The Evolution of My View of Prayer

My father was a pastor, so I was raised in a good evangelical church that valued prayer.  We prayed to start and end everything, and our language included phrases like “prayer warrior,” “fasting and prayer” and “Wednesday night prayer meeting.”  We were often reminded that Godly people spend much time in prayer with quotes like; “Every Christian needs a half-hour of prayer each day, except when he is busy, then he needs an hour,” and Martin Luther said; “He tried to spend two hours every day in prayer, but if he was really busy, he would spend three.”  We learned that James the Apostle was called, “Old Camel Knees” because he prayed so much he had calluses on his knees.  None of this motivated me; in fact, it was a bit disheartening because if that’s the standard, I didn’t measure up.  However, I wanted to be a man of God so I took what I was taught seriously and did the best I could.  I kept a “prayer list,” “led family devotions” and fasted and prayed every Monday for several years.  Many do some or all the above with great benefit, but that was not my experience.  I did these things and others faithfully, but if I’m honest, my private prayer life was about as routine as my automatic prayer before meals.  Of course, my prayers were sincere, but with exceptions, they were more habit than heartfelt.

I thought maybe I had not correctly understood prayer or how to pray, so I read some well-known books about prayer.  Among others they included; “With Christ in the school of Prayer”by Andrew Murray, “Power Through Prayer” by E.M. Bounds, “Conversational Prayer” and “Conversing with God” by Rosalind Rinker.  They were interesting but also a bit disheartening because even though I accepted what they said, it did not produce a satisfying heart connection with my Lord.  At one point, I wondered if I was expecting too much from my private prayer life, but at the same time, I knew that there had to be more than I was experiencing.  I agree with the emphasis they placed on prayer, but the practices they promoted were not working for me.  I now know that I received a distorted view of prayer.  God knew my condition and over a period of several weeks prompted me to simply be open to what He wants.

During that period, I asked Him to teach me how to have a more intimate heart connection with Jesus.  He answered my request by leading me to re-visit my understanding of prayer.  As I did, new insights transformed my prayer life from anemic to life giving.  So my purpose is to document my experience plus share some thoughts about my current prayer life.  I will leave it to others to write a dissertation on prayer.  My goal is to simply share a part of my story, which requires me to speak candidly, but with the caveat that it is my journey and it might not be yours.

 One day an idea came to me, so I decided to try an experiment.  As I was driving my wife to see our grandkids, she was doing a crossword puzzle.  I got her attention by saying,

“Mary Ann,” and when she responded I said,

“Isn’t that a beautiful sunset?”

“Wow, that’s awesome.”

“I thought you would want to see it, Goodbye.”

A few minutes later, I said,

“Mary Ann” and waited for her to look up.

“Do you want to go to that party next week at the Larson’s?”

“Yes, I think we have to go.”

“I agree, I’ll RSVP for us, Goodbye.”

Several minutes later, I said,

“Mary Ann,” and she immediately said,

“What’s going on?”

“I think I’ve discovered how I’ve been praying.  I get God’s attention by saying ‘Heavenly Father’ then tell Him about a concern or praise then say Amen.  It feels like a phone call to heaven, and when I finish, I say goodbye.

I told her, that doesn’t sound right because Paul in 1st Thess.  5:17 encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” That’s not how I pray so I need to find out how a person can pray without ceasing.”

Acts 17:11 says that the Bereans, “…examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true,” so  I looked at everything I had been taught about prayer to see if it was supported by the Scriptures.  I looked at all the prayers in the New Testament and was surprised to see that they were quite different from the way I prayed.

Starting with the Lord’s Prayer and other verses in Matthew 6, I noticed that Jesus encouraged short prayers and gave specific instructions to pray in secret.  However, my biggest discovery was that the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t end with, “In Jesus Name.”  Of course, I must have known that because I had prayed it for years, but apparently, it hadn’t registered.  How I ended my prayers wasn’t the place I expected to start, but it was this thought that ignited an even greater desire to truly understand prayer.

I felt this insight was God beginning to answer my request for more clarity about prayer, so I needed to pursue it.  It seemed almost heretical to ask the question, why do we end our prayers with, “in Jesus Name?”  Nevertheless, I was committed to finding out if it was Biblical.  I couldn’t find any verses that specifically supported the practice, but did remember that Jesus said,”Ask anything in my name.”  (John 14:13‑14)  However, that didn’t seem to support adding the phrase, “In the name of Jesus” to every prayer, so I continued to search for Biblical support.  I was confident that the Apostle Paul knew how to pray, so I checked all of his prayers.  A couple ended with “Amen,” but all the rest ended with nothing at all.  You would expect that the prayers in the Bible would be examples of how to pray and in fact, they are.  It was surprising to find that not even one prayer ends with the phrase, “in the name of Jesus.”  So whatare we suppose to do with that?  The only conclusion one can draw is that the way we pray is based on tradition, not a Biblical mandate.  However, the verse that confirmed my present position was, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  (Col. 3:17)  This was the only place I found that gave specific instructions to do something, “in the name of Jesus.”  I knew instinctively that this verse could not mean that I should add “in the name of Jesus” after everything, I say or do.  It would sound silly and maybe even be sacrilegious to say, “Honey, I’m going to work now, In the name of Jesus.”; “I got the car washed today, In the name of Jesus.” or, “I picked up the mail on my way home, In the name of Jesus.”  That would be a weird way to talk, but Scripture does say, “whether in word or deed, do everything (including pray) in the name of Jesus.”  So Colossians 3:17 took on new meaning for me and motivated me to learn more about what “in the name of Jesus” really means.

