By Hal Green
Prayer establishes your personal, private relationship with God. It is the greatest relationship you will have; it may begin here, but it will not end here. Amazingly, it is eternal. When you pray, the hidden God will be gazing on you from eternity, seeing where you are and where God wants you to be. God seeks what is best for you not only for the moment but also for eternity. Your task is to let God be God and to seek, above all, to do God’s will even if you do not understand the “whys.” Trust that God does and that there will be an answer.
Nevertheless, you cannot help but approach God with your own expectations and agenda, which you ask God to meet and carry out. God understands that and does not criticize you for any request from the heart. Risk believing in Jesus’ words: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Believe also that whenever you turn to God in prayer, you will be heard regardless of whether you feel that you have been.
Prayer has immediate and long-term benefits. The immediate benefit comes from inviting God into your life; for as the ancient rabbis said, “God is wherever we let God in.” The subsequent benefits or fruit of prayer are essentially those that arise from the presence of the invited Spirit. The Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit, available in and through prayer: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Like growing fruit in a garden, it takes time, good soil, sun, warmth and rain. Different fruit have different patterns and periods of growth. Significant growth can happen during prayer.
Disciplined prayer is akin to disciplined exercise. You cannot expect too much too quickly when you begin to weight train. It takes time and commitment to strengthen your body. Just so, it takes time and commitment to strengthen your relationship to God. My single desire when I leave the gym after a workout is to feel better than I did when I first entered. The same goes for prayer: I want to end a prayer period feeling better than when I began it. If nothing else, I have addressed God and expressed where I am. I have put words and my heart before the Holy One, who is always listening and who will respond in God’s timing and way. Above all, I hope I will have sensed the Beloved with me and in me, and that our dialogue continues.
However, do not rely on your feelings or on the apparent effects of prayer on your soul and life. I remember a man did not think anything was happening while engaging in daily centering prayer. So he considered quitting it. Yet his family protested: “No! Do not stop! You are much easier to be around.” Thus, and most importantly, the benefits of prayer include its positive effects on those around you.
(Hal Green, Ph.D., is author of Pray This Way to Connect with God. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)