by Andrew Shi
Prayer is wonderfully free and yet stupefies us in its simplicity. Where do I begin? What do I say? How do I say it in the right way? Quick—didn’t I promise recently to pray for someone? I feel a creeping sense of shame when I don’t pray long enough, or when I don’t feel anything happening in my prayer. I stumble in my speech, looking for that perfect word or phrase as if it could release the floodgates of God’s blessings and favor. In reality, my prayers all start to sound the same:
Help me to—
Please let me—
I pray that—
How often I am inert in my prayer, fixated on one thought without being able to think it through to completion, wandering around a mental checklist or struggling to push back the silence that accompanies an early morning, sleepy afternoon, or late night. From hour to hour, day to day, I find myself wondering why prayer is so messy and so hard. Unlike writing a paper or giving a speech, prayer as a lifestyle has no beginning or end. No deadline. No measure of performance. Prayer doesn’t seem to be like something I can get done. Because there’s no grade to earn or audience to impress, prayer can feel all the more directionless and somehow, strangely, all the more demanding. The frustration of not praying well, not praying long enough, or simply not praying at all—whatever it is—leads me to ask myself a question. It’s a question that I’ve tried to avoid in fear of discovering an answer that may disappoint: does prayer even matter?
I think this is a question we all need to ask. And I think the Bible has an answer to it. One remarkable piece of information that the Bible documents is how often Jesus would retreat from crowds around him to spend time in prayer by himself. Jesus provides us a model of prayer through the Lord’s Prayer, whose first two words are: Our Father. These two words dare to place man and God side by side. How amazing is it that we coexist on the same line and the same breath as our God?
The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that God has a special relationship to us not just as the all-powerful creator of the universe but as someone as close and relatable as a father. In fact, if God is our father, then we are his children. And if we are his children, then what we have with our God, our father, is not religion but relationship. Not the strained and perhaps distant relationship that some of us have with our fathers. A relationship with God is a relationship with a perfect being who has, since the beginning of time, a track record of not neglecting us, ever.
Importantly, the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer do not address our wants, our needs, or even what’s on our heart. No doubt, God cares about us. But before we look at ourselves, God wants us to look up. He invites us to fix our eyes towards Him, and for good reason. He knows that the moment we do, the things of earth, as the precious hymn goes, will grow strangely dim. For when we pause to turn our eyes away from ourselves and this world—just as Jesus left the crowds to find his own quiet place—we can focus on where we stand in relationship to Him, as sons and daughters whom He loves, despite our mess. Children, yes. Needy, hungry children who have the intimate privilege of being able to enter into their father’s presence as they please.
So yes, prayer does matter. And yes, God does know our worries. He cares deeply about the things, however small and silly or large and insurmountable, that we care about. But all this time, he is trying to get our attention to something far greater than gifts and blessings and even life itself. Who am I to you? A father. The father. And possessively, in the greatest and most endearing way: Our father.