God prompted me recently to re-examine my attitude towards prayer. It didn't take much reflection for me to realise that my prayers are infrequent, largely about myself, and about requests I have of God. In short, I was treating God as a genie, to be let out of a bottle in times of need to grant my wishes, but for little else besides.
I was led to two passages in the Bible which really challenged my perspective.
The first is from Philippines 4:6-7:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
I was tempted by the passage's familiarity to skim over the words, but dwelling on them pointed me to four things about prayer that I had neglected or failed to put into practice. First, prayer is an activity suitable for all occasions! We are told here to pray in "every situation" – not only in moments of need. Secondly, prayer consists not only in the submission of requests to God, but also the act of giving thanks to Him. Thirdly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with presenting these requests to God; in fact, we are advised that it is better to do so than to worry about them. Crucially, and fourthly, God answers our prayers not necessarily by giving us what we wish for, but by supplying us with His peace. What a wonderful promise!
The second passage is from Colossians 1:9-14:
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
The writer's example – of praying ceaselessly for others, and not only for himself – was a real encouragement to me. I also found the content of his prayer instructive: he was concerned most of all that God should empower the subjects of his prayer so that they could please Him.
In closing, the assurances and exhortations in these passages remind me again of what a wonderful gift prayer is: the ability to speak directly with the God of the universe, who owes us no explanation or audience, yet deigns to listen when we speak.