AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Suppose a friend invites you to meet for coffee. When you arrive, she is waiting for you at a table with an older man that you’ve never seen before. When she introduces you, she says that somehow this complete stranger knows everything there is to know about you. Then she makes up an excuse to leave early and encourages you to have a nice long chat with the man she brought along.
“He really likes you,” she whispers before scooting off. Okay…this is awkward. Sitting down at the table, you look at the man and he smiles warmly back at you.
“So, my friend says you know all about me,” you say.
“Yes, I do,” he answers with a ring of authority to his voice that convinces you he’s not bluffing. How do you start a conversation with such a person?
This is the bizarre situation we find ourselves in when we meet God for the first time, only in His case, things are even more extreme. Not only does He know all about us, He hears all of our thoughts, sees into our souls, and feels all of our emotions. We’re like an open book to Him—there’s no privacy whatsoever. We have no chance to choose the order in which God learns things about us, nor do we have any hope of presenting Him with an act that showcases our best qualities while downplaying our flaws. As humans, we aren’t used to feeling so exposed in a relationship. It makes us feel awkward. If we really dwell on the fact that God already knows what we’re going to say before we even say it, it can make talking to Him at all seem like a waste of time. So why pray?
The prevailing view of prayer in the Church today is that it is a means of solving problems. We talk about prayer being a means of furthering our relationship with God, but in practice we view it primarily as a means of directing God about. We draw His attention to certain events in our lives or in the news and ask Him to do something helpful. When our friends are in trouble, we keep reminding Him and asking Him to provide physical healing or material help that will resolve the situation in our eyes. God becomes like a fruit laden tree in an orchard that we start shaking whenever we’re hungry so that some of the fruit will be knocked down from the branches. Our relationship with Him quickly becomes need-based instead of heart-based. We don’t share our hearts with Him as we would a good friend, instead we talk to Him like our supervisor at work—informing Him of our problems down here and asking Him to use His superior Authority to help us out of jams.
If we stop and think about it, it’s really nonsensical for tiny creatures like us to tell the Almighty God what He should do. This is rather like telling a surgeon how to operate on you when you haven’t had any medical training. But if we were to remove this directive element from our prayers, what would be left? Not much. Unless we learn to approach God with a different emphasis, we will spend our lives telling Him what to do and never learn much about who He is.
God wants a heart bond with us, not a directive bond. In order to develop this, we are the ones who need to change our approach. We need to start praying to God about more than just our problems and we need to start sharing our hearts with Him.
Many people feel shut down by the idea that God already knows everything about them, so they either give up praying entirely or they ignore the fact that God knows everything and continue informing Him about their problems and telling Him what to do. Yet if we allow the omniscience of God to fully sink in, we will find that it brings a powerful element of peace and rest into our relationship with Him. To realize that we are fully understood takes a real load off of our shoulders when it comes to trying to communicate our feelings to God. Even when words fail, we know that He knows exactly what we are trying to say. It’s a heavenly situation—far better than we’ll ever get with human beings. God is the one and only Being who completely understands us. He is the only One who accepts, likes, and loves us exactly as we are. We mustn’t allow Satan to intimidate us with the idea that God already knows all of our thoughts ahead of time. This is really a huge advantage. Every human relationship is plagued with constant misunderstandings as two beings with limited understanding struggle to relate amid a cloud of stereotypes and false assumptions about each other. With God, there is only one partner in the dark: us. At least we never have to worry about Him misunderstanding us or misinterpreting our prayers. We have the assurance that we are always heard, always understood, and always responded to. God assures us that none of our prayers are ignored by Him and that His eyes are always on us. This is far more attention than we’ll ever get from another person.
Now that we have an all-knowing, attentive Being so interested in relating to us, how do we proceed? Telling Him what’s going on in our life seems out of place because He already knows. God doesn’t want news updates from us, He wants to hear about our hearts. We need to talk to Him like we would our best human friend: sharing our feelings, concerns and excitement simply for the sake of sharing. Suppose we’re getting ready in the morning to start a new job. If a close friend called us just then, what would we say to them? We’d tell them how nervous we were and look for reassurance. This is the kind of communication God delights in hearing from us: our thoughts, our feelings and our reactions to life. When we vent to Him about the fact that our hair looks like a frizzy mess, He has the chance to tell us it looks just fine. When we tell Him we’re worried about making a good impression, He has the chance to tell us that everything will be alright. Just as we don’t expect human friends to fix every little problem, we need to get away from viewing God only as a solution center. We share with our friends simply to feel heard and cared about. Just being around them makes us feel better, even though they have no super powers and can’t magically fix our problems. We need to get in a similar mindset with God. We need to see His Presence as a positive apart from His ability to fix things. It is frustrating to God when we only come to Him with our problems and never talk to Him just to talk. He loves it when we mentally include Him in our conversations with other people, and when we direct our random thoughts and passing feelings in His direction. Just as we send friends text messages to keep them updated on the details of our lives, God wants us to send Him mental updates as well. Not because He doesn’t already know our thoughts, but because the more we share with Him, the more we open our minds up to receiving feedback from Him.
