We’re anxious and we know it. The economy has us stressed and stretched. The upcoming election has us separated and suspicious. The pandemic has us sanitized and social-distanced. Yet we are not the first, nor will we be the last, to face such adversity.
Thankfully, God’s Word speaks to our need, and one of the most important things it says is that the Lord reigns and that he’s not shaken by the things that shake us. It’s for that reason that we’re invited to pray and seek his comfort and stability. If he were just as frazzled and dependent as we are, he’d hardly be of any help to us, much less worthy of our worship. But, because he is not frazzled or dependent, we can pray with confidence and expectancy.
Paul puts it this way in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
With all of the talk about the importance of prayer in these distressing times (and rightfully so), it’s helpful to consider what exactly prayer is.
A classic definition of Christian prayer is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that prayer 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 acknowledgment of his mercies.”
But I like the definition given by Eugene Peterson in his excellent book, "Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer." He says that prayer is a tool, not for doing and getting, but for being and becoming. “Prayer is language used in personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want or respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers.” So, it’s by prayer that we answer the God who has first addressed us though revelation. God has spoken, and so we respond. As we learn more and more what God has said, we learn more and more how to respond, and so a vision of Christian maturity is that of growing in the art of conversation with the God who reveals himself and his ways to his people.
This means that prayer is not fundamentally a matter of self-expression but of responding to God. Prayer is not psychological self-exploration, but it’s using language to relate to the one who created us. Prayer is not an opportunity to vent to God about our own moodiness, but it’s an exercise of doctrine, revealing what we believe about God and the world.
I believe this uncovers that faithful prayer is often unexciting. Not every conversation is a life-changing conversation, but seemingly insignificant conversations that continue throughout a lifetime is a friendship with power to transform. It’s my hope that by Spirit-empowered prayer you’d know God in Christ in these vexing times.
Garrett Walden is a pastor at Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, and he's a 6th grade teacher at Auburn Classical Academy. He's an Auburn University alum living in Opelika with his wife and three kids.