Prayer is a concession from God to man to take the place of face to face conversation. Before Adam and Eve’s fall into sin and rebellion God met face to face with humans. He walked in the garden with them during the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Even after the fall into sin, He continued to speak this way, even with wrong-doers such as Cain after he murdered his brother. But this did not last long.
With the birth of Enosh to Seth, the Scriptures tell us that it was at this time that “men began to call on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:26). God ceased to appear to the majority of people as He had before. Only rarely did He speak directly to any, even His own prophets. Moses was accorded this privilege (Exodus 33:11), but God let it be known that it was a special privilege (Deuteronomy 34:10).
Prayer, then, has become our normal method of approach to God. It is based on the assumption that God is able to hear the words, indeed, read the thoughts, of millions who may be calling to Him at the same time. It assumes that He is able to do something on our behalf that we cannot do for ourselves and that He is able to do something out of the ordinary course of natural events. Further, it assumes that He may be willing to do something on our behalf or we wouldn’t bother asking. Thus it assumes His omniscience, His omnipotence and His infinite love.
It is each of these assumptions that can become the source of our struggle with prayer. Why pray if He already knows what I’m thinking? Is He really powerful enough to help me? And even if He is, will He really choose to help me?
Prayer, most simply, is talking with God. Talking may come in many forms: requesting, confession, sharing, arguing, thanking, praising, blaming, informing, complaining, and so on. All these ways of talking to God are found in the Bible and in our experience. Every way in which we talk to another person are ways in which we may talk to God. Prayer is our only, although feeble, way of communicating with God. And yet, though one day we will once again be “face to face” with Him (1 Corinthians 13:12), for now, prayer is the method of communicating with God that He honors (if the conditions are right).
In the next several articles we will examine the Biblical data on prayer from a theological perspective. What are the conditions for answered prayer? Is it right to pray, “If it be Your will”? Why pray if God has already determined what will happen? What does it mean to pray without ceasing? What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?