And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)
It has taken me so long to write this because it's a public forum,and this is kind of a private conversation. If I were sitting face to face (say, in a coffee shop) with any of you, we would probably talk about prayer in different ways. Mary and I would talk about the sovereignty of God, Heather and I would talk about spiritual warfare, Mikkee and I would talk about the experience of prayer, Carrie and I would swap stories, etc. So here is my public attempt at a private conversation. Be patient with me.
Basically, I pray because I can't help myself.
There are different kinds of prayer for different moments and seasons. If I am going to be honest, there are moments when I'm only praying to feel better. "God, please let me have enough gas to get to work." "God, please don't let the toddlers wake up from their nap early." "God, don't let the cop behind me pull me over." And, the most earnest of all, "God, please don't let me throw up." But that's only part of the time.
I believe that God uses prayer to bring his will to earth. Jesus tells us to pray for God's kingdom to come, and God's will to be done. I don't think Jesus was just trying to get us to talk to God; I don't think He set up a series of religious exercises for us. If He told us to do something, it was for a reason. He also talks about the harvest being ready, but the workers are few. The teaching is not to go into the field ourselves, but to ASK the Lord of the harvest to send workers. I think that we can try to do good things our entire lives, but if God's Spirit is not on it, we are just beating our heads against a wall. I believe that one of our primary responsibilities as believers is to invite the Spirit to be active in our lives and in the world.
A couple of years ago, God started teaching me how to pray. I'd always prayed, but I don't think I actually believed it mattered. I think I was praying because I didn't know what else to do. One of the first things I learned was that I don't automatically know what to pray for, or what God's will in a situation is. When I pray for a person, the first thing I do is confess that I don't know what God wants to do, and I ask the Holy Spirit to show me what to pray for. Sometimes there's silence on the other end of the line, but sometimes there isn't. As I've learned how to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I have seen some supernatural things happen through prayer. Is that me? Of course not. Is it God using me to bring his will to earth? I think so.
So I believe prayer works. Not just that it helps me feel better, but that it is essential, and we really can't survive in an evil world without it. Sometimes God answers supernaturally, through mysterious checks in the mail, text messages from God, dreams, visions, the audible voice of the Lord. Sometimes He uses more common methods - an unusual phone call, a verse in Scripture, having just enough money to get through the month, someone mailing the clothes you're going to need the day before yours are stolen at the laundromat. Sometimes God answers with a new insight, a thought that makes you angry one day bringing peace the next. But He always answers.
Except when He doesn't, that is. See previous post for more details.