We can communicate with God as our Father through the Holy Spirit.
“THIS WEEK,” reported Newsweek magazine, “more [Americans] will pray than will go to work, or exercise, or have sexual relations.” So many Americans say they pray that prayer has become a news item. Newsweek even devoted a cover story to the subject: “Talking to God: An Intimate Look at the Way We Pray.” They figured that people would want to read about prayer.
Perhaps you are among the millions who pray, but wonder if you’re truly reaching God. Then again, you may be curious about prayer, but are skeptical about whether it is anything more than fluff and human emotion.
Talking with God
We need to understand what prayer is at its most personal level, so we can pray with joy and meaning. Let’s begin by asking what it means to pray. The dictionary definition of prayer tells us that to pray is to make a request of God or to address him. That’s a self-evident and clinical definition, however.
Richard Allen Bodey, a Christian professor and minister, has a better definition of prayer. “May we not say that prayer, at the heart of it, is just talking with God?” he asks. Now we’re getting somewhere. To pray is simply to communicate with God.
And the word with is the operative one here. To make an important point, prayer is talking withGod and not just to God, as the Newsweek title had it. More than this, Christian prayer is talking with the God of the Bible. It is a conversation with the supreme Creator of the universe, and the Father of Jesus Christ, who is also God (John 1:1).
That such contact is possible between us puny humans and the great God is a most wonderful mystery. Think of it — we who are spiritually flawed have access to the great God and can come into his holy presence!
The New Testament tells us we can enter God’s presence because Jesus paid for our sins and reconciled us to God by his death on the cross (Hebrews 10:19-22). Through Christ, said the apostle Paul, we have “access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).
Our Heavenly Father
The operation of the Spirit is the key to prayer. That’s because a spiritual prayer cannot be offered unless it is motivated by this Spirit—the Holy Spirit of God.
Of course, anyone can offer prayers to God. In a manner of speaking, we can say that God hears all people’s prayers, simply because he is God. Jesus tells us that God gives the rain and sunshine to all, even the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Paul told the unbelieving Athenians that God “himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).
But while anyone can pray to God, a righteous person — made so by a new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — has a special blessing in prayer. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). In fact, the prayer that fully communicates with God must be offered in the Spirit.
If we have the Holy Spirit working in our minds and hearts, we talk with God as our heavenly Father. Paul says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). This Spirit “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).
Prayer, then, has a special meaning if we are God’s spiritual children. We can talk with God as a child does with his or her father. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he began, “When you pray, say: ‘Our Father in heaven,” (Matthew 6:9 with Luke 11:2).
Praying in the Spirit
For children of God, prayer is something they want to engage in. That’s because they are moved by the Holy Spirit—by God in them—to communicate with their Creator.
Many people have a misconception about prayer. They think that if they force themselves to pray a certain amount of time each day—especially when they don’t want to—this will bring them close to God. But for those who are the children of God, this is not how prayer works.
Prayer is not a magic gimmick, not something that if we do it—if we force ourselves to do it—will result in us being in touch with God. We pray because we are close to God. No, more than close. We pray because God lives in us through the Holy Spirit.
Our prayerful communication is not from us to God out there somewhere in the vast universe. Prayer is communication with God, of course. But the connection occurs in Christians because that’s where the Holy Spirit dwells. Jude, a leader of the early New Testament church, made this point. He wrote, “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20).
Paul said the same thing. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” he wrote (Ephesians 6:18). As Christians, we pray as we are moved by the Holy Spirit—God in us—to communicate through that Spirit with our Creator.
The Spirit in us even helps formulate our prayers so they are in accord with the will of God. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). What weakness? Why, our human difficulty—because of our physical and spiritual limitations— that can prevent us from praying according to the will of God.
“We do not know what we ought to pray for,” explained Paul, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (same verse). The Spirit does this, said Paul, “in accordance with God’s will” (verse 27).
This is another wonderful truth about prayer. The Spirit of God in us is a moving force, even though we may neither see nor feel it. God’s Spirit in us communicates with our hearts and minds, even helping to formulate our thoughts, recasting them to reflect the will of God. When we pray, we can have confidence that God understands our hearts.
Because the living God and Jesus Christ live in us through the Holy Spirit, prayer is not gibberish, empty emotionalism or a bounce-off-the-ceiling monologue. Prayer is meaningful dialogue with God through the Spirit.
We have such personal contact with God and Jesus, our High Priest, that our praying is the same as when the disciples were talking with Jesus Christ when he was on the earth (John 14:15-23). That’s because the Holy Spirit is Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20).
“The Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit,” said Paul (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). And Jesus is our High Priest, a mediator between God and us, even as we pray (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Timothy 2:5).
Always a prayer away
As long as we obey and trust God, we cannot move away from his presence. That’s why we can pray always, and always pray.
The Old Testament shows how the ancient Israelites had the opportunity to come under the protective care of God. He offered to dwell in their midst—in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle, and then the temple.
They could say: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7). How much more can we say this if we are Christians?
God is always close to us, for it is we ourselves who are God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). He lives in us through the Holy Spirit, so that we can pray always, at any time, in any place, under any circumstance.
Knowing this, let us pray always, with thanksgiving.