(This is a chapter from my book, Don’t Eat the Cat Food!, now available from Westbow Press.)
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther
If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you doubtless remember how the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise interacted when approaching a new planet or unfamiliar ship. But for the “non-Trekkers” out there: in such cases, Captain Kirk would tell Lt. Uhura to “open a channel.” In doing so, he was trying to establish two-way communications. Uhura would use the resources at her disposal to send a message, and ask for a reply. She would sometimes have to use her considerable linguistics skill to translate the messages, but the “Universal Translator” was usually able to handle it. (And it was so good at its job that almost every alien spoke perfect English!)
If you’ll excuse the prosaic analogy, in order to restore the connection with was so painfully lost in the mists of human history, we need only to “open a channel”. We have been given the ability to communicate directly with our Creator — an incredible privilege! Thanks to the redemptive and substitutionary role of Christ, who now stands at God’s right hand, we are able to open a channel directly.
A lot of people trip over the idea of prayer, because they don’t know “how to do it.” Some people think it means knowing all the “thees” and “thous”; something you have to do in church, with your eyes closed. But that’s totally missing the point; a gross over-thinking.
Prayer is simply a conversation, a two-way exchange. God wants to hear from you, and for you to give him “the desires of your heart.” Scripture tells us to “pray without ceasing”; to me, that means keeping God in the crosshairs of your vision. God is a real being — a person – who is right beside you in the form of the helper, the Holy Spirit. (John 14). This helper-advocate is with you all the time; he is God. He wants to be involved in all the decisions of your life, whether it’s deciding whom to marry, whether to buy that house, or what color paint you’re going to get for the living room.
The great theologian Charles Spurgeon noted that we must
“…go to God with childlike confidence, which makes us pray as none else can. It makes a man pray for great things, which he would never have asked for if he had not learned this confidence; and makes him pray for little things which a great many are afraid to ask for, because they have not yet felt towards God the confidence of children.”
For me, I find that just thinking about God helps open the channel of conversation. An unbeliever would have no reason to think of God, other than to recoil at the shame as he realizes his fallen state. But if you find your thoughts going to God, it could be that he’s trying to open the channel of communication. You may be tempted to dismiss such thoughts as your own, or to think it’s just your subconscious dredging up old ideas. But, as a Christian, you are more than yourself. If you are truly saved, your heart has been converted and is no longer like that of other men or women. You are his.
So talk to him, and listen with your heart. You may find ideas coming to you that you didn’t come up with yourself. This is the “still, small voice” referred to often by preachers and hymn writers; it’s the same voice Elijah heard in the cave.
So, how do you open the channel? For me, I need a place without distractions; a dark closet, perhaps. I have had my most profound spiritual moments in a dark room, with the door closed, away from the possibility of any distractions. Remember when I asked you to imagine yourself in a city at night, and what it would be like if the lights suddenly went out and you could see the stars for the first time? Likewise, we need to shut off the sensual noise to which we become accustomed in our busy world. In Matthew, Jesus told to do this very thing:
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – NIV, Matthew 6:6
Primarily, the passage deals with avoiding outward demonstrations which bring glory to you, not God. However, it has application here as well. Getting alone, by yourself, without distractions, you can listen better to hear the still, small voice of God.
Many people smarter and wiser than I have held forth on the topic of “how” to pray. Of course, Jesus taught his disciples – and us – how to pray on numerous occasions. But I’d like to pose this question: when talking to your oldest and dearest friend – especially one you haven’t talked to in a while – how would you do that? God is, in every sense of the word, your oldest and dearest friend.
After all, it was his fingers that built you, cell-by-cell, in the cradle of life, and his voice made you giddy when he was building your fingers and toes in the indescribable comfort of the womb. He guided the hands of the doctor when he pulled you out, and it was God who watched over your crib and comforted you as you slept in the blissful peace of childhood. It was his voice you heard whispering in the trees outside your bedroom window when you had to spend the afternoon in your room, and his laughter you heard in the wind as you lay, barefoot, enjoying the cool grass of summertime.
It was God’s finger that pricked your heart you when you wanted to steal that piece of candy in the convenience store, and it was his finger which wiped away your tears when you faced the first pain of unrequited love. It was his eyes which pierced the veneer of the façade you had built for the world to see, and illuminated the sin which lay, festering and poisonous, in your heart. And it was his heart that reached out to yours that day; calling you to be healed and whole, and you invited him in. Those hands, those feet, those eyes, that heart; you know them as well as you know yourself.
And since you’re a Christian, there’s something else: you know him as the One who saved you from certain destruction. He’s the wise king, the righteous judge, the one who deserves all your reverence and awe, and in whose presence you would stand powerless, insignificant and hopeless. But, because his nature is love, he emptied himself, becoming one of us (Philippians 2).
And because the curtain in the temple was ripped in two — from top to bottom — at the moment Jesus’ spirit rose from his body and left the tortuous cross, the curse was broken. No longer did we have to have a priest intervene for us to speak to the Creator; we can speak to him ourselves, because of his sacrifice on our behalf. God is there, he is speaking, and all we need to do is stop, listen and respond.
Challenge: Today, pick a hymn or spiritual song, and as you go about your day, commit to singing it (out loud or in your head) every time you get up or move. As you sing, think about each word. At the end of the day, reflect on whether you learned any new spiritual insights because of it.