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What do you think of when you hear the word prayer? Here are some of the more common answers I get when I ask this question:
- Prayer is talking to God. (Some people who answer like this go on to address Bible Study as God talking to you.)
- Prayer is taking your needs before God
- Prayer is petitioning God for the needs of others
- Prayer is spiritual warfare
What do you think of when you hear the word "intercession"? Is it a subset of the above? Here are some more common answers that I get:
- specialized praying for others
- bringing a list of petitions before God
- spiritual warfare and fighting demonic forces on behalf of a person or place or event
Prayer and intercession encompass all of these elements, but prayer is not just asking God for things. Prayer is building a relationship with God.
Prayer Means Building Relationship With God
Someone once described prayer to me as a one way phone call. They explained that in prayer, we talk to God, tell Him our needs, share with Him the needs of others, etc. They feel this is all that prayer entails.
That is a terrible and wrong model for prayer. Think about it. How would you like to receive a phone call like that? Someone calls you, talks at you without letting you get in a word edgewise and then hangs up? You would not enjoy that very much, would you? Do you think God enjoys that type of interaction with us?
God wants our prayer time to be two-way, to develop a place of intimacy with Him. Look at it like "building a relationship with God." Any time we want to build a relationship with someone, this involves spending time with that person. The same goes for building a relationship with God. He is our Heavenly Father. Just like earthly fathers love to spend time with their kids, God enjoys spending time with us. We don't have to be phony or "on our best behavior" to spend time with God. We can be "real" and transparent with Him. We can't fool Him, He knows what we're really like. And here's the good news -- He likes us anyhow!
Romans 8:14-16 tells us that were are secure in our relationship with the Father, He has adopted us into His family and He's not going to kick us out. It says, "14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out "Abba Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are Children of God."
Despite the assurance of Romans 8, some of God's children feel "unsafe" to approach God the Father. (That type of fear can get seriously in the way of building an intimate relationship with God, so it must be addressed and dealt with.) Some see God the Father as scary or foreboding, hard to please, etc. Some see Him as wanting to punish them and Jesus standing between God the Father and them to keep them from being clobbered. That is not the type of image that that God wants us to have of Him. He wants us to feel safe with Him, to be able to come to Him any time. Gal 4:6-7 tells us, "6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
In fact, Jesus Himself assured us that we can have a loving and intimate relationship with God through Him. He said, in John 15:9-11, "9 As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." In other words, God likes us and He wants us to be happy and in a close and personal relationship with Him.
Once we get past the "God doesn't like me" fear, we can begin to move into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. We do this by spending time with God, by learning of Him, by worshipping Him, etc.
It is important to build our relationship with God. But we need to be practical in how we begin building this relationship. We have to be careful we don't set such big goals that they are unobtainable. Let me give an example. I once knew a man who decided to set aside three hours one day to seek God. So he blocked off the time, went to his prayer room, sat down and waited for God to meet him. He waited and waited. He checked his watch, and only 10 minutes had gone by. The next three hours were the most miserable of his life -- he never knew three hours could take so long and he was never so bored. By the end of his grueling ordeal, he was convinced that intimacy prayer does not work. The problem was that he has set too big of a goal. His expectations and practices were unrealistic for someone just starting off.
I shared that story with someone else one time, and they said, "Man, I can relate. I had a date like that. For our first and last date, we went to dinner to talk at a very slow service restaurant. When we tried to talk, we just could not find anything that we were both interested in. Time dragged by forever. We were both so uncomfortable that we skipped dessert just so we could get out of there sooner. That was the longest dinner of my life!" Hopefully none of you have ever had dates like that!
And hopefully you have never had "prayer experiences" like that either. But if you have, put it behind you, draw up a clean slate, and let's start over.
We know that when we first start building a relationship with someone we tend to have shorter meetings and we tend to have well defined activities. Perhaps we start with a brief phone call. Or perhaps we catch lunch or a cup of coffee together and chat briefly, or take in a movie... as we get to know each other, then the relationship builds. We find more and more common ground and we begin to know how the other person thinks, what they like, what interests them, etc. At some point we become so close that we can just sit and "do nothing" together and be comfortable. Or we grow so close that we can spend hours and hours together and not feel bored or strained or stressed. That is because we put in the time together and build a good solid relationship.
Most of us will need to use this principle when we build relationship with God. We build the relationship gradually, spending time together and building relationship. If you have not spent any intimacy time with God before, start with something small and manageable... like maybe 15 minutes twice a day. Then build from there. Get to know Him, find out what His opinions are on various things (the Bible is a great guideline and launching pad). Ask Him questions, invite Him to speak to you about your own life and relationship with Him. Invite Him to show you your misconceptions about God and invite Him to transform you.