Knowing someone is entirely different than having a relationship with them. You would never claim to have a personal relationship with someone just because you read their autobiography. So also, God does not consider Himself as having a personal bond with us until we invite Him into our lives. Yes, He knows about us and cares about us, but a one-sided interest is hardly satisfying. God didn’t create us so He could sit around observing us like rats in a laboratory maze. Since the beginning of this world He has made it clear that He wants a personal relationship with each one of us. By engaging in prayer, we open the door for that relationship to happen and the way we pray communicates what kind of relationship we want.
Many new Christians get very concerned about praying to God correctly. Rather than fuss over language and wording, we need to think about the kinds of subjects we are inviting God to talk to us about. If we only talk to Him when we are in crisis, then we are telling Him that He’s not welcome to engage with us on a personal level. Instead, He is limited to the role of a 9-1-1 operator—someone we don’t know and don’t care about, we just want them to send help. God finds this kind of offer insulting and frustrating. By sending His Son to die for us, He has made it clear that He is extremely interested in engaging with us. To respond to such a gesture with a cold “I’ll call You when I need You” attitude is simply irreverent.
When we refuse to relax with God—always talking to Him with formal language and carefully worded praises, we also end up frustrating Him. By telling us that He already knows everything about us, God has made it clear that there is no need to put on pretenses for His sake. While respect is important, it is not worth sacrificing honesty over. To force praises when we are inwardly seething over something God has done in our lives only blocks our communication with Him. He knows we are angry and wants to help us process our feelings, but if we’re unwilling or afraid to talk about our anger with Him, then we close our minds to receiving His help. Anytime we stonewall God—even in an attempt to be reverent—we start hampering our relationship with Him. This is why it is critical that we don’t avoid any topics in our prayer life. When we can sense our friend is upset but they keep saying “I’m fine” every time we ask them what is wrong, what will be the result? A sense of emotional distance and frustration on our side. With God, these things are amplified, for He already knows exactly what’s wrong and understands our distress even better than we do.
Many times in the Bible, God urges us to pray and to come to Him over every little thing. This is because prayer is the way that we open up our soul to His involvement in our lives. Prayer has never been about instructing God or helping Him with His priority list—these goals were manufactured by Satan to distract us. We pray as a means of building a personal bond with God, and He makes that bond happen by engaging with us to the level that we invite Him to. If we keep Him at arm’s length, then we’ll never have anything but a distant, formal, unsatisfying relationship. If we share our hearts with Him and talk to Him about every little aspect of our existence, then we will find Him responding to us about all those little details. God is an endless Source of help—not just in how to interpret the Bible, but in how to rearrange our closets, advance in our hobbies, style our hair, budget our finances, improve our diets, de-stress our lives and deal with nervous jitters on a first date. He wants to be viewed not only as our King, Creator and God, but also as our Best Friend, most trusted Advisor and favorite Companion. He wants us to view life as a group experience: we are never alone, but we are doing everything together with Him and looking to Him for guidance in all things. There is no topic too boring, no detail too trivial—if it interests us, it interests God. He wants to watch our movies with us and be invited to share His opinion of them. He wants to watch the sports game with us and read our books with us and taste every flavor of the foods we eat. Of course He already does, but there’s no value in it for us until we recognize His intimate involvement in our lives. It is through constant prayer that our awareness of God grows until His Presence with us becomes an obvious fact instead of a theory that we struggle to keep a hold of. This is why we’re told to “pray without ceasing” and that if we “draw near to God, He will draw near to us.” God has already taken the first step: He has called us to come near to Him and said that He wants a close personal bond with each of us. Now we need to respond by inviting Him into every area of our lives through prayer. Forget about telling Him what to do. Instead, share your heart with Him and ask Him all of your curious questions about who He is. Start talking to Him like He is more than just your problem-fixer, more than just a super power or a busy King on a distant throne. Start talking to God as if He was your very dearest friend who is by your side in every moment and that is what He will become.