For Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, his prayers for the Pepsi, Pizza Hut, and Power Aid were inspired by the baby Jesus. His son envisioned Ninja Jesus when he said his prayers. His best friend confesses that he is caught up in a raptured vision of Jesus playing lead guitar for Lynyrd Skynyrd with angel’s wings!
There’s a truth coming out of this absurdity! Our view of God has a profound impact on how our praying life. Before asking how to pray or how often, ask yourself: To whom am I praying?
In his book, Why We Pray, William Philip goes back to Genesis to answer this question. “Prayer derives from who and what God is, and the great feature of the God of the Bible , the God of the Christian faith, is he is a speaking God. That is evident from the very first chapter of the Bible,” (Why We Pray, 22).
Just as our communication with each other is the essential for a thriving relationship, so prayer is an essential part of a thriving relationship with God. In Matthew 6 Jesus doesn’t say, “If you are comfortable with prayer,” or “If you are in trouble.” He simply says “And when you pray…,” (Matthew 6:5).
Again, William Philip shows how communication between God and Adam was part of the original design. Having created man in the image of the Holy Trinity (Genesis 1:26-27), God endowed man and woman with the capacity for speech. Speaking with God, in other words, was the first and most important reason for our ability to speak and communicate at all! We are made to pray! It wasn’t until Adam and Eve disobeyed God that the lines of communication were severed. As a result, Adam and Eve’s communication with each other was severed and they hid from each other and God. As Philip says, “Man stopped answering God.”
“But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)
Prayer began with God as we bear the image of a speaking and relating God. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, prayer has been initiated and maintained by God’s gracious call to us in Jesus, “Where are you?”
Convinced that we are on our own in this world and are capable of surviving as such, communication with God and others becomes a burden. Yet, the only man who was born without sin and was perfect in every way prayed. The gospels tell stories of Jesus’s active prayer life and communication with God:
Luke 6:12 - Jesus went to the mountain to pray all night.
Mark 1:35 - Jesus rose early and went to a desolate place and prayed.
Luke 5:16 - Jesus withdrew from the crowds to pray.
In Matthew 6 Jesus graciously takes time to teach his disciples how to pray. His model prayer is what we call the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
Upon closer inspection, it is clear that the prayer is in response to the person and work of God: Father, King, Giver, Savior, Guide, and Protector. Each of these facts of God’s character and activity shape our prayers.
When we pray to the Father…we are childlike.
When we pray to the King…we submit.
When we pray to the Giver…we are needy.
When we pray to the Savior…we confess.
When we pray to the Guide… we need guidance.
When we pray to the Protector…we are vulnerable.
Prayers require and result in an accurate picture of God revealed in Scripture. Prayers also open our eyes to see ourselves in light of the truth. If we hiding from God, others or ourselves, praying will be avoided at all costs.
To be sure, then, prayer is an act of faith that reaches for the grace of God. This is why Jesus warns against praying like hypocrites. Instead of prayer being an act of faith, it is a performance and a chance to promote self. Properly understood, however, prayer is the opportunity to be with God and be seen by God.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” (Matthew 6:6-8).
Again, prayer is based upon the person and work of God the Father: He “knows what you need before you ask him.” Therefore, as Paul says, we cry out “Abba!” (Romans 8:15). We aren’t orphans, but adopted sons and daughters of God. The Father always knows what you need and how to fill your deepest desires.
Prayer, then, is “an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies” (Westminster Shorter Catechism).
“Where are you?”