Sensing God’s Presence and Friendship Through Prayer
Since the beginning of time, people have prayed – in many ways and for many things. What is prayer? Ruth Haley Barton defines it in Sacred Rhythms as “all the ways in which we communicate and commune with God” (1). In other words, we may sense the presence of God as we pray and experience the peace of God's listening as we share what is on our hearts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stresses in Prayerbook of the Bible that “praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty” (2). So, according to Bonhoeffer, we are encouraged to pray whether things are going well for us or not.
Teresa of Avila considered prayer as “nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with [God] who we know loves us” (3). The picture of communicating with God in prayer as our friend has been captured in several old Christian hymns, one of the most familiar being “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Joseph Scriven wrote the words for this song for his mother in 1855 when she was facing a crisis (4). In the first verse, Mr. Scriven emphasizes [the] “privilege to carry everything to God in prayer” (5). This hymn is still sung and has comforted and encouraged people throughout the world for over 150 years.
Jesus stressed the importance of prayer in his teachings, such as in Matthew 7:7a, 8: “Ask, and you will receive... If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” The gospels indicate that Jesus also prayed to his Father in heaven. When his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer that can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV):
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
We can use the Lord’s Prayer to pray as well as our own words and other written prayers. What about you? Are you ready to experience God as your friend through prayer?
1. Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 63.
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol.5, trans. and ed. Gerhard Ludwig Muller and Albrecht Schonherr, English edition ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 155.
3. St. Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, 8.5, 96.
4. Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul (Nashville, Tennessee: W. Publishing, 2011), 131.
5. Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul, 130.