Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. – James 5:13 (NLT)
James, the writer of the epistle and brother of Jesus Christ helped my perspective to prayer with this verse. It seems quite ordinary and almost obvious but no Word of scripture is ordinary and obvious. In fact, the Word is heavily encrypted. With the light of this verse, I gained new insight into prayer – a weapon I could employ against almost any situation. Some translations substitute the phrase ‘suffering hardships’ for ‘in trouble’ or ‘afflicted’. This tells me that God recognizes prayer as the solution to anything that causes me some discomfort. Is anyone going through, let him pray.
Prayer is a primarily communication with God and is only effective when it is two sided. This is how the process flows: God communicates with us, we communicate with Him and He communicates back to us.
The first leg involves God communicating the need to pray to us by stirring us to pray. We must realize that prayer is not a natural reaction to hardship and challenges. A person who begins to pray has been inspired by God or has received some level of revelation that makes prayer the obvious option to pursue. Often times, when we go through challenges, we only resort to prayer only after all else has failed. When I hear people speak about the challenges they are facing, I wait till they are done and ask, ‘have you prayed about it?’ It always seems as if a light bulb went off with that question. They had done everything else from complain to attempting to solve the matter themselves but forgot to pray. I said all that to say this; kneeling to pray at all is a response to a call by God whether by inspiration, revelation, conviction or any other number of ways. God communicated and you have received the message.
Second leg of the chain is when we actually go before God to ‘pray’ any of the various forms of prayer such as thanksgiving, worship, intercession, supplication and so on. This is the phase we are most in tune with but only a prayer inspired by God can be answered by God. That is why God does not answer prayers outside of His Word. In 1 John 5:14, it says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, He hears us.” This directly suggests that there are some prayers that God does even hear talk less of answering them. The only way to know His will is if it has been communicated to you one way or the other. In the pure sense, a person who hasn’t been inspired will not pray. It is that simple. God has communicated something to you that makes one pray.
The final leg of the prayer chain is the response from God. God answers prayers in diverse ways but there is always something God has to say about our prayers if we care to listen. Sometimes we get the sense that we need to keep praying. Quite often, we get an inflow of ideas when we pray about a situation. I experience this quite frequently on a personal level. Whenever I am stomped and at my wit’s end concerning an issue, I pray and almost always, I immediately know what to do. The three parts together make for effective prayer. One without the other is technically not prayer. We therefore often fail to pray because we don’t take the pains to be inspired or are too much in a hurry to finish praying that we miss what He has to say.
Because prayer is communication, and communication is the foundation of all relationships, it is a very vital part of our Christianity. The strength of one’s prayer life is often a good indicator of the health of the relationship with he/she has with God. The strength is a function of the quality and quantity of conversation. Just like a marriage is built on effective, good, honest and constructive conversation as often as possible, so is our relationship with God based on prayer. The church is the bride of Christ. Isn’t it off that the bride refuses to communicate with the groom? The church as a body today needs to pray more than ever to remain strong. How does one fail to speak as often as possible to the groom who is also the head of the church? In our era, the body is failing to send signals to the head or failing to recognize and rightly interpret the signals that the head is sending. A disconnect between head and body leads to paralysis.
Prayer however is a heart matter. Prayer is not about the words we say so much as the connection of the heart. God is a spirit and spirits respond to the voice of spirits. Oftentimes, we are unable to adequately articulate our issues to God verbally but I am glad He doesn’t respond to prayers based on grammatical syntax and the flow of presentation. This is why prayer must be sincere and heartfelt to be answered. This is quite important and we should never bother to pray a prayer that doesn’t emanate from our deepest parts.
Doubt is in the heart and need not be expressed verbally to hinder our prayers. Similarly, God does not hear what we say so much as what our heart says. He picks the prayers from our hearts and responds accordingly. If prayers were of the mouth, then the dumb would not be able to pray. God is not a man who looks at the outward appearance but judges with the heart. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” God does not hear your words as much as He hears your heart. Whenever there is a disconnect between what your mouth says and what your heart says, and there often is, God goes with the heart. This also brings to light why focus is important while praying. A five minute prayer in which you are fully present is better than a one hour prayer in which you are distracted.
It is advisable to consciously get your heart in alignment with your mouth/head before you start praying. I find in my experience that my prayers are more intense when there is perfect alignment. On those occasions where I am able to totally lock in on the prayer of the moment, I almost always see results. As said earlier, the last phase which is the response can come in any number of ways, but a heartfelt prayer makes you alert to hear His response and believe me, they are often so subtle and easy to miss.
Hannah, at Shiloh was praying to God intensely but her voice was not heard. Her heart was completely locked in to God and she connected. As a result, she was able to perceive when the last leg of the transaction was concluded. She left the place of prayer being certain that God had heard her request. Shalom.