I am fairly sure that nearly all of us have probably prayed at some point in our lives. I don’t know what the statistics are here in Australia, but I did read of a survey a few years ago which revealed approximately ¾ of the population in Britain pray at least once a week. If that figure is still correct, it’s quite high. It means that many people do say a prayer to God during the week. If you go to church, you go to pray to God and join others in the congregation who are also praying.
Have you ever wondered why so many people pray? Albert Einstein said there are really only two ways to live: nothing is a miracle, or everything around me is a miracle. I believe there is a divine Creator behind creation—a God behind all goodness. Therefore, if we can connect with him somehow, that would be the most mind-blowing thing we can ever do. And we can—by prayer. Archaeologists keep digging up proof that people over the centuries have always prayed—people of many faiths pray each day. Even atheists admit to praying sometimes.
Two Kinds of Prayer
Most people think of prayer in two ways. Firstly, formal prayer; the saying of grace, formal prayers repeated as a congregation at Sunday church service, and the God bless Mummy, God bless Daddy type of prayer. There is something very special when children are encouraged to pray like that.
The second type of prayer is the crying out for help type of prayer. This is prayer that is driven by fear or pain. Psalm 143 in the Old Testament was one such prayer—a cry for help by David in a time of real danger: “My enemies are chasing me, crushing me in the ground. I am in total darkness. I have given up all hope, and I feel numb all over. Please hurry, Lord, and answer my prayer. Don’t turn away and leave me here to die” (Psalm 143:3,7).
In more recent times, Sam Johnson was an American fighter pilot in the Vietnam war. His plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966 and ended up a prisoner of war for seven years. Half of that time in solitary confinement—in leg irons for 18 months. He experienced horrific torture. The only thing that held him together during those terrible years was prayer and God’s grace. I’m sure many prisoners in this situation cried out to God for help. Real prayer is a two-way conversation with a living God who loves us, and listens to what we say.
Deborah Paterson was involved in a car crash in 2003 which almost killed her. She wrote an article “The day I nearly died”. And she said this horrible accident changed her outlook on life:
As I came round to this new reality of intensive care and terrible pain and fear, hearing that my friends were praying was a genuine help. I felt as though I was in a huge storm with no umbrella, but was safe because a crowd of people were holding up theirs over me. In and out of consciousness, unable to communicate, I was trapped in my own corpse. And there is a remarkable clarity as to what will and what won’t sustain you. Even with a loving family, incredible friends, achievements, accolades, adventures—in the end it’s only me, myself, and God.
These situations certainly force us to think again about God and his place in our lives. Saint Augustine said, “As our body cannot live without nourishment, so our soul cannot be kept spiritually alive without prayer.”
Why Should We Pray?
From time to time most of us ask—or feel tempted to ask—ourselves, Why should I pray? While some will hesitate to actually ask this question for fear of a lightning strike or other divine punishment, it raises a valid point and probably should be asked. For if we really examine the answer, it can spur us on to a better relationship with the Lord and increase our appreciation of prayer. There’s no doubt that the main reason we should pray is because Jesus instructed us to do so. Furthermore, he prayed often, especially before the important milestones in his life. Let’s face it—if the Lord prayed then so should we!
So what I’m saying is: prayer is about relationship with God. As we pray, we are drawn up into the deepest relationship there is: the most Holy Trinity, the eternal loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In prayer, we don’t tell anything to God that he doesn’t already know. But that’s also how it is when we speak with our friends and family—when our relationships are at their best.
If I send a card to my daughter wishing her a Happy birthday, what purpose did that serve? She already knew it was her birthday! The message is that I wished her all the best—she already knew that, too; She is my daughter, so what’s the point? The point is in the act of communication itself: in saying Happy birthday! I am actively expressing love and, doing so, adding to our relationship.
What kind of a family would it be, if we always took each other for granted and never said a word of congratulation or comfort or encouragement? Sure, good friends often understand what the other feels without having to say it—but the friendship will weaken if those words are never said, or the sentiments never acted on.
When we say I love you to a child, a parent, a beloved friend, it should not come as a surprise, but as an affirmation of what is already known. The fact that it’s not a surprise doesn’t remove its value, but in fact underscores it.
On his side, God’s friendship with us is already perfect; he loves us with infinite love, and did so even while we were still alienated from him. But the reverse isn’t true. We don’t have a perfect relationship with him, not yet, but we can grow closer to him by sharing our fears, doubts, anxieties, hopes, dreams, successes, and indeed anything that matters to us. And we do that through prayer.