not the reverberation of sound; it is the articulation of love” (Saint Augustine). Authentic prayer is an expression of our feelings, our innermost thoughts. It is an intense power which bubbles away within us. Praying allows us to express our pains, worries and sorrows. If you are experiencing a spiritual dry spell or hardship, tell God for he listens, understands and shows compassion. Prayer is a declaration of our dependence upon God. I cannot manage without his presence, his power, his peace or his interventions in my daily life. In prosperity or adversity, I think of God and God thinks of me (Psalms 40:17). When we understand how much we depend upon God, how much we need him, we cannot stop praying.
Prayer is “the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s blessings” (John Calvin).
Praying is not a way of passing on a list of requests to God. No, prayer is the most effective way of nourishing, enriching, intensifying our relationship with God. Those who pray receive great rewards from their prayers before they even receive what they have requested.
Praying is seeing oneself, others and the world through the eyes of God:
When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny. (Psalms 73:16-17).
Prayer gives us another perspective, that of God. When we pray, it is not only our perspective but also our attitude which changes because, through prayer, God communicates his love, compassion and, at the same time, removes hatred from our hearts.
Prayer is also listening to God. To know how to speak, we also need to know how to listen.
The story about Samuel being called by God to become a prophet provides us with a wonderful description of listening to God in prayer. It is Eli who trains Samuel to listen to God. When God speaks to Samuel, Samuel responds with this simple, short and intelligent prayer: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). In the Bible, prayer involves listening to God in the profound sense of the term, it means being submissive to God and obeying him. In prayer, God wants to speak to us and tell us of important issues.
The goal of prayer is to glorify God. We are called to praise him.
What is the glory of God? In the Old Testament the word “glory” is the translation of a Hebrew word meaning “weight”. Theologians tell us that God’s glory is the sum of all his attributes, appearances, interventions and character traits.
The glory of God is like the fragrance which emanates from a bouquet of flowers, each flower represents one of God’s attributes or one of his interventions: power, holiness, grace, justice, love, majesty, generosity, wisdom, omnipresence, mercy, anger, goodness… Praising God means recognising that he alone is worthy of receiving the honour, power and glory. Praying also prepares me for welcoming and receiving the response of God and, particularly, recognising his intervention, the irruption of God into my daily life. When our prayers have the glory of God as their goal our own requests are transformed.