We’ve all been there before. A co-worker or a friend from church starts to take interest in your friendship. He and his wife invite you and your wife to have lunch together. Next, they invite you to their children’s birthday party. The relationship seems to be growing, until they invite you over for a dinner that quickly turns into that dreaded multi-level marketing pitch or a pyramid investment scheme. In that moment, you realize that this relationship is not a genuine friendship. When the intention behind a relationship is to use it as a tool to get something from you, it ceases to be fruitful. Most of us know not to do that in any of our relationships.
Or do we?
Let’s talk about prayer. What is the purpose of prayer?
If we believe the purpose of prayer is to get something from God, we will not progress in our relationship with him. If prayer is primarily seen as a way to get things, then we are using prayer as a tool. We need to remember that prayer is not a tool for getting things. Prayer is so much more.
In the book Answering God, a classic on praying the Psalms, Eugene Peterson points out that there are basically three types of language in the human vernacular. As children, the first language we learn, even before we learn to speak, is the crude gurgles of an infant that are short on grammar and content but rich in meaning. During this phase in our development, these gurgles provide high intimacy between parent and child. The first language we learn is the language of intimacy. Eventually, we develop ways to tell each other facts. This is the language of information. Finally, our communication becomes more sophisticated and we begin to use language to get what we want. This is called the language of motivation or persuasion. Three languages: intimacy, information and persuasion.
How does this apply to our prayer walk?
In our prayers, we will get the least out of prayer if we are trying to persuade God to move on our behalf. And while using our words to convey information is necessary in prayer, that is not the primary purpose of prayer. Information does little to inform an all-knowing God. Rather, the purpose of prayer is intimacy with God. If the purpose of prayer is to develop a closeness with God and His ways, we need to distill our prayer talk into simpler, more authentic and personal forms of communing with God. Not only is God not impressed with polished prayers, His longing is for us to grow deeply intimate with Him.
The famous description of prayer by Ellen G. White reminds us that “prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him” (Steps to Christ, p. 93). The goal of prayer is closeness and intimacy. It involves spending frequent time together, like when two friends walk and talk together honestly, openly, authentically. Let’s commit to meeting frequently with God and sharing what’s really on our hearts with the goal of growing into a more intimate relationship with God. And rather than reducing prayer to merely telling God what we want, let’s linger in prayer as a way to become one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.