Towards A Theology Of Prayer, Pt. 1: Defining Prayer

This week I am going to begin a short series exploring the topic of prayer. In a few short posts, I hope to accomplish a few things: To define prayer, develop a healthy image of prayer, explore the relationship between questions and prayer, deal with some of the “tough” questions concerning prayer (e.g. “why pray if God already knows what you’re going to say, etc.) and then put some of the pieces together.

In this post, I simply want to begin by defining prayer. In my view, prayer is: Attending to the presence of God both around us and within us. Let me say a little more about this definition.

First of all, I want to point out that prayer involves at least two parties: God and oneself. This is not to say that more persons cannot be involved, they can. Millions of people can pray together at once. Groups can all pray the same prayer or even different prayers. So, sometimes prayer involves self, others and God. The point is: prayer is relational. Prayer is never a one-sided act or event. Prayer must always involve, at the bare minimum, two people.

Secondly, I need to explain the term “attending”. When we pray, we are attending to the presence of God. To put it differently, when we pray we are attempting to be present in God’s presence. But again, prayer is two-sided. So, prayer involves letting God be present in our presence too. A few years ago, there was a popular Bible study titled “Experiencing God”. The problem with that title and study was that it was one-sided; it focused mainly on us experiencing God but not God experiencing us. When I suddenly realized one day that God desired to experience me, it was a groundbreaking moment in my spiritual journey. So, when we are attending to God’s presence, we should also be open to letting Him attend to our presence as well. An image might help put this in better perspective. When we pray, we are attending to God’s presence and letting Him attend to ours as well.

Thirdly, we can attend to the presence of God in several ways. For instance, we can attend to God’s presence in those around us. We can look for guidance from God as He works through other people. We can also look for God’s presence in creation. Another way to seek God’s presence around us is to read the stories of our faith. We will often times find God’s creation among peacemakers. Still another avenue for attending to God’s presence is looking within. Because the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer, each Christian can pay attention to their senses, their heart and the mind to experience God’s presence.

So, to say it again, prayer is “Attending to the presence of God both around us and within us.” If the truth be told, most all of us could do better when it comes to prayer. Some of us find prayer hard, uncomfortable and boring. Others of us find prayer to be a calming, contemplative event. There are many different methods and styles of prayer. Just as well, there are many different types of prayer. In the coming posts, I hope that through some of my words, your prayer life might be strengthened. In the end, the goal is to attend to God’s presence and allow Him to attend to ours as well. In the next post on prayer, I want to move from "defining" prayer to adopting a healthy "image" of it. More to come...

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