Nobody teaches their child to swim by pushing them off the Golden Gate Bridge. So let’s not jump right into the deep end either. Let’s start at the beginning.
What exactly is prayer? Is it having a chat while you’re out on a walk, or is it only when you are reverently knelt before him? Do you have to be in church, or can you pray lying in bed? Does it really have to be in my closet or can I get away with sitting in a lounge chair on the deck out back?
Where you pray truly doesn’t matter — so long as it is a prayer that comes from your soul seeking to meet with God. There is this absolutely beautiful pond with an old wooden bridge not far from my house, and I love to just go sit on that bridge and meditate with nothing but the bullfrogs to keep me company. The serenity and beauty of the pond brings such glory to God through his creation; it’s as if I can feel his presence. But even at this peaceful ‘secret garden’ of mine I still wonder sometimes; does God really hear my prayers?
Let’s be honest; we’ve probably all had those moments when we’ve strayed too far and only come running back to pray once we’ve reached rock bottom and can’t find anywhere else to turn. And since we’re being honest, let’s also admit how shameful it is to only have time to talk with the Almighty God when we are down in the dumps. God doesn’t want prayers that are self-focused and only come in times of need when we can’t fix it ourselves so we try to use prayer as some magic wand to convince God he should fix a certain situation to go our way. No, we need to have hearts in constant meditation with the Lord. To borrow the words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica, “Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).” If we do not have the right attitude in our hearts, we cannot truly be in communion with the Lord.
So what is the ‘right’ attitude? I can’t help but think of Luke 18 and the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee prayed loudly and boldly, with many embellishments for everyone to hear. How many times have you heard a prayer something along the lines of “Oh Lord Almighty; thank you for giving me my best life now; Lord God you have blessed me so that I can be an example to others. Thank you Lord Jesus for making me such a great person.” And blah, blah, blah.
Please don’t ever set yourself as the standard saying thank you for making me to be an example. If you are a leader, or someone looked up to as a Christian, please set the example in your humility — so that you may find your reward in Heaven (Matt. 6:20). And really, show of hands of who really wants their best life now. Not sure about you, but I’d really prefer my best life in Heaven instead of on this earth, which is as close to Hell as I’ll ever be.
But then Jesus goes on to talk about the tax collector who was also praying in the temple. He is standing far off so that he could focus on his communion with God rather than who may hear him, and he wholeheartedly pours his soul out, full of repentance and humility. And that truly is how our hearts should be prepared as we approach the throne of grace. Full of humility and repentance, with an attitude of wholeheartedness and focus only on worshiping God through communion with Him in prayer. No hidden motives, no loud embellishments. Just as God spoke to Elijah in a quiet whisper, we ought to bow our hearts before God in quiet humility and know that the quiet prayers of the saints are offered up as incense in Heaven (Rev. 5:8).
So next time you wonder if God really hears your prayers, think of Jeremiah 29:13; “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Consider your attitude. Are you praying because you call yourself a Christian, and it’s something you just have to do, or are you praying because you want communion with the great I Am? Praying because you are required won’t amount to anything more than did the empty words of the Pharisee in the parable, who prayed to be seen by men rather than God. But a prayer out of a desire to obey, worship, and communicate with the Lord will be true enough to move mountains. As the end of James 5:16 says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
As I said at the beginning, where you pray doesn’t matter. But I have found that lying in bed alone in the dark of night or going to that small, peaceful pond by my house all alone is when I have the best communion with God. I have the opportunity to really kneel before Him and just pour out my heart and soul and have communion with the Lord and find that peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). And when I have prepared my heart with the right attitude, that is when I just know in my soul that God truly does hear my prayers and that they are indeed offered up before him as a pleasing aroma.
Have you ever been in the position where you wondered if God was hearing your prayers and realized you need to change the attitude of your heart? What works for you personally to prepare your heart for true communion with the Lord in prayer? Do you have a special place you like to go to be alone or a passage of scripture that you can begin your prayer with to give you the proper mindset?