Prayer—a popular part of the Christian life.
Perhaps for you, prayer is believed to “change everything.” Seek Jesus with all your heart while plugging in the right spiritual algorithms and prayer becomes a powerful tool to influence God towards your desires and unlock His. The measure to which God is working in your life is in direct proportion to your prayer skills, faithfulness, and persistence. God gives the gift of prayer as a way for His followers to open the heavens, learn of His specific will, and unlock the blessings and capacity of God to benefit your life, pursuits, and those for which you pray. From prayer warriors to prayer chains, the accessing of God, moving Him to do the miraculous, or simply wrenching a blessing out of His hands are all just prayers away for those who crack the code. In fact, don’t expect to hear much from God or land the key to His blessings if you aren’t seriously getting on your knees and prioritizing purity. Pray more and pray better, get more and live better—it’s that simple. To those who believe differently than you and do not share your same prayer experiences and vigor, a simple answer is ready to thwart their reservations—”If your prayers aren’t working, the issue isn’t with God, the issue is surely something with you.”
Or maybe for you, prayer is more complicated and mysterious. You love Jesus, feel a responsibility to pray, and sense it’s probably a good thing. But, how it works and whether it works is, at times, certainly uncertain. When things are clicking in life and all the pistons of firing, prayer feels awesome and is rendered such a powerful experience. Yet, when the chips fall and the ground crumbles from underneath, prayer is met with suspicion and secretly questioned to be a spiritual gimmick that can’t be trusted nor can the God to which it is directed. As a result, prayer becomes a kind of protection from being caught with your pants down. You do it, not necessarily believing it really works, at least not consistently, but because you don’t want to take the chance of not having checked it off your spiritual “to do” list. So, you go through the motions, just in case God’s in a good mood or it’s your special day. In the presence of your doubts and lukewarmness toward prayer, your Christian friends and church leaders encourage you to adjust your methods, strengthen your faith, give God the benefit of the doubt, be more patient, and remember “God works in mysterious ways.” Yet, when all is said and done, in your mind, if you are honest, prayer is hit or miss—perhaps even a bit misleading, cruel, and unfair.
Well, no matter where you are in the spectrum, chances are you have been taught that prayer is a transactional exchange.
That is, we are down here, God is up there—and prayer is largely how we connect with God, access His mind, and move His hand to work from there to here on our behalf. Prayer is that which bridges the gap, the disconnect, and the distance believed to be present between us and Him. It’s a kind of life-line, necessary for communication and the delivery of His will, blessing, guidance, movement, and favor from His world into ours. Without prayer, only the autopilot default interactions between God and humanity would be possible, filled with significant limits, disconnects, static, and separation. Therefore, prayer is what opens the flow of the divine spigot so that God can greater move in response to our greater movements of faith, faithfulness, and asking—it’s all transactional.
With that as the popular Christian view, no wonder why you’re skeptical of prayer and I gladly join you at the table—you’re not alone.
For if prayer is transactional in any way shape of form, then God is an unfair, callous, inconsistent, limited, humanly codependent god, and prayer is a scam and scheme of the most diabolical flavor.
For I have witnessed repentant Christ-worshipping alcoholics desperately pleading with God to be released from their addiction, only to be tortured with a life of unending vigilance and unequaled burden. I have watched humble Jesus-loving sacrificial pastors begging God for revival in their church only to be unfairly sent to the curb by the Deacon Board who is there today and gone tomorrow. I have watched good-hearted Christians ask God to bless the food on the church picnic table only to spend the next three days knee-bent at the porcelain altar. I have heard the despair of Jesus-worshipping church-attending parents who pray day and night, week after week, every year of their children’s adolescence only to see them grow up and face severe tragedy or embark on unyielding rebellion. I have observed numerous believers pray in and around their local schools, only to have them fall victim to devastating violence and murder. I have seen my fair share of faithful Christian fathers and mothers praying in tears for the cure to their child’s cancer only for their son or daughter to tragically die months later.
I know, I’ve heard it all before—God is going to use the death of their child, their addiction, their termination, or their misfortune to work out greater things in their life or that of others, and besides, He was focused on meeting their “needs” not their “wants.” Really, that’s how prayer and your god works? God is impotent to prosper people without pain, death, and difficulty, and everything He gives is predicated on stinginess? The same Jesus who fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread can’t afford the healing of a cancer-stricken child? I know, “His ways are not our ways and His timing is perfect.” Really, for who?
