As a child I waited for this moment in our church service. After the time of music and singing concluded, one of our pastors ventured forward and repeated a phrase I had heard countless times. I positioned on the edge of my seat, waiting for what was next. Then with welcoming arms extended and mouth pursed to form that phrase I knew so well, Pastor Jim would say, “Prayer is simply talking to God.” In unison I would utter the same phrase quietly to myself and then he would simply pray and talk to God. What a lesson on prayer! No big words or complicated phrases, just talking to God. I could do that!
Two-thousand years ago Jesus roamed the arid countryside of Israel with a band of twelve disciples preaching about the good news of God and healing people of their ailments. These disciples, on an ongoing basis, were witness of something new God was doing with humanity: He was making things personal. While Jesus on some levels appeared religious, worshipping in the temple and taking part in activities, he was initiating a new way of relating with God in a personal relationship.
In Scriptures we see this so clearly. In Luke 11:1 we see Jesus is off praying to His heavenly Father. One of his disciples sees Jesus modeling this intimate relationship and asks a very simple question, “Lord, teach us to pray…” They must have witnessed Jesus praying so many times. They likely even prayed all together. Who knows how long it took them to ask this question, but Jesus took the opportunity teach them how to pray.
Jesus then says, “When you pray…” (11:2). This phrase tells the reader that the disciples did pray, but they just were lacking a seemingly important element of really connecting with God. Jesus then pens what many of us refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer.” “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13). While reciting this prayer can be helpful, it is more of a model way of praying for the important things that help shape a personal relationship with the living God. Unpacking it we see there is an aspect of praise and thanks to God. We also find a call to align our lives with the purpose why Jesus came. In the latter part of the prayer Jesus addresses the need to receive and give forgiveness to others and to avoid temptation. Jesus covers it all! After this brief prayer, I bet His disciples scrambled to get it down and to pray like Jesus. What a relief to know that it was not just a specific formula, but a way to be in conversation with God.
Years later I talked with Pastor Jim and he shared something was missing in his definition of prayer. He updated it by adding, “Prayer is simply talking and listening to God.” God invites humanity into an intimate relationship. While prayer can be as easy as simply talking to God, it also involves active listening. Listening not just for a “voice,” but what God is communicating through the truth of Scriptures, from the Holy Spirit, and through His people and creation.
While I also love formal prayers, prayer can simply be a conversation with God who has created us for relationship. He wants us to personally know and talk to Him. Take time today to “Simply talk and listen to God.”
Frank Alioto is the pastor of The River Covenant Church: “An Alaskan church for people who would rather go to the River.” We gather on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at K-Beach Elementary in Soldotna. Call 252-2828 or visit www.therivercovenantchurch.org.