Why do I come to God in prayer? Is He the big blue Genie to my Aladdin? Do I come to Him expecting to get something in return? Something to make my life better, safer, or more in keeping with my vision of “a blessed life”?
Oswald Chambers refers to the condition that fosters this type of prayer as “spiritual lust”. Lust, because we want something right away. Spiritual lust because we come demanding an answer from God rather than seeking God Who gives the answer. Chambers reminds us that “the meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God, not of the answer.”
And yet, if we are honest, if we only have a brief time to pray, aren’t we more inclined to present to God our petitions rather than our praise? “Oh Lord, help my child today.” “Oh Lord, bless me at work in this difficult situation today.” “Oh Lord, help me make this big decision.” “Oh Lord, heal.” And so it goes. As much as we may think we grasp that prayer is about getting hold of God and not about getting a particular answer, we still struggle with presenting Him with a laundry list of wants at every chance we take to pray.
CS Lewis expresses it this way: “The very question, “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic…Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary – not necessarily the most important one – from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.” (The World’s Last Night, p. 8)
How could your prayer life be radically different if your focus were more on what He is than what He does? If you moved through a house of prayer as Lewis described it, beginning with confession and penitence, moving into an extended time of adoration, such that you would be filled with the presence, vision, and enjoyment of God—how would that change you? It is in this type of prayer that He shows Himself to us.
Prayer is about being honest with God. It is being honest and raw before our maker. It takes time to sit in the stillness and really listen to our own heart. True confession does not happen quickly; it requires a deep, long look at our true self. We may need to spend time reflecting on our usual prayer “laundry list” and ask God to reveal any hidden spiritual lusts. Are there things on that list that we want more than God Himself?
Are you then prepared to enjoy an extended time of adoration or are there hidden fears and longings that you must release to Him before you can be filled with His presence? In true prayer we have to be honest before God. But we spend so much time covering up in front of others to play the game that everything is okay that it takes time sitting with Him in the quiet to really understand what issues are at work in our hearts. We all have deep needs. Deep fears. Unsatisfied longings. Unanswered prayers. Things we have stuffed down for a long time. Often we don’t even truly know our deepest longings—we just know we long for more. True prayer means taking time to be really still. In that stillness, discover your deepest needs, fears, and longings so you can lay them down before the Lord.
When you quiet yourself down, what are you really yearning for? What is your deep desire?
This type of extended confession, penitence, and pouring out to God enables us to receive the cleansing that He lavishes on us. And in that state, He feeds us and He fills us with His Spirit. And that is the real purpose behind prayer.
In his work “The Path of Prayer”, Samuel Chadwick cuts right to the heart of the importance of prayer when he says, “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”