Prayer is simply the name that has traditionally been given to communication, or conversation, with God—it is awareness of Him, consciously being present to Him, and Him being present to us.
Most of the laws we discover in the development of our human relationships apply also to our relationship with God. For example,
- In a marriage relationship, if the husband and wife don’t take time regularly to communicate and just be together, their service to one another, their children, and others will deteriorate. Just being physically present to one another, or even working together on something, isn’t enough to sustain and deepen the relationship.
- If the family functioned as a group all the time and there were never times when a child and one of the parents could simply be together and communicate, the child would tend to withdraw, not develop quickly, and in general lose his or her vitality and joy.
- If two friends were friends in name and not in deed, if they never spent time together and never got to know each other increasingly well, the friendship would not be very supportive or satisfying.
The same laws of intimate communication apply to our relationship with God. If we don’t spend regular time alone with Him, not doing anything else, there will be something missing in our relationship, and it will manifest itself in a variety of ways—in less enthusiasm for the Christian life, little growth in becoming a new person, greater susceptibility to sin, and less power in witnessing.
Long ago, I recognized that a daily time of personal prayer was essential for knowing the Lord in the way in which I sensed Him calling me. Over the years, I have taken this daily time in my room, in a church, or even in my office. Sometimes it was just before supper or just before going to bed, but usually it was the first thing in the morning, before I started work. Occasionally, there have been particularly busy times when I was simply unable to have time for personal prayer, but these periods have seldom extended beyond several days.
Faithfulness to a daily prayer time has made a significant difference for me in following Jesus and living the Christian life. If, in earlier years, I missed a day or two of prayer, it showed up in obvious ways. If I was somewhat irritable or distant, my wife would ask, “Ralph, have you prayed today?” My enthusiasm for the Christian life diminished, God seemed less close and personal, it became harder to relate lovingly to people, and my desire to serve others flagged.
In fact, I would say that the single most important decision I have made, after turning to Christ and deciding to commit myself to my fellow Christians, was my commitment to daily personal prayer. The trouble of working a personal prayer time into my daily schedule has been well worthwhile.
I have never met anyone, in centuries past, in Christian literature, or today in my own experience, who has succeeded in having their whole life and work as genuine worship without spending definite time in regular personal prayer. In a mature and unusually blessed marriage relationship or friendship, the people involved may be able to be constantly present to one another and in profound communion with one another for days on end, without taking time specifically to spend together—but if that is even possible, it is very rare, and it certainly cannot go on indefinitely. Jesus, who had the most intimate relationship with the Father possible, and the most unbroken communion, except when it was willingly sacrificed as He tasted desolation and death for us, set a conspicuous example of slipping away to spend time alone with the Father, even whole nights, and directed His followers to do the same:
“When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:6).
This article is an excerpt from Ralph Martin’s booklet How Can I Pray? In this booklet, Ralph sets forth a simple explanation of prayer and outlines an easy-to-follow method for daily personal prayer, including how to deal with obstacles to prayer and how to pray for things as God intends.
Whether you are just beginning in prayer or already pray regularly, this booklet can help you to grow in intimacy with God.
This booklet is no longer in print but is available as a FREE electronic download on our website!