If that isn’t enough, I’ve also witnessed countless people who couldn’t give a rip about Jesus, God, or their fellow human, seemingly blessed at every turn and miraculously spared of tragedy. In fact, the only explanation to their success, deliverance, and good fortune is to attribute it to the Divine, though they would surely never acknowledge it. If God truly “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” then this transactional understanding of prayer is the child making a Christmas list of hopes, dreams, and wishes with a special note of their love for Santa, all while the evil Parent has already determined what they will and won’t get—love letter or not.
For if this is the sum and true essence of prayer, and God gives it to us in hopes of convincing us of His love and goodness, then He surely has a funny way of going about it, and you are not alone in questioning it.
Thankfully, our relationship with God and the essence of prayer have been widely misunderstood—the truth is so much better.
Thank God almighty, the truth is so much better.
First, because of Jesus and the cross, there is nothing transactional about our relationship with God. Any needed exchanges and transformations between us and God were completed at the crucifixion on our behalf. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant it. The cross obliterated any distance, conditions, and transactional kind of relationship present between us and God. All of those are now relational relics of a covenant long past.
In fact, truth be told, we really don’t have a relationship with Jesus at all—certainly not in the conditional, transactional, distanced, and compartmentalized way we think of it. No, what we have is so much better. For we are nothing less than perfectly interwoven into the Trinity having full communion and union with God. He is us, we are Him—His life is our life, our life is His life. This is the power of Grace sealing us indistinguishably and irrevocably together with Him in a divine togetherness that is impenetrable and irreversible.
In fact, everyone you see, including yourself, is a walking Trinity in the flesh. As Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are One, so are we with the Creator of the universe.
This is the mind-blowing cosmos-shaking reality the biblical writer Paul tasted on his lips when He penned,“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” It’s the same Grace-bomb Jesus desired to explode in our understanding when He announced, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Notice, according to Jesus, our inclusion and infusion into the Trinity was a past reality already established in the heart and mind of God that He longed for us to awaken to in the present. This is why Paul could confidently declare we “lack no spiritual blessings” from God. For God extends His generosity as far as possible in fully giving Himself to us, to be us, with us, as us—living, breathing, walking Trinities sharing completely in everything He is and possesses.
Are you ready for this?
Therefore, the true essence of prayer must reflect the true essence of our inclusion and infusion with God.
Prayer isn’t the inferior language of a transactional, conditional, and distance-ladened relationship with God, it’s the divine language of our full union and unconditional communion in, with, and as the Trinity Itself. It’s the voice and echoes of our heart reverberating with His in the living mystical chamber of our inclusion into the fellowship of the Trinity. Prayer as a life-line is rendered woefully obsolete as He is our life, and our life is His—inseparably.
Prayer is the longings of our heart in conversation with the Father, Son, and Spirit within and all around, with every word continually recalibrating our soul to the unstoppable, fully capable, and beautiful human we are in Him, lacking nothing in capacity to face our every moment.
It’s not a pleading with a distant God to receive something we don’t already possess or He might not give, but our words, feelings, and thoughts being shaped and sounded into faith by the Trinity within and all around—convincing us that everything He is and has is already ours—self-sustained Trinities with skin.
It’s the gaze of our insecurities into the Trinitarian mirror dwelling inside and out, showing us who we truly are—whole, righteous, divine, loved, affirmed, inseparable from the Father, Son, and Spirit—popping and sparking with life.
It’s the every step we take, not into the divine or in pursuit of gaining closer proximity to His presence, but rather as the divine and as His presence in this world—this is prayer, for you are the Trinitarian conversation that changes everything.
It’s the crying of our heart that is met with the shared tears of the Father, Son, and Spirit when our divinity interacts with the insanity of an insane world.
It’s the rage of our anger that is met with the shared angst of the Father, Son, and Spirit when the Trinitarian chord of justice indistinguishably interwoven into our being is sought to be silenced and defeated by the darkness.
It’s the desperation in the depths of our soul that is met with the shared compassion and passion of the Father, Son, and Spirit within, when unfairness seeks to devour the perfect sufficiency of Grace that fills us and all things.
