What is prayer?

What is prayer?

Prayer is asking for things. Very true. This is indeed the basic meaning. ‘I pray you do this’ means ‘I beg you’, ‘I beseech you’.

What may we ask for? We might ask for a bicycle or a pair of jeans or a box of chocolates: all good things at the right time. And Jesus tells us that we should ask God our Father for the simplest things we need. ‘Give us today our daily bread.’

But, as we grow we shall see other things as important. We may ask God to increase our faith or to deepen our love, or to help us overcome some fault. And as we grow further we may come to ask for the greatest gift of all. Julian’s prayer was: ‘God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for only in you I have all.’

Our prayer is the exposure of the soul to God. Expose your injured arm to the doctor and he can work on it. Expose your spirit to God and he can work on it. Our problem nowadays is that we allow our minds to be worked on through study and our bodies through exercise, but too often not our spirits. We are all like three legged stools. The legs are called body, mind and spirit. For millions today the leg marked spirit is very feeble. And in a moment of crisis it is not just the leg that will collapse but the whole stool.

Or a definition I would like to leave with you. Prayer is a holding on to God until we move into the knowledge that we are being held. As we grow older our prayer will more and more take the form of a trustful resting in God.

I want to give you a picture. You will see the meaning later. You are in the kitchen and you turn on the tap. You might say that now all the water you could ever possibly want has become available to you. But alas you only have a cup. And that is all you can collect. Your friend beside you has a bucket so she can collect much more. And perhaps someone else has only a thimble and can take away hardly any at all.

When we go to prayer we draw on the immensity of God’s love. The reservoir is huge but it’s finite. God’s love is infinite, inexhaustible. But perhaps I’m a cup and I can’t hold much; or a bucket and I can hold more; or maybe I’m only a thimble.

It is through prayer, through breathing in the love of God that the spirit grows so that thimbles become cups, and cups become buckets, and buckets become baths, and for the saints baths become lakes.

How shall we pray? It depends where we are. But I suggest for most of us we take a New Testament and put ourselves into God’s hands and read some verses from one of the gospels. Then think for a few moments what this has to say to you, some message on personal living perhaps. Suppose that takes five minutes or longer. Then for two minutes (for some it will be more) sit quite still in the way I am going to show you in a moment and allow God’s Holy Spirit to breathe his life into you.


Excerpted from Why Pray? by Robert Llewelyn

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