Prayer is the easiest thing to do in the world… even a child knows how. Prayer is the hardest thing to do in the world… even the most devout and serious believer struggles with it, at times. Prayer is the simplest thing to describe… it is talking to God. Prayer is the most complicated thing in the world to define… it has so many nuances and applications, settings and expressions, when it comes to religious exercises.

There is a certain amount of instinctiveness about prayer, so that everyone has a sort of an understanding of what it is and how it is done. People, who are not particularly religious, practice rudimentary prayer whenever they are in trouble and call on God. Children find prayer easy, because it is natural for them to simply talk to God. It is only as we get older that we struggle more with prayer because we are taught to doubt God’s existence… how can you talk to God when you are no sure about him. The greatest tragedy of the modern era is that prayer has become an end in itself, as though there is benefit in just the exercise of prayer alone, regardless of who you pray to or whether not God actually exists. For post-Christian cultures, ironically, spirituality has become extremely important. Nevertheless, post-Christian spirituality, not only lacks the conviction that there is an all-powerful, loving God, who sent his Son to die for the sins of the world, but repudiates such a notion. Post-Christian spirituality is more interested in a connection to the intangible, unseen realities behind the material universe. In this case prayer and sometimes meditation, is seen as the connecting point.

But the Bible doesn’t present prayer in this light at all. Prayer is personal, concrete and a real conversation with a real God. From the earliest scriptures of the Old Testament prayer is most often portrayed personal conversations with God, even when it is offered on formal occasions (cf. Gen. 4:6-7, 9-16; 12:1-315:1-21; 17:1-22; 18:1-15, 20-33; 22:1-19; 32:22-3; Ex. 3:1-4:31; 32:7-14; 33:11-34:9; 1 Sam. 3:1-20). Prayer is the intimate interaction between God and his people. God is very real and personal, and because of that his people can hold intelligent conversation with him, because he hears and understands their petitions and pleas. Prayer in the Bible, unlike the modern notion of prayer, is not presented as an end in and of itself, where the benefit is in the exercise, but the benefits of prayer are derived from the connection that it affords with a personal God, who acts on behalf of his people out of grace and his love for them. This is the reason that Abraham could be called a friend of God (1 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; Jam. 2:23), Moses a man who spoke with God face to face (Ex. 33:11), and David a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). These men and others like them throughout the scriptures, talked with God and conducted their daily lives as though God were their most personal companion and confidant. Prayer was the means by which they engaged in conversation with him. For this reason, prayer is premised on the personal reality of an Almighty and all loving God.

There are several ways that prayer is framed in scripture. At times it is conversation between God and his people. At other times it is petition or imprecation, asking God for his help and intervention, sometimes with deep distress and a sense of urgency. Many people have latched onto the idea of prayer as merely imprecation. For them prayer is nothing more than seeking the help or response of God for life situations, for deliverance, and for his provision. But there is much in the Bible to commend prayer as communion and fellowship with God. We cannot help but notice the conversational nature of the interactions between the characters of the Old Testament and God. Adam, even in the midst of sin, engages in a conversational type of interaction with God (Gen. 3). Cain, even in his bloody rage against Abel, engages in a conversation with God prior to killing him (Gen. 4). Every one of Abraham’s interactions with God appears to have this conversational quality about it, and none are hard and deeply wrenching, formal and religious intercessions! Moses engages in conversational prayer at a time when Israel has so seriously disappoint God that they are on the brink of extermination. After an initial interchange whereby God tells Moses that his people have failed God and are on the brink of divine judgment, Moses returns to the conversation to later to remind God that they are his people, and that he had started the who exodus thing in the first place (Ex. 33-34)! Samuel began his life of ministry with God calling him so naturally that he thought it was his guardian, Eli (1 Sam. 3). Isaiah and many of the other prophets engage in conversational encounters with God (cf. Isa. 6). Jesus commends Nathanael for his devotions under the fig tree, which seems to have been a very personal and interactive encounter with God (cf. John 1:47-49). Peter’s experience on the rooftop of Simon the Tanner was conversational (Acts 10:9-17). Paul the Apostle is often found in prayer that is conversational in nature, so that he can very casually say on one occasion at least that the God whom he knows and serves has spoken to him (Acts 9:4-5; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:21-26). Indeed in Acts, Luke portrays what Christ said to Paul in the form of direct speech (cf. Acts 23:11)! Ananias too, engages in a conversation with God (Acts 9:10-16).

If we look at the word prayer as it is used in the Bible we discover that it has a range of meanings rather than a narrow definition. It can mean to pray, ask or petition. The New Testament uses two synonyms for prayer, one of which has more to do with asking, and is not confined to prayer to God, but can be used of making requests in and to a whole variety of situations, people and ways (Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). The term found in our scripture is the more usual word for prayer to God. It can mean petition, but the root notion of prayer is to call upon God (Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). In other words, prayer is to “speak or make requests to God” (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Societies). In this context Louw-Nida, avoid the idea of prayer as mere religious recitation (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Societies). Prayer is speech directed to God on a personal level.

One way we might characterize this, is to say that prayer has much more to do with communion and fellowship with God, than it does to formal religious practice or to a lesser extent mere pious devotion as a matter of duty. Prayer is the very real interchange between God and his people, whereby each expresses themselves to the other with complete confidence and ease. There is nothing forced in genuine prayer, just as there is nothing forced in genuine conversation between friends. So when Paul says, “Pray continuously,” he does not have in mind formal pious devotions, and religious exercises! In that case the KJV version, “Pray without ceasing,” presents us with a real problem.

The NIV translates this verse, “Pray continuously.” From the above the command is obvious! Prayer is the spontaneous and persistent, conversational interaction between us and God. It is the environment of our heart and soul, as we live our lives, that is in constant contact and fellowship with God. Conversation between us is constantly flowing back and forth, even if the settings we are in are not formal pious environments. Indeed, it seems that Paul is calling on his readers to create an internal environment, which they can carry about with them, so that prayer is the predominant element that charges the atmosphere with God’s presence.

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