Prayer is often our last resort, the final step in a hopeless situation. We refer to it with such phrases as “he doesn’t have a prayer,” or “there is nothing left to do but pray.” But it is perhaps the most important aspect of our human condition.
We share many attributes with the animal kingdom including instincts for hunger, reproduction and survival. Other animals provide care and nurture for their young. Some construct elaborate shelters whether nests, caves, holes or houses. Many have complex social systems. But no other creature has the capacity to communicate with the Creator and to pray. Only man is endowed with that gift.
I have never met anyone who complained that they prayed too much. But I have known many who wish they had prayed more. In our most desperate circumstances and in our finest moments, we cry out to God in prayer. The greatest gift we can bestow upon another human being is to pray earnestly for them.
Some understand prayer as a psychological exercise merely benefiting the one who prays. But Scripture affirms that there is more at work when we pray than we imagine.
Jesus prayed. In fact, He rose early in the morning before sunrise and sought solitary places where He could spend time alone in prayer. Occasionally he prayed all night. He taught us to pray, not as a public display to impress others, but in secret where “your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6). He taught us to pray constantly with discipline and determination. His prayer life was so powerful that his disciples asked him to teach them to pray.
Prayer is not a matter of reciting particular words or repeating religious rituals. God looks on the heart. He hears the person who is convicted of guilt and feels unworthy to lift his eyes to heaven. And God hears those who humbly seek to do His will, “The effective prayer of a righteous man,” the Bible says, “can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)
The mystery and the miracle of prayer resides not in us, but in the One who created us and founded the vast universe that we have only begun to explore. We are not cogs in an accidental machine that grinds its way toward extinction. We are created in the image of God and our very nature hungers for His presence. He has endowed us with personality, intelligence and freedom. He desires our company. He listens and He invites us to pray.
“Ask,” Jesus said, “and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you [who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11).