The action of praying was somewhat of an enigma to me when I was a child and teenager. Sometimes I would hear people pray in ways that sounded amazing, as if they were speaking directly to their Father and hearing His responses. Other times I heard people pray a thousand terms that all sounded the same – with dozens of little “filler words” like “Oh, God,” “just,” and “like” – I was often guilty of falling into this cycle myself. Prayers like these seemed to circle more around the individual than a direct line of communication with the transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe.
Occasionally I would hear people pray with lots of emotion – that meant they were really super-spiritual – in my estimation back then. Their faces would get red as they shouted up at God with hands raised and sweat pouring down their foreheads. Still others would simply sit or kneel quietly for what seemed like hours.
When I was in India I saw the most fervent prayer I had ever witnessed. Hundreds of men, women, and children would kneel down with their faces on the ground and pray and pray and pray, and find such joy in simply communing with God. And I wondered what I had missed all my life…
And then there was me… I had a little rehearsed prayer that I would recite before eating a meal, I would often pray during church services, and I would pray regularly before I went to sleep each night. Sometimes I tried to pray like men and women whom I respected – so I would attempt to pray with fervent, visible emotion – and there were times the Holy Spirit moved deeply in my heart when I prayed with this kind of fervency. On other occasions, I would find myself on my knees in my bedroom feeling the weight of conviction pour over me as I asked God to forgive me for the sins I committed earlier that day, and God worked in my life through those prayers, too.
When I was about 15 or 16 years old I started running a lot – and I mean a lot – I always liked to run, but this was something different. I began running nearly every day and taking longer runs every weekend, as I prepared for the next distance race I had written into my calendar. Each morning I would get up before sunrise, have a light drink of water, eat 2 or 3 baby carrots, prepare, stretch-out, and then embark on a fast-paced run.
And here’s where something unusual happened: I began to communicate to God while I was running and He would communicate with me. Now, I didn’t hear audible voices or receive new revelation from God. Don’t worry, I won’t be writing my own addendums to the Bible. God has already uniquely revealed His direct will and plan in His Word.
But here’s what my communication with God did look like…
I silently praised Him for the bright sunrise coming over the gentle farm-laden hills of mid-Michigan. I quietly thanked Him for the cool, clear air that I could breathe through my lungs as I sprinted up a small knoll. I reveled in the changing seasons God had beautifully arranged for us to enjoy – and I told Him how much I delighted in Him and what He had made. I worshiped Christ for giving the sparrows and robins and cardinals charming songs to float through the trees. I declared God as holy as I ran past a bubbling stream and rapidly growing cornstalks. And I began to see foretastes of His coming kingdom as I took time to notice the scope and grace of His creation and His saving grace toward me.
The more I saw God through what He had made, the more I realized how small I was and how often I failed to put Him on display in my everyday life. And so I would humbly repent of my failings, faults, and sin as I jogged past homes, farms, and forests.
But it wasn’t just a one-way monologue from me to God. God would speak to me through His creation and His Word. By His merciful love, God would often bring to my mind a passage or phrase of Scripture that would inspire me to greater praise or deeper conviction. The Spirit would give me comfort and peace in times of turmoil and stress. Sometimes I would be reminded of someone with whom I had neglected to share the hope of Christ or how I’d failed to demonstrate genuine forgiveness. There were moments when the Spirit would suddenly “turn the light bulb on” in my understanding of a paragraph I was studying in God’s Word, and there were times when an idea for ministry or business would come to mind that I simple knew was not from my own intellect or creativity. God was communicating to me through the general revelation of His creation and the special revelation of His Word.
Here’s how King David described God’s amazing message through general or “natural” revelation
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4a).
:: A pattern of reflection on God’s creation and power ::
And in the same Psalm, David continues with a beautiful sonnet on God’s special revelation, the Scriptures:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:7-10)
:: A pattern of remembering God’s character and will ::
Yet we then find that the essence of this famous Psalm is prayer – David is describing God’s communication in His creation (natural revelation) and through the Scriptures (special revelation), but he closes the poem with His response to God:
“Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of my hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
:: A pattern of repentance and response to God’s redeeming, forgiving grace ::
On my quick jaunts across the countryside, God was guiding me, comforting me, and reminding me of who He is, what He has done, and what He will do. He was drawing me to respond with prayer and praise through His beautiful creation and His inspired Word.
And that’s really what prayer is: communication. Praying is more than rubbing a Genie-bottle so we can get nice items from the Genie or some sort of divine fairy godmother. God is so much bigger and better than that and prayer is so much more important than developing a wish list that uses church-like terms or Christianized lingo.
Prayer is a divine gift we’ve received through redemption in Christ so that we can talk to the omnipotent Father who made us, knows everything about us, and yet still continues to love us. Pick-up the conversation today… He wants to hear from His children. You can talk to God. He’s ready to listen and respond.