True prayer is an act of worship and intimacy. It’s relationship-based sharing between our heart and God’s, and offers so much more than what we ask for.
I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1)
Mention ‘wait’ to any of us, and it feels like a ‘four-letter’ word. ‘Now’ could well be the mantra of the end-time generations. Add the word ‘patient’ to the mix, and very few of us want to hang around and find out more. Yet, over and over, the Bible shows us that ‘wait’ and ‘patient’ are intrinsically bound up in the nature and relationship of prayer.
Understanding the nature of prayer.
Of course, prayer is deep and powerful subject and we simply cannot cover it in a single devotion. But we can look at a few of the ‘layers’ in a general sense to better understand the relationship of prayer, wait, and patient. To do this, we need to first understand what God intends with prayer. Our perception of it is skewed and, for many, has become a simple process of ‘ask and expect to receive.’ We have reduced God to the level of a handy vending machine we approach when we need something. To God, on the other hand, prayer is the expression of relationship.
Prayer is the vehicle of communication between us and our God. It is an action of intimacy and worship and a reflection of relationship. Faith is an essential component of praying, otherwise we’re simply expressing our wishes. But faith, of course, is dependent on the level of intimacy and trust we have with God. It requires two things: First, that we know God, and we can only know Him through His Word; Second, that we constantly communicate with God and build intimacy.
Prayer as communication is a two-way exchange.
We limit the correct understand of communication by looking at it only from our perspective. This encourages the belief that we simply have to clearly communicate our needs or desires and can expect God to do the rest. We can readily accept that communication requires two of us, at least – me and God – but it’s from an ‘I speak, God hears’ perspective. But communication is fundamentally an exchange of ‘messages.’ I speak, God hears, and God speaks, I hear.
The speaking part is a no-brainer. It’s the hearing part where most of us fall down, because that usually requires some kind of wait, and often a degree of patience. At this point, many believers do one of two things. They give up and assume God doesn’t hear or respond. Or they keep speaking to fill the silence. Either way, we don’t ever hear the response. But today’s voice brings to light an interesting perspective on God’s response to our prayers. When we wait patiently, God listens and hears.
God wants to give so much more in prayer.
This is a beautiful and critical truth we so easily lose sight of. When our prayers simply become an ‘I need’ exercise, all the other things God has for us are excluded. We need to step back and relook our intimacy and relationship. Some of the moments of greatest intimacy happen when we say nothing at all. Simply spending time in the same space, with no demands or expectations, is enough. Sometimes, no communication at all can bring us closer than any words or actions. If this is true in our earthy relationships, it’s true for our spiritual one.
I’ve heard people say that we don’t need to pray because God knows our hearts and needs. We cannot argue that He doesn’t know, but that’s no excuse to avoid praying. Our prayer time is intimacy time. It is the time when we and God open our hearts to one another in honesty and without holding back. What we forget is that God has so much more stored up for us than simply the answer to a prayer. He has things to teach us, to reveal to us. A deeper relationship with Him, a greater faith, and a stronger walk…these are just some of the things that emerge from a dynamic and intimate prayer life.
Waiting patiently is part of prayer.
These things are integral to the real nature of prayer. They’re also the reason why so many believers ignore or hurry their prayer life. Waiting patiently not only rubs against our demanding self-nature, it leaves us vulnerable. A long silence, in most exchanges, has the effect of making us uncomfortable. We feel we need to somehow fill it and retake control or to hide our inadequacies. But the waiting moments can be the most powerful moments. In teaching communication, I always emphasise a critical element: listening. Effective communication is entirely dependent on effective listening.
This is easily illustrated by our impatience with others who ‘don’t listen.’ But it’s something we are guilty of as well, and especially when it comes to prayer. Listening enables us to formulate a response that has relevance, one that will be heard. By ‘inclining His ear,’ God listens to us and hears us. He is then able to respond based on what He has heard. In the same way, when we listen to God and hear Him, we are able to pray according to what He has revealed. If we never wait patiently and listen to God we a) don’t hear and b) can never pray according to His will in any given situation. If our prayers are simply a sequence of words to fill the silence, we cannot expect meaningful responses.
Prayer is an act of intimacy and worship.
We need to radically alter our attitude to and perspective of prayer. The real truth is that prayer, like praise, thanksgiving, and adoration, reverence, etc. is an act of worship. It is a laying down of self, an intimate sharing of our heart, and separation from the clutter of the world. When we come to God in prayer, we’re effectively worshiping Him. We’re putting Him in His rightful place in our lives – our focus, our centre, and greater than any situation or avenue of help in the world. Our prayer may include praise, thanksgiving, or adoration, but the act of prayer itself is an act of worship.
When we learn to embrace the stillness and wait patiently in prayer, we enter a deeper place of intimacy. The simple choice of setting aside our fleshly impatience is worship, too. We’re effectively saying that God is ‘worth the wait.’ True intimacy with God will always result in answers to prayer. The difference, though, is the answers will be what we truly need rather than what we think we need. We need to grasp the powerful truth that God wants to impart so much more than what we ask for. He wants to impart Himself.
Prayer means sons, not supplicants.
There is nothing wrong with asking in prayer. We are commanded to do so. But James 4:3 says this: You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. This is the me-focused prayer life, the prayer of supplication rather than the prayer of sonship. A son knows the Father’s heart. Knowing the heart comes by listening and hearing. It comes through sharing. God knows our heart, and we know His. When we ask in the context of this kind of intimacy, we can be assured that we will receive the right answers. Knowing the heart of God through prayer intimacy means right asking. The point of prayer is not the asking and receiving. It’s the knowing, loving, and sharing, one heart to another. This is the real value of what God offers us in prayer. It’s absolute grace, and worth a little waiting patiently.
Forgive us, Lord, for our impatience, and if we have entered into prayer with a wrong understanding. Grant us the grace to seek You first, to be willing to wait, listen, and hear. Draw us into deeper intimacy with You so that we may learn and pray Your will in all situations. Most of all, help us to remember that our prayer is our worship, so that we can draw near with a new attitude that opens the way for a deeper relationship with You.