How do you view prayer in general? What is the purpose of prayer? Is it simply to draw up one’s list of requests, petitions and problems and present them in an acceptable fashion to God? God doesn’t instruct us to pray without ceasing just so He can be the genie that fulfills all of our wants and needs.
The purpose of prayer goes deeper than that. Prayer is a way to maintain constant and meaningful communion with God. Prayer is about knowing God, worshiping Him, loving Him, adoring Him, and having a deep, passionate and intense relationship with Him. Prayer is being aware of God, aware of the presence of God, aware of His activities, aware of His grace, aware of everything that has to do with our Heavenly Father.
Prayer is about glorifying God by demonstrating utter dependence on Him. It is about experiencing God’s presence, forgiveness, power, wisdom, joy, love, compassion, and confidence together.
Let’s look more closely at prayer and its role in worship.
God always has a hunger and desire to be with us. Creation is about God being with us. The sanctuary is about God being with us. Jesus is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” When Jesus went to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us. The Second Coming is the ultimate example of God’s presence with His people. God wants and desires to be with us
Going to the Bible, I discovered that throughout recorded history God has taken pain to let His people know of His presence among them. After leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert on their way to the Promised Land, God knew they would feel frightened and alone. They had no armies and no walls to protect them from enemy attack. They didn’t even know the way to the Promised Land.
In their heads, they knew they were God’s people and He had promised to protect them. But it was hard to feel His presence. And so God, wanting to convince them that He was with them wherever they went, gave them a visible sign of His presence. ”And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night” (Exod 3:21)
If ever the people began to wonder if their journey was headed in the right direction, all they had to do was look up and see the pillar of cloud. If ever they grew frightened, all they had to do was look at the pillar of fire casting its glow over the whole camp. God made sure that they could feel His presence in their midst.
The New Testament begins with God offering us His presence in the person of Jesus Christ, His Son.
The promised baby was to be called Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt 1:23). John explains the significance of Jesus’ birth: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God’s presence through Jesus was powerful. It transformed ordinary, sinful people into apostles who “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, KJV). Even unbelieving leaders recognized what it was that made the difference in these men: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV).
But, as powerful as God’s presence in Christ was, it still lacked something. Jesus’ ministry on earth lasted only about three and a half years. He never left Palestine. Only a relatively small number of people ever met Him personally. The vast majority of people who have lived on earth have never come in direct contact with Him. That is why Jesus promised His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16, 17 NIV).
Shortly after Jesus ascended to the Father, that promise was fulfilled. On the day of Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to take up permanent residence in the lives of believers.
Ever since Pentecost, all believers have had a strong sign of God’s presence with them. The moment you bow to Christ and become His, God cleanses you of your sin and simultaneously fills you with His Holy Spirit. Over a period of time, you grow to realize you are never alone. God’s presence is real. You can feel it. It’s with you wherever you go.
When you practice being aware of God’s presence, you pick up His signals all through the day. At work, at home, in your car, or wherever you are, you begin to dialogue with the Lord. You share your heart with Him, and you know He’s listening. It has nothing to do with being in a church building or on your knees. It has to do with God’s presence in and around you— ”Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27 NIV).
I have been a Christian all my life, but only recently have I started to practice God’s presence in my own life. I learned that in my car, on the job, at home, while working out, while helping somebody move, while lying in bed at night, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance, I could commune meaningfully with the Lord. God is near me and wants to enjoy a friendship with me.
If Jesus were to talk to me personally, He would say, “I want to relate to you as your forgiver and Lord, but I also want to be your best friend. I want our conversations to bring you comfort, peace and joy. I want to shadow you all day long. And I’d like for you to think about Me all day long. I want you to know you’re never alone. Wherever you go and whatever you do, I will be by your side. I want you to discover My presence in your daily life. I am going to be your companion.” That is what we mean when we say prayer is being aware of the presence of God.
I have learned that prayer is more of an attitude than a posture or a form of expression. It is an attitude of practicing the presence of God all day long, in all circumstances. Our whole life, when it is lived to the glory of God, can be a form of prayer. We learn to lean on Jesus every day, for help to live a supernatural life in a tough, worldly environment. It is praying “without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17, KJV).
I challenge you to respond to God, to get to know Him. It’s going to take some work. You may need to get up a little earlier so you can spend time in His Word and on your knees. You need to spend time in His presence and time with His people, because our great God deserves a response.
S. Joseph Kidder is professor of Growth and Leadership at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, Michigan. He is the author of “Majesty”, a new book on worship. Available at the ABC, Amazon.com, Borders, and Barnes & Nobles.