Prayer is neither a mantra nor a formula
“We will dominate by the power of prayer,” said one pastor. “Prayer always brings victory”, said another. “Prayer is power.” These are some statements which are exaggeration and untrue. The Bible has so many verses that teach prayer, models of saints praying to God and prayer requests of a variety of subject. However, Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching on prayer is very crisp and provides great insights for spiritual maturity and not spiritual pride or bragging.
Lord’s teaching on prayer
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6: 5-16)
- Christian prayer is unique
Prayer is unique or special in Christian spirituality. Prayer is not one way street or only petitions but conversation with God. This conversation is based on a firm relationship. This relationship provides privilege of prayer for the people of God and God eagerly listens to prayers. Psalmist gives a name to God as One who answers prayers. Psalmist states: “O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. (Psalms 65:2) God is alive and is active to be involved in our lives. Prayer is not monotonous toil, or pointless chants, or desperate mumblings but delightful fellowship with God.
- Who is the audience?
There are people who pray in religious places like synagogues and even in street corners, and their performance or gimmick is seen by other people – a huge captive audience. Lord Jesus Christ said that if people have seen their performance and applauded it, then the purpose for which the prayer was done – praise of people, is received and thus the reward is immediate. Such prayers have only immediate effect on audience and no further. Prayer is neither a performance to be seen and admired by people nor for public consumption. Prayer is humble worship and adoration of God.
- Privacy and Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ taught that the prayer is not a public display but a private conversation with God. Yes, there is a place for congregational prayer, however, most prayer time is an intimate, private conversation and fellowship with God. When people pray in secret, secluded form the crowd, God answers such prayers openly for all people to see. In nutshell, prayer should be private while answers to prayers would be public.
Intimate conversations happens in private. Husband and wife could have intimate private conversations, however, in public their conversation is limited. Spiritual fellowship with God happens in sweet ‘alone’ time with God.
- No Empty phrases (mantra)
Lord Jesus reinforces the fact that prayer is a meaningful conversation not chanting of mantras. Pet phrases and repetition of such phrases is not prayer. There are no sacred or power phrases. The mindless mechanical repetition is not considered prayer in Biblical spirituality. Yes, there are situations when a person is unable to utter words because of distress and pain like Hannah. (I Samuel 1: 13) Prayer is not mindless repetition or chants of some words or phrases but delightful heartfelt conversation with God.
That means, involvement of mind is essential is Christian spirituality. Paul writes, “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” (I Corinthians 14:15) Christian spirituality does not bypass mind or ignore mind. Mind is active in spiritual experience and not a passive spectator.
- Not many words (Formula)
Lord Jesus Christ pointed out to those who made prayer a vocabulary gymnastics. Ornamental words, technical words, theological words, evangelical words, pietistic words, sacred words in prayer do not impress or impact God. In a parable taught by Lord Jesus Christ: The prayer of the Pharisee was rejected while the simple commoner’s prayer from his heart was accepted. (Luke 18:9-14) Pharisee’s prayer was from his head without the involvement of his whole being, while commoner’s prayer was utterance from his whole being. The words of Pharisee also shows pride. Prayer was a platform to display his pomp and pride: social and spiritual. God rejects pride and is against the proud. (James 4:6)
- Based on relationship: Father
Christian spirituality is based on a relationship with the creator God as Father. This relationship is possible only through His Son Lord Jesus Christ. Those who come to the Eternal God who is the Ultimate Judge, have to come through the Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God. Without this faith relationship based on the knowledge that a person is sinner and is forgiven by the virtue of the death and resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ; there is no relationship with God. This understanding of God as Father reveals a family relationship that is homely and intimate. Also it makes disciples as children who are dependent on His Power, His Grace, His Wisdom and His Timing. This relationship transforms every conversation with the Father as prayer.
- Approach with Fear: Holiness
Prayer is to approach God with reverence, fear and worship. God is Holy that means he is without sin or evil or impurity or defile and any trace of unholy intention. Those who come to his presence know their unworthiness; worship and exalt God for His Holiness; plead with repentance and then petition their requests. Moses understood God as Holy. (Exodus 3:1-15) Isaiah saw the vision, where God is seen as Holy. (Isaiah 6:1-6) Peter falls at Lord Jesus feet and declares himself as sinner. (Luke 5:8) This moral and spiritual attribute of holiness of God is unknown in many religions.
- About Him, His Kingdom, His will
Prayer is God-centered and not human-centered. Prayer is to acknowledge His Kingship and be grateful citizens of His Kingdom. God as Sovereign ruler has his Will that has to be acknowledged and accepted. Prayer helps a person to move from petty and personal fiefdom mentality to God’s Kingdom paradigm; selfish desires, aspirations, and will to God’s will. Prayer is to know the responsibilities as a citizen has in the Kingdom of God, discerning God’s will in the world and actively execute it.
- Physical or worldly needs
Christian prayer is about pouring our hearts to God perplexed by the pressing needs in a puzzling world. However, this comes after discerning Kingdom values and God’s will. Physical, material, emotional, moral, intellectual and spiritual needs could be asked and received with gratefulness. God provides these according to his Will. Power and Riches and not human whims and fancies. (Ephesians 5:20-21)
- Spiritual need of forgiveness
Christian prayer reminds a person that s/he is a forgiven sinner. Forgiveness is God’s gracious offer and gift. It cannot be demanded as birth right of humans. Lord Jesus Christ took the penalty of sin, i.e. death on himself and hence we could plead for forgiveness. God expects those who experience graciousness to be gracious and generous towards others. Hence, forgiving others, even when they do not repent or request is higher form of Christian spirituality.
- Spiritual strength and protection
As long as humans live on this earth, there would be struggles against satanic forces, temptations and imperfection and immaturity of others. There is a great need for strength to face the power of darkness and world. Spiritual victory and protection is needed which only God almighty could provide. Hence, prayers are expression of human weakness and vulnerability, pleading for His powerful protection.
- Transformation: Forgiving others
Prayer results in personal transformation. The selfishness is replaced by other-mindedness. Narrow-mindedness is replaced by broad-mindedness. Condemning or judging attitude is replaced by redemptive attitude. Hence, a person becomes God conscious that s/he is always grateful to God. That grateful heart is expressed in gracious attitude towards others. Thus, forgiving others becomes expression of Christian spiritual maturity.
Prayer is a vital aspect of Christian spirituality. It is a dynamic, living, and intimate relationship with God. Prayer has no power apart from prayer answering God. Prayer is not piety that earns merit for our salvation. The rich meaningful, purposeful and delightful communication with God is real Christian prayer.