Maybe it’s simply my personality, but whenever I’m faced with a seemingly impossible situation, I’ve often found the most effective way of dealing with it is prayer. That might sound counter intuitive, especially to the go-getters for whom every problem is solvable.
We haven’t the space to discuss it fully here, but prayer is a real power in life. It has its principles and appropriate use. It isn’t, however, purely utilitarian, like a hammer being good for banging in a nail. Some people do think of it that way, as if it’s just a means of presenting endless requests to God.
When we think of it like that, we may get very disconcerted if God doesn’t answer. We may also find it hard to pray, because we haven’t got the right words or phrases that we think God likes to hear (or perhaps others in the room think appropriate).
Prayer is a very big subject, but to keep it manageable we might say there are at least five types of prayer:
praying in the spirit.
We need to be proficient in all of these to really experience the fulness of prayer in our lives, although that doesn’t mean it won’t “work” if we only use one of them. Prayer is at its most effective when all its forms are operating together. That’s what creates the wonderful, deeply peaceful sense that God is in the midst of us and we are in the midst of God.
In this environment answers to prayer are not always quite what they seem. If I receive an answer to my prayer, it may be that many others are praying for the same thing, so the result is not just down to me! But more often what happens is that, through a range of different kinds of prayer, I develop awareness of how God is working in the world and of how he wants me to join with him in that work by praying. When the desire of my heart comes about, it seems like an answer to my prayer and I thank God for it. My heart is aligned with his. In this way prayer builds up our confidence in God.
To be effective in prayer, we need to be persistent. No-one knows exactly why, but Jesus told parables about it. It seems to be something to do with the fact that God lives on a different plane of being than us, and there are many natural barriers to communication.
So we need to be willing to make the effort. Equally, we need to be sincere – a difficult notion, perhaps, but any form of self-righteousness (for example) makes prayer ineffective. It may be hard for us to see it, but that’s why a comprehensive way of praying helps. Over time, one of its benefits is a kind of internal hygiene.
Of course there is plenty more to say about prayer than this. We receive its benefits as we come to recognise that life itself is about prayer. That’s the “narrow road” that leads to life.