It’s the fierce and courageous solidarity we express that is met with the shared unyielding inclusiveness of the Father, Son, and Spirit within, when discrimination, inequality, and condemnation seeks to undermine the Kingdom of Love we are and bring.
It’s the thanksgiving we feel welling up in our hearts when the Trinity within assures us there is no distance nor lack from God to us in any way or anything.
It’s the asking, seeking, and desiring that is supplied and resolved instantly and effortless without pause, not with pithy answers, clear paths, miraculously changed realities, and instant Jedi powers, but with nothing less than an awakening to our complete seamless inclusion into, with, and as the Trinity Itself—together navigating life on planet earth as One.
No more wondering, have I been heard?
No more questioning, has God turned His back?
No more doubting, maybe I’m not good enough?
No more believing God is inconsistent, distant, callous, stingy, and downright unfair and un-trustable.
For the more we pray the more we realize, God is moving in, through, and as our lives, not because we pray, but because it is who He is and who we are with Him.
Living in the Trinity, as the Trinity, the ultimate unstoppable force in a forceful world.
Grace is brave. Be brave.
I grew up in church where prayer was regularly great oratory. I now believe prayer is a conversation. Being in the moment and nothing else makes it more meditation. To me, this makes it a mystical experience.
Yes indeed Tom, for me it is quite mystical as well. Thanks for reading and commenting. These are concepts that go against the grain of much of our common understanding of prayer, and are challenging to digest.
The GREAT oratory I heard so often in church. I now believe was blasphemy. God wants to hear from our hearts. He does not need our minds. So thinking we need to be smart enough to impress God to get what we’re talking to him about goes entirely against a God that loves us so much that he would surrender himself to a lowly life and die on a cross.
This is a beautiful mini-treatise on prayer that deserves careful meditative reading. I am finding of late that requests are not necessary when what I need is already mine. Like in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want”. Awesome clarity on a difficult topic, my friend!
Thanks so much Paul, these are indeed deep waters!
Jesus never existed
Jesus actually did exist as a man. That is not disputed. I believe you are saying that the Son of God made man did not exist.
No, I mean he never existed at all. Not as a man not as anything.
How is it not disputed? Do you actually know pf any concreat proof of Jesus existing?
Jesus never existed. Prayer might make one feel better ,but it’s a waste.
I respect your view Gretchen, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I hope in some way this article blessed you.
Thank you, Chris!! A group of us has been discussing this very issue. We have prayer warriors, prayer teams, prayer ministries, prayer chains, prayer vigils, and even Elders to pray over the sick as a last resort. We are told the more that pray the better. (As if one prayer just isn’t enough!) What we have noticed is that, for those in the most need, the miraculous just doesn’t happen. Our conclusion: Prayer doesn’t change things. It changes us. Prayer is how we share our heart with God, take time to listen to His Spirit and find His peace in times of pain. When we pray for others it is how we share one another’s burdens. Through the cross God has given us the ultimate, perfect answer to all of our prayers. We even asked, “What if when Christ said, ‘It is finished” the ultimate and final (prior to His return) God intervention on Earth was done. Your words have encouraged us and helped us to believe that perhaps, we are not really heretics after all.
Randy, so great to receive your comments and reflections, thanks for taking the time to thoughtfully read my article and your journey. I am so honored that this article has served to encourage you and others! Thank you, your comment blesses me!
Such a timely message, as I have been struggling with my concept of prayer lately. So much of the current discussion sounds like superstition to me — “if we hadn’t prayed, that car accident would have been so much worse!” What you propose here sounds so much more consistent with the rest of my understanding of who God is, but I will have to keep thinking about this. Tough to wrap my head around this understanding of how we are in the Trinity.
Carol, thanks so much for adding to the conversation and for taking the time to wrestle with this article. I am glad this article affirms much of what you have been discovering. As far as the Trinity, for me at first, this kind of awareness went against everything in my mind but rang true to something deep in my Spirit. The more I listened, the more this understanding resonated with Scripture and His mind within me. So great to be walking this journey with you.
This essay is a good answer to the folks who obsess over not having prayer before football games, or in school, or at graduation ceremonies. It seems that if someone feels a prayer is required, why can’t they pray on their own? Or is it only a good prayer if the governmental authorities create a mandatory climate of “voluntary”, official-led prayer?
