6 min. to read.
I recently took an online course. The teacher is someone I look up to and have learned a lot from.
The lessons were a combination of reading, watching video, doing exercises at home and sharing with other students in a forum. This works well for me. I can structure my time, do the work at my own pace, and ask questions of my peers.
But there was one complaint that came up over and over in the forum. A few people were disappointed, others were frustrated, about one thing.
The teacher, the one who had written all the material, wasn’t present in the forum.
He had written all the lessons. He had recorded all the audio and video. When you signed up for the course, you were getting hours and hours of material that he had put together personally. But he, himself, wasn’t there.
I’ve thought a lot about this in the past weeks. I’m creating my own online course, and I’m thinking about the experience I want my students to have. I understand why this presenter went the route he did. The course allows him to share his material with thousands of people, something he could never do one-on-one. Yet, I understand the disappointment of some of the students.
We want direct access. We want connection. We want to know that there is someone there to listen to us, to give us counsel, to help us when we struggle.
This is why the 5th commitment of an apprentice of Jesus is to pray.
Prayer is when we initiate communication with God
The Bible assumes the need for prayer and its effectiveness. Why is quite simple. The Bible teaches us that God exists and that God can both communicate with us and hear us in return.
When God communicates with us it’s called revelation. Sometimes the means of revelation is powerful and obvious like prophecy or a vision.
Other times revelation comes in mystical ways, like the still small voice that whispers to our hearts. Then there’s the revelation we find in circumstances or the words of others. Most frequently, God’s revelation can be found in scripture. God speaks in many ways.
But when we are the ones initiating the conversation, it has only one name: prayer. When God communicates with us it’s called revelation. When we speak to God, it’s prayer.
The apprentice relationship is a two-way conversation. The master teaches. The apprentice learns and practices. The student asks questions and looks for feedback. The master corrects and challenges. The apprentices responds. If we really are to learn how to do life from Jesus, communication is necessary. So we listen for His voice, but we also talk back. That’s why prayer is essential.
An apprentice is committed to let every aspect of life be shaped by Jesus. That means that prayer becomes a part of every aspect of life as well.
- Prayer that your day will be guided by Jesus.
- Prayer that your words in this next conversation will honor Jesus and bless this person.
- Prayer that you can release your anxiety in the moment when you get bad news.
- Prayer for a friend of family member.
- Prayer asking for direction.
- Prayer to articulate a moment of gratitude or worship.
But I just don’t get prayer!
At this moment, you are very likely having one of two responses. You might be saying, “Yep. Got it. Prayer matters. I’m on board.” So, this commitment will be easy for you. But more likely, you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t know… I have a hard time with prayer.”
I know. I hear you. I’ve struggled with prayer my whole life. I don’t get the “physics” of it. I wrestle with big theological issues surrounding it. I’ve run hot and cold with it, sometimes being ardent about prayer and other times going months without praying once.
Here’s what turned the corner for me. It wasn’t finding a great theological argument in support. It wasn’t having an obvious and miraculous answer to prayer. I re-committed to prayer when I committed to being an apprentice to Jesus, not just a believer or follower. Here’s why:
There are essentially two different basic ways to relate to Jesus.
One is to see Jesus as a good teacher who lived a long time ago. If that’s your view, then you can learn about his teaching by reading the gospels, you can practice his teaching, but that’s it. Prayer’s not relevant, because there’s no one there to hear you.
The other view is that Jesus is currently alive, present and able to engage us. Crazy as that sounds, this is what the New Testament suggests. If this view is true, not only can you learn about Jesus from the Gospels, but Jesus can teach you himself. Jesus can give you ongoing guidance and correction.
Will you take this gamble?
If you believe this second view, even if you just suspect this possibility, there is absolutely no reason why you would not spend time talking to Jesus every day. If it’s true that you can communicate with the smartest man who ever lived, and get ongoing guidance from him, You’d be crazy not to.
Some people get deeply into trying to prove that prayer works (or that it doesn’t). I’m not going to do that here. I’m simply going to pose a gamble, the very same one that turned the corner for me on prayer.
Make prayer a part of your everyday life. Address Jesus and ask for guidance. Bring your deep questions to Jesus. Pray for your loved ones. Pray for the people you struggle with. Make prayer an ongoing part of your day.
Why do this? Simple. You have nothing to lose by praying, and an enormous opportunity for gain.
If Jesus was a good ethical teacher who lived 2000 years ago, he can’t hear you. When you pray, nothing will happen. You’ll have solid ethical teaching that makes you a kinder, more loving person and you’ll have meditated, which has been shown scientifically to improve focus and a sense well-being. That’s the worst case scenario.
But, if Jesus is God, if Jesus is alive, present, and able to engage you, you might just have a real experience of Him. You might actually get guidance. You might find yourself developing a relationship with Jesus that you don’t even understand.
This is the best possible gamble you can take, even if you don’t get how prayer works.
I don’t get prayer. It’s hard to fit it gracefully into my natural worldview. And yet, I’ve gotten real guidance and experienced things that seem like miracles. I’ve had Jesus shape my thinking and my actions. And so even though I still struggle, I pray. I invite you to do the same.