Many Christians are reluctant to pray for various reasons. We stumble over our words and feel a bit self-conscious at times, especially praying in public. The problem is compounded when we compare our prayers with others, who sound more articulate than us. But prayer, in the Christian life, is as important and natural as breathing. Think about it for a moment. What is the first thing that babies do after being born? They breathe. When it comes to our spiritual rebirth in Christ, prayer is like a baby’s breath. What is important to God is not the eloquence of our speech, or the amount of time we spend in prayer. God’s desire is that we have open, honest, and heartfelt communication with him, the one who listens attentively to our prayers.
The Apostle John offers guidance in prayer in 1 John 5:14-15. He writes, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” How did John arrive at such confidence? It is likely that John’s view on prayer is formed on the basis of Jesus’ own teaching about prayer, much of which is recorded in John’s Gospel. Jesus says, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14). Certainly Christians should not assume that God will grant just anything he or she might ask for. The qualification for answered prayers, according to John, is that believers must pray not according to our own selfish wishes but rather according to God’s will.
Interestingly, there are many verses that speak so clearly about the Christian’s confidence in prayer. In 1 John 3, John says “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask” (vv. 21-22a). But there is a qualification there as well, for the verses immediately go on to add, “because we obey his commands and do what pleases him” (v. 22b).
These verses say a great deal about the nature of prayer. Probably in most people’s minds prayer is regarded primarily as that means by which God’s will is changed, or at least enlarged to include the concerns of the one praying. According to these verses, prayer is not so much about getting God to pay attention to our requests, as it is getting our requests to align with his perfect and desirable will for us. Prayer is learning to think about God’s thoughts and truths, such that we delight in him. When we truly delight in the Lord, our thoughts and desires are changed. Prayer, rightfully considered, is not a method or communication to make God to fulfil our own desires, but a means by which our desires may be transformed according to the will of God. Prayer, even more than just talking to God, is listening to him.