Or perhaps, just to get all conspiracy-speculationist here, this is how some folks can tell if someone is on the right side?
I once read in an article that prayer isn’t intended to get God to act externally on our behalf as if He is filling orders at a drive thru restaurant based on what we want or don’t want. Rather, prayer is for us. Prayer is to lift up, encourage, strengthen, and activate the Divine we already possess within us. I believe prayer is synonymous with meditation which can bring peace, healing and mental clarity. How it truly all works is still a mystery to me but it works for me.
These days I have no cut and dried idea of what prayer is.
As a writer and poet, one thing I have come to appreciate, is that the hundreds of poems I have written are some sort of public ongoing dialogue with self, God, Jesus, Spirit and all of the above.
I was, for many years, sprinting around the rabid circus of fundamentalist revivalism. A dedicated missionary for 25+ years. Then grace.
Somehow writing helped me untangle all my warped spiritualities, and now connects me to a greater reality.
My flurry with words, especially over the last four or five years, has been a subtle one, involving what I call, cryptic autobiography (and yes, I do gravitate to the confessional poets, Sexton, Plath etal.; the nature-empathic words of a Mary Oliver or a David Whyte; and some of the English Romantics).
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?” writes Oliver. I am still not sure what magic she employs to cram so much meaning into so few words.
I have found a morbid interest in unearthing, decoding, and uncovering what relics of thought and enduring beliefs lie beneath my thick-skin of soul. It empowers. And in some strange way, those parts of my psyche that want to be a revolutionary, even if it is a pacifist-revolutionary writing in code, seem to be able to express this holy and shattered elegance in a voice I am just beginning to hear.
The beauty and the mystery of the earth, the navigation of my empty internal spaces, the strong pull of spiritual change and growth, the wild heart of grace, and the emotional isolation of not always fitting in (probably due to a mix of the previous three) with the ‘orthodox’ spiritual bravado I see around me can leave one composing a series of claustrophobic sonnets; a self-medicated antidote infused with ink and, I trust, hope. It seems I am forever flinging a rope into a quiet alcove of myself and yelling, “Grab it you fool, grab it!”
Maybe this is my unique genre of emerging prayer; a meditation I will always be thankful for…
Stephen, so great to read your comment. Thanks for taking the time to read my words, I have enjoyed reading yours. When I write, I feel like I write best when I am giving release to what is emerging inside of me. My friend Baxter Kruger says that’s the Trinity bursting from within. Thanks again for reading and commenting.
Powerful reply, Stephen ~ your use of words and thoughts encourages deeper thought and discussion. The most powerful line for me, in a posting of powerful lines, “Then Grace.” Thank you for sharing this!
Carol!! Thank much, peace.
After 20 years I am finally getting a clearer picture and it certainly brings more peace and freedom. I’m no longer striving, simply believing.
Well said, Tammy! Well said!
Thank you for this. I have felt like I’ve gone through a crisis of faith related to this. God not answering specific prayers around infertility and then a non-Christian abusive person in my family ‘accidentally’ gets pregnant… really? Is God not giving me a gift I desperately want, and giving it to someone who will not appreciate it instead? right in front of my face, no? That’s just the nature of this broken world. Nothing is as it should be in this chaotic life. The gift God gives me is the peace of knowing I will be ok no matter what happens in this life. The peace the surpasses understanding is the miracle. We so often want the miracle to be circumstances changing. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. It is not transactional. God is renewing our minds, not our circumstances.
Kelly, so beautifully said. Such great thoughts in your comment. Thanks for reading and taking the time to add to the conversation!
If I could only in fact know who I am
I would cease to behave as who I think I am
And if I ever stop behaving as who I think I am
Then I would surely know who I am …Aldous Huxley
“For Those Skeptical…” is a wonderfully freeing reflection. The most basic and simple definition of prayer offered us at the Orthodox Christian seminary I attended 30 years ago was, “Prayer is communion with God.” It is not something we do, it is something we become. Here is a small prayer offering from that tradition:
The Morning Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow:
“O Lord, grant me to meet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In each hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that shall come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with the firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray within me. Amen.”
Absolutely beautiful. The first half reads like Ecclesiastes. The second half reads like the beginning of Ephesians.