One of the things that marks a good relationship is feeling at ease with one another. Whether you’re sitting silently with each other or having a conversation about the funny or heavy things of life, you can do so with ease, without ceremony, and with delight.
When we think of God, our image of him is influenced by many things, including our upbringing and other life experiences. We might think of God as a distant King who must be petitioned for us to get into his presence and earn favor.
Or we could think of God as the rich but disconnected father who lavishes gifts on us but doesn’t really know us. Perhaps we picture God as an emotionally absent father who is strict and unyielding. All these views reflect how we think we should relate to God, so it matters whether the picture we have fits the reality of who God is.
While God is a King, we learn again and again that he is the Servant King who is humble of heart. He is a loving Father who is present in the lives of his children and concerned for their welfare. When they require it, he disciplines them, but this discipline is carried out with compassion and the intention to restore and correct, not destroy.
God is a Friend to us, the one who was willing to lay down his life for us even when we didn’t deserve it. We learn all of this throughout the Bible, and we see this most clearly in Jesus. And so, in our daily lives, and in our prayers, we can relate to God like a Father, and like a Friend, something the Bible teaches again and again.
Prayer forms one part of our relationship with God. With our close friends or other loved ones, the texts we send or calls we make to them are part of a larger complex relationship that spans our whole lives. We don’t just talk to our friends or parents when we’re in trouble, but we know we can do so because the relationship has that capacity. Below are a few ways we can think of prayer to God and how that forms part of our ongoing relationship with him.
Just as we talk with our loved ones often, and the conversation isn’t forced, praying often and about all kinds of things is the hallmark of a living relationship with God.
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7
Going to God in every situation shows our dependence on him. God listens to all the prayers of his people. However, we do ourselves a disservice if we reserve prayer for special occasions, like only dusting it off when we’re in trouble and feeling overwhelmed. We can pray for ourselves, but also for others. “Our prayers for others flow more easily than those for ourselves. This shows we are made to live by charity” as C S Lewis once wrote.
No need to stand on ceremony
God is our creator; majestic and powerful beyond all imagining. When we think about powerful people, like presidents, kings, queens, or CEOs of big corporations, we follow etiquette and put our best foot forward if we have an audience/meeting with them. We don’t enter casually into God’s presence, but we do enter with boldness because of who Jesus is for us, as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us.
We don’t need to use special words or dress up a certain way to speak with God. We aren’t praying to be seen by other people, either, nor are we trying to impress God through our prayers. Approach him simply, but with boldness, because he is your father. Consider the words of our Lord:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:5-8\
Be honest and vulnerable
The verses above remind us that God knows us, our needs, and our circumstances before we even ask him. Such intimate knowledge of us raises the question of how are we to be before God? Why do we pray at all if God already knows our needs? There is value in praying in part because our honesty and vulnerability before God do something to us.
To quote C S Lewis, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” If you want to be changed to become the person God wants you to be, being honest and vulnerable before him in prayer will transform you.
Be Open to His Answer, whether it is “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait”
C S Lewis has many wonderful words about prayer, and we can quote him here again: “For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted.”
Asking the Lord for something in prayer is a request. Requests can be turned down, but as Christians, we know that whatever God does is for our good. Jesus in Gethsemane rested in God’s will for him, even if it meant going to the cross. Paul prayed for God to remove his thorn, but God didn’t give him what he wanted:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Another brilliant quote from Lewis reads, “When the opposite of your prayer occurs, your prayer hasn’t been ignored; it’s been considered and refused for your ultimate good.”
Prayer isn’t a substitute for action
Lastly, when we pray to God, we shouldn’t take that as a substitute for action, either on our own behalf or on behalf of others. Our prayers embolden us, bring us closer to God and others, and they give us wisdom and strength to live life faithfully. Prayer and our actions aren’t divorced from one another.
One last C S Lewis quote on the subject: “I am often, I believe, praying for others when I should be doing things for them. It’s so much easier to pray for a bore than to go and see him.”
We can use prayer to shield ourselves from the action we know we should be taking. So, we should pray and act, as these following verses remind us.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:17-18
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2:14-17
“Concert”, Courtesy of Mic Narra, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hands High”, Courtesy of Matt Botsford, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Musical Praise”, Courtesy of John Price, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License