When we pray, we are talking to God. How can we do this? How is it that ordinary people, people who sin and rebel against God every day, can also have a two-way conversation with the Lord? Here we will explore the ways in which we talk to God, how Jesus made it possible, and the two-way nature of prayer.
Here is what Graham had to say: “The most important thing I can say about this is that God wants you to talk to him!” In other words, God himself facilitates conversation because he desires it.
He also made us in such a way that suggests it is natural, even for an unbeliever, to know at some level that God made us. “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). Instinctively, perhaps unconsciously, we call out to God when we are in trouble or in times of elation.
How Is it Possible to Talk to God?
How is prayer possible? We are talking to Almighty God, and in regular society, talking to even one’s elected representative is difficult to arrange. “Prayer is possible because Jesus Christ has removed the barrier between us and God — a barrier caused by our sins” (Ibid.).
When we believe in Christ for salvation, God permits us to talk to him at any time through Jesus. “Call to me and I will answer you” (Jeremiah 33:3). Before Christ came, Jews required the intercession of a High Priest to bring their prayers to God.
This is also the function of a Catholic priest — to act as an intercessor. Our great intercessor as Christians is Christ and we need no other.
Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
J.V. Fesko explained that since all believers belong to the same priesthood, “all believers in Christ share in his priestly status; therefore, there is no special class of people who mediate the knowledge, presence, and forgiveness of Christ to the rest of believers.”
Every believer is equally entitled to pray to the One true God through Christ.
An Example of Talking to God
God will honor prayer, which is clear and articulate; unsophisticated and brief; and he will also hear and respond to our wordless desperation. “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
There is no single way to pray, but Christ has provided an example for those who find prayer difficult: the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15). This was part of the Sermon on the Mount, which Jesus delivered at the start of his ministry.
The Lord’s Prayer provides a structure for prayer, which starts with acknowledging the Sovereignty of God. But the Lord’s Prayer offers a few other hints as to the “how” of talking to God.
1. Remember that the God you pray to now is the God you have always known; the God who created the earth. He is always the same and will not suddenly become a detached tyrant.
“Give us today our daily bread” is both a request to feed us every day and a reminder of what the Lord did for Israel when they crossed the Red Sea. The Lord fed his people daily and not only in the physical sense but with his presence.
2. Put the flesh to death (Galatians 5:24). Your flesh wants to infect prayer with sin and cause a rift between you and God. Following “daily bread” with “forgive us our debts” suggests caution. We often want more than we need and will sin in order to obtain it.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Galatians 5:22-26).
Money, food, alcohol, luxuries: they become idols. R.C. Sproul put it this way: “the Lord’s Prayer […] teaches us to come to God in a spirit of humble dependence, asking Him to provide what we need and to sustain us from day-to-day. We are not given license to ask for great riches, but we are encouraged to make our needs known to Him, trusting that He will provide.”
3. Ask for what to pray for. Psalm 37:4 puts it this way: “delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
We need the Lord’s peace; we need forgiveness from him, and to see others with mercy and grace. We might need something specific: the Lord can lead us to pray as we ought.
4. Recognize the gift you already have. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Believers have been forgiven, and forgiveness enables us to approach God. Confess, ask for forgiveness, know you are forgiven.
5. Forgive others. When we harbor unforgiveness, this is like a locked door between us and God; we cannot have a conversation with him. Jesus warned “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).
We are not expected to arrive at this place casually, especially not in the wake of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, or murder. We are not exhorted to “trust” abusive people.
But our Savior died the same death for all of our sins. If forgiveness is a problem for us, we can ask God to give us the power to do it. He will not crush a bruised reed.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope” (Isaiah 42:3-4).
How Can We Listen to God?
Imagine a friend who likes to talk, so much that you hardly ever get a chance to respond to what he or she is saying. The temptation is to avoid this person; after all, does this so-called friend really care about you?
God has bigger shoulders than we do, but we must not merely talk at him. Listening is an essential part of communication, and God answers. When we have questions or needs, the Lord wants to help us; he wants to speak to us through the indwelling Spirit, through other believers, and through his living Word.
As Oswald Chambers puts it, “sometimes God puts us through the experience and discipline of darkness to teach us to hear and obey Him. […] pay attention when God puts you into darkness, and keep your mouth closed while you are there.”