Shortly after that, I was reading “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, which I have done every morning for years.  However, this time I saw something about prayer that I had managed to overlook.  He said, “You shall ask in My name, that is, in my nature.  Not, you shall use My name as some magic word.”  (May 29th  in classic edition.)

Immediately I knew what he meant because we have so ritualized the term “in Jesus Name” that for the majority of believers, it is almost like a magic phrase that makes a prayer acceptable or without it, unacceptable.  At the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which I’ve attended for forty-four years, I hear people make negative comments if someone ends a prayer with a simple amen.  Do they really think that God does not or will not hear a prayer if it doesn’t end with the right words?  I do have some sympathy for them because it’s part of my own history and I’m not completely free from my past.  Sometimes out of habit, I end a public prayer with, “in Jesus Name.”  At other times, I do so deliberately, in order not to offend people, but when I do, I feel hypocritical because I don’t end my private prayers that way.

I will try, to sum up, what I’ve learned about praying In the Name of Jesus.  It means we recognize that Jesus has opened the way for us to have access to the Father.  It’s an acknowledgment that our own righteousness is not sufficient but clothed in the righteousness of Jesus; we can boldly approach the throne of God.  Praying in Jesus’ name is praying for things that will honor and bring glory to His name.  It’s praying in and by the authority of Jesus Christ; it’s consistent with His character, His desire, and His will.  If this is our attitude, we are praying in the name of Jesus, so it doesn’t matter what we say at the end of the prayer.

Here are some additional thoughts about my discoveries relating to prayer.  Ask a thousand people to define prayer and the majority will say in one form or another, “It’s talking to God.”  Webster’s Dictionary agrees with that and defines the verb “pray” as “to Speak to God.”  That was also my view, but I might have said, speaking and listening to God.  I now know they are both are only partially correct because while prayer does involve speaking and listening to God, it’s so much more.  This traditional view of prayer is wonderful, but it doesn’t help us understand the fundamental nature of prayer.  Prayer is primarily communion with God or said another way; it’s having an open heart towards God.  The only time I break the communion (i.e., stop praying) is when I purposefully live in resistance to God.  We call that, “being out of fellowship.”

Brother Lawrence in his book, “The Practice of the Presence of God” says”; Prayer is nothing else than a sense of being in God’s presence.”  By far that’s the most important aspect of my prayer life whether alone or in a crowd.  I desire to maintain that “sense of God’s presence” so I will quickly respond to the prompt and check of the Holy Spirit which is called walking in the Spirit.  (Gal. 5:16)  I have also intentionally turned my thought life into prayer, so if you could hear my prayers, you would probably say, you’re just thinking.  That’s true, but I am thinking in communion with God, and that is prayer.  When I do use words, my prayer life is an open-ended conversation without saying Heavenly Father or Amen because I want my communion with Jesus to be unceasing.

Additionally, the majority of my active prayers are with my eyes open as I go about daily tasks.  Closing our eyes to pray doesn’t make it spiritual.  In fact, I can’t find one example in the Bible of anyone closing their eyes to pray.  Of course, it’s all right to do so if we want to and it may keep you from being distracted.  When I’m involved in a discussion with believers,I oftenquote the following verse to help them understand that our entire conversation has been a prayer.  “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.  A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.”  (Mal 3:16)

For me, prayer has become as natural as breathing, and it happens to be a great metaphor.  My lungs bring oxygen into my bloodstream, which sustains my life.  As long as I am alive, it continues without ceasing even when I am not consciously thinking about it.  Likewise, even though I’m not consciously thinking about God or having a conversation with Him, I remain in communion with Him, which is the essence of prayer.  I will use that conversation in the car with my wife for one more metaphor.  If we’re traveling for hours, we can constantly talk about the kids or our vacation plans, but we can also ride in total silence and our “union/communion” is uninterrupted.

Let me share a verse that was important to me as I searched for a more meaningful prayer life.  The Psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  (Psalm. 37:4)  I once heard a sermon that explained that verse this way.  If you have a desire for something, start delighting yourself in the Lord, and He might give it to you.  I think it means the exact opposite of that.  It means, if we are “delighting” ourselves in the Lord, He puts desires into our hearts.  So the question might be, how do we “delight” ourselves in the Lord?  If I ask people if they are “delighting” themselves in the Lord, they usually respond with, “Probably not, I don’t pray or read the Bible enough.”  However, that verse is more about surrender than faithfully performing an activity.  The Hebrew word for delight in that verse is (“Aw-nag”) which means, “To be soft and pliable.”  As we choose to have a soft and pliable heart towards the Lord, He puts desires into our hearts.  In addition, the desire He gave me was for a more satisfying prayer life.  I fully believe that the prayer life I now experience is because God fulfilled the desire He gave me.

In summary, my life in Christ has been revolutionized by experiencing the possibility that my prayer can be unceasing.  Of course, it includes speaking and or listening, but now there is a dimension that I was missing.  This is one man’s journey, but I believe there are parts of it that apply to everyone.  Whether or not you agree, my hope is that these thoughts have motivated you to seek a more meaningful prayer life.

Caveat:  The Bible is our only standard, and my prayer is that everyone would use Acts 17:11 as a guide to evaluate the teaching of any man and that includes this one.