Peter Marty writes about prayer in the April 12, 2017, issue of Christian Century. He asks, "Does prayer work? That's the question many people ask when they perceive that God is not answering their prayers. Other questions surface too. Is prayer worthwhile? Does it change anything? Am I talking to myself? Does God care about my prayers?"
It reminded me of something a friend said recently: "I don't need to beg God, or make demands of God." When she said that, I had to consider if I have fallen into begging God. Am I expecting God to answer all my needs? Am I demanding that God attend to my little world and fix it?
Peter Marty suggests that we alter the way we talk about prayer "by eliminating the use of the word answer from our references to prayer outcomes." He says that fundamentally, "Prayer is conversation with God, and conversations aren't about answers. They engage a relationship. They involve give-and-take and the sharing of company." This companionship with God is about "talking to someone who is already talking to you. It's listening to someone who is already listening to you."
On Sunday morning at Underwood Hills, we have a time of sharing our prayer requests with one another. Often I ask, "How can we be praying for you? Where is God at work in your life?" The responses become prayer requests for other people, usually for their health, because they are sick. I thought of this when I read in this article, "God's primary role must be larger than just managing our health." Granted, Jesus spent much of his ministry healing people, and so we can ask for healing. Jesus also did much more – he talked and listened to people. He had 12 close friends. He had relationships with people. Can we move away from God as our health care provider and toward having a deep relationship with God?
Marty says, "the greatest benefit of prayer is intimacy with God … the more persistently we hang in there with prayer, the more we encounter a God who does not provide an answer to our every want, but who offers strength for our every need. Requests certainly have their place in honest prayer. 'Let your requests be made know to God,' writes the apostle Paul. But we shouldn't confuse the value of supplicating prayer with a recitation of personal wants."
Prayer comes in many forms – praise, confession, thanksgiving, adoration, supplication and even silent listening. For me, it is time to move away from supplication, and spend more time praising God and thanking him. It is time for me to sit in silence, and be attentive to what God may be saying to me. It is time to, yes, make my requests know to God, and then let it be. He doesn't need me constantly reminding him. That is, I want to deepen my relationship with God.
Thank you, Peter Marty, for opening my eyes to the depth of prayer.