God talks with us, and then we respond and bring our praise and petitions to him in prayer.
Stephen M. Luchterhand
One Internet provider with a national reach is advertising something called the Gig Life. Simply put, it’s really, really superfast Internet service. Technically, it’s described as up to 100 times faster than average broadband. The ads invite you to imagine what you could do:
• Run all your devices at the same time.
• Download 100 tunes in 3 seconds.
• Download an HD movie in less than 60 seconds.
• Upload 1,000 photos in about a minute.
No doubt about it, that’s fast, and while availability of one gig service is still quite limited, we’ve come a long way from the “stone age” of dial-up Internet service.
In the future, will there be better, faster, more powerful ways to communicate? Definitely—and soon—as exciting new advances in technology continue.
The flash and dash of the digital age can cause us to overlook this amazing truth: We need to look back in time in order to find the best, fastest, most reliable, and most powerful way to communicate. There is such a mode of communication, always has been: the two-way communication of prayer. In this dialogue with the divine, God speaks to us and, in turn, we can speak to him.
Many use prayer as one-way communication, tossing brief requests and comments God’s way without intending to hear from him. It’s easy to mimic our selfie-taking, self-promoting culture and treat God like he’s simply a follower on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media outlets. Do people (and God) really need to know where you are every single moment of every day or see a picture of every meal you eat? No, but God knows and sees anyway.
This one-way emphasis on dialogue with the divine screams, “Look at me, Lord! Pay attention! Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking!” It’s a terrible twisting of young Samuel’s words, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). It’s an approach that ignores the most important aspect of prayer: listening to God. It’s an approach that ignores the fact that a conversation with God isn’t even possible until God speaks to us.
How does God speak to us? Jesus the Good Shepherd says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). In John 15, Jesus speaks as the vine to the branches, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (v. 7). The connection between the words of Jesus and the invitation to pray is clear.
There is only one place to hear the voice and words of Jesus: the Word of God in the Bible. Here God’s Word is clear and unchanging. In the Scriptures, the voice of God is plain and powerful. If we want to be guided by God, we need to hear and know the Scriptures.
In the Scriptures, God invites us to pray, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). In the Scriptures, we learn of God’s great love for us. We learn of his plan to save us from our sins, and we delight in the fulfillment of that plan. In the Scriptures, by way of the Lord’s Prayer and other directions, Jesus teaches us how to pray.
Smartphone technology shapes our communication with others. Listening to God’s voice through his Word enables us to pray smart prayers. God’s Word shapes our prayers by informing us of God’s will. God’s Word guides our prayers by teaching us what to ask for and how to ask. God’s Word strengthens our faith, assuring us that our prayers are included in James’ declaration: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Armed with God’s invitation to pray and equipped with the knowledge and power of God’s Word, we speak to the God who so graciously speaks to us. Prayer is always accompanied by God’s Word. We respond to God’s invitation to pray. We trust his promise that he will hear and answer according to his Word and will. Often, we speak his very words—the Word of God in Scripture—back to him in our prayers.
God himself provides templates for our communication with him. While hundreds of prayers can be found throughout the Bible, there are three main places to find words of God to speak back to him in prayer. One place is essentially one prayer: the Lord’s Prayer. How often do you pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray? Weekly? Daily? Likely, more times than you can remember. It is easy to take this prayer for granted. It is easy to gloss over the rich texture of each petition.
Consider Martin Luther’s thoughts on what the Lord’s Prayer says about our heavenly Father:
We should be all the more encouraged and induced to pray by the fact that, in addition to giving us his command and promise, God himself takes the first step by supplying and putting into our mouths the words and pattern for the how and the what of our prayer life. He wants us to see how genuinely he is concerned about our needs, so that we may never question whether our prayers please him or are really answered. This gives the Lord’s Prayer a great advantage over all other prayers that we ourselves might devise (Luther’s Large Catechism).
The second storehouse of prayer is the book of Psalms. This book is both a beginner’s introduction and a master’s degree course in prayer. Gifted and Spirit-filled King David wrote nearly half of the 150 psalms. Every conceivable emotion and experience is found here: from fear and worry to praise and honor, from confession and repentance to joy and gratitude. The psalms speak to ordinary people experiencing the ordinary ups and downs, joys and sorrows, blessings and challenges of life. Many psalms are ready-made personal prayers, first-person missives both relevant and real. The book of Psalms is truly a prayer book for believers.
A third repository of prayer is found in the apostle Paul’s letters. His 13 New Testament letters feature dozens of prayers, both short and long. Some of Paul’s prayers are deeply theological, expressing spiritual truths in memorable ways. His Spirit-generated prayers direct our focus away from self, often expressing joy and thanksgiving to Jesus Christ. Paul often offers prayers for practical, ordinary things as well: sick friends, safe travel, courage to witness the gospel. The “others-centered” nature of his prayers teaches us to do the same.
Prayer is always accompanied by God’s Word. Prayer and the Word go hand in hand. Even when we don’t use specific Scripture in our part of the conversation, God’s Word is the focus. The invitation to pray, our desire to respond, and the content and form of our prayers all stem from contact with God and his Word.
True prayer is two-way communication, a dialogue with the divine. God speaks first, and we listen. Then we respond, and God listens. And the conversation continues.
Stephen Luchterhand is pastor at Deer Valley, Phoenix, Arizona.
This is the fourth article in a seven-part series on prayer.
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Author: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015
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