The Relationship Component
By Rick Ezell
"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you" (John 15:7 NIV).
For some people prayer is nothing more than a meaningless ritual. Like the little boy who asked his father when they sat down at the dinner table, "Dad, can I talk to our plates tonight." Many people treat prayer like an Aladdin's Lamp. We pray our prayers, like rubbing the lamp waiting on the genie to pop out to grant the requests to our commands. Or we treat prayer like a spiritual first-aid kit. We break it open only in emergencies. Or we treat prayer like a transaction between God and us. Usually it us who makes the demands with the expectation that God will act.
I would like to suggest to you that prayer is an interaction between God and us. Rick Warren says that one of the reasons that God doesn't answer our prayers is so God can talk with us more. If he answered our prayers immediately, we would treat God like a rich uncle to bail us out when we were in trouble, only coming to him when we had a serious need.
Prayer is an ongoing conversation with God. That is the idea behind Paul's admonition to "pray continually" (1 Thes. 5:17 NIV). Prayer is the main vehicle of a Heavenly Father sharing life with his children. Prayer is an inner dialogue with a friend. Through prayer we express our feelings to God. And in turn, God pours out his love and comfort.
In a scene from Shadowlands, a film based on the life of C. S. Lewis, Lewis has returned to Oxford from London, where he has just been married to Joy Gresham, an American woman, in a private Episcopal ceremony performed at her hospital bedside. She is dying from cancer and, through the struggle with her illness; she and Lewis have discovered the depth of their love for each other. As Lewis arrives at the college where he teaches, he is met by Harry Harrington, an Episcopal priest, who asks what news there is. Lewis hesitates, then, deciding to speak of the marriage and not the cancer, he says, "Ah, good news, I think, Harry. Yes, good news."
Harrington, not aware of the marriage and thinking that Lewis is referring to Joy's medical situation, replies, "I know how hard you've been praying . . . Now, God is answering your prayer."
"That's not why I pray, Harry," Lewis responds. "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God; it changes me."
Jesus said, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you" (John 15:7 NIV). Notice carefully what Jesus is saying. He is providing two powerful pieces of revelation if we want our prayers answered. First, he is emphasizing the need for relationship with him. God desires a relationship with you and me. "If you remain in me" or "If you abide in me" testifies to that relationship. The word remain or abide means to "continue in a state or place, to endure." What Jesus wants from us is that we be willing to remain in him, that we be willing to live in and with him. That is, we have established an intimate, personal relationship with him.
Notice that this verse begin with the word if. If we have established a personal relationship with God, then we can approach him with our prayer requests, and then he will answer them.
Too often we attempt to use God. The only time we approach God is when we need something. God thus has no natural desire to answer any prayer request we may have because we don't established any kind of true personal relationship with him.
Second, we spend time in his Word. Jesus said, "and my words remain in you." Jesus' "words" literally means his words. If we have established a good, loving, personal relationship with God, then he will talk to us just like we will talk to him. And if he is talking to us, then his words will be abiding in us! This will be as a direct result of the free flowing dialogue that we will have with God as a result of having established a close personal relationship with him.
In addition, his word remaining in us is a reference to the Bible. Prayer and the Bible go hand in hand. In fact, we need the Bible-God's Words to us-more than we need our words. If we really want to enter into a close personal relationship with God, then we have to be willing to spend some type of regular quality time in the Bible. The Bible is the only true source that while we are on earth can really learn all about God, the Father, his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
As we obey God's Word our prayers are answered. The Proverbs say, "If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable" (Prov. 28:9 NIV). I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this verse in The Message: "God has no use for the prayers of the people who won't listen to him." That should be awake-up call for every believer. If we want God to answer our prayers then we should be listening, obeying, and doing what God tells us to do. Could that be the reason that God is not answering our prayers, we aren't doing what we already know what we should?
What is prayer anyway? Is it simply a mental flex to get what we want? Prayer is more than a glorified shopping list. Prayer is conversation and communion with God. Through prayer we experience relationship with God. The quality of our prayer life then determines the quality of our relationship with God. Prayer is talking with God. Prayer is listening to God. Prayer is enjoying the presence of God. It can take many forms, for example: worship, confession, thanksgiving, praise, petition (asking for things), waiting (silent, listening, and sensing of God) and warfare (command). Prayer is not simply saying words. It is not repeating formulas. God is looking for heartfelt relationship. We are told by Jesus not to make meaningless repetitions of words when we pray. (Mathew 6:7).
We like C.S. Lewis pray because we can't help ourselves. We need God.