What Happens When We Pray?
When we pray we don’t have to get our words exactly right or reach some level of holiness first. The Spirit’s job is to listen and speak for us to God. And so we can pray with real honesty and confidence – no matter what words we use.
Can you imagine what the conversation at the heart of the three-person-one-God relationship is like? What do the Father, Spirit, Son – who have been around since before the beginning of anything, who are everywhere and know everything – talk about? Do they talk? Or is it some completely-other-level way of communicating?
Have you ever wondered how much the three persons of the Trinity must be dumbing things down so that they can talk to us?
So here’s a thought: we’ve been invited into the heart of this God-relationship (see last session) and the Bible tells us we’re invited to speak too. Isn’t it a bit like being invited to speak at something like the G-8 summit where the presidents of the most powerful countries in the world are sitting, facing you, waiting to hear what you have to say. And you’re, like, 4 years old? Just a bit intimidating? I mean, what if the things we say to God and ask him for just sound completely ridiculous?
It would be, if God wasn’t so good at bringing himself down to our level and delighting in what we have to say – just like a dad goes all soggy when his baby daughter starts gurgling and cooing. And God takes our prayers seriously too. The stuff we ask God for makes a real difference on earth and in the heavenly dimension.
But there’s something else that makes prayer not just a terrifying or uselessly cute exercise. Just before Jesus left his disciples and left the earth in physical form he said this:
‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you’ John 14v16-17.
This ‘another Counsellor’ is the Holy Spirit who comes to live inside anyone who believes in Jesus and his message. In John 14-16 Jesus describes a whole bunch of things the Spirit will do for us:
‘when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you ‘ John 16v13-14
One of the Spirit’s jobs is to listen and speak. Listening to the conversation at the heart of God, the Spirit whispers that awesome truth to us, guiding us ‘into all truth’.
What is absolutely stunning for me is that the Spirit listens and speaks in the other direction too. Here’s how Paul describes it in Romans 8:
‘God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.’ (Romans 8v26-27 The Message)
This, for me is what makes prayer even remotely thinkable. The Spirit who lives in me and searches my heart – and so knows me way better than I know myself – takes my completely inadequate and inappropriate words and … get this … carries them right into the heart of the Conversation that’s been going on forever.
What that sounds like, no-one knows. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we don’t have to try hard to find the right words to say to God. We just need to start talking!
If you read some of the prayers that are recorded in the Old Testament you’ll find some pretty hectic things. David, Jonah, Moses all let God know exactly what they were feeling – and they didn’t seem to care whether their prayers met some kind of holiness standard or not.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and every day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13v1-2)
‘happy is he who repays you – Babylon, for what you have done to us— he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks!’ (Psalm 137v8-9)
Destroy those guys please – I can’t stand the kinds of evil stuff they’re doing (Psalm 139 v19-22)
Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
… You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88 v14, 18)
‘Smite me O Mighty Smiter!!’ (oh wait, that was in Bruce Almighty. Ignore that one …)
Of course there are some stunningly beautiful and holy prayers from ordinary people too – like the one Mary prayed just after the angel told her about the baby she was pregnant with Jesus:
‘I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Saviour God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!’ (Luke 1v46-48 The Message)
God can handle anything we throw at him. He knows life is hard and he knows we are just human – and God loves to hear us and respond to us in love.
You know one reason why I think God is willing to put up with our sometimes very un-godly prayers? I suspect it’s because God knows that the very act of praying changes us. Just by talking to God we are putting some kind of faith into practice. We’re testing the waters, discovering what it means to talk to God. Prayer humbles us and points us in a direction where we can get some fresh perspective.
And if we’re able to stop talking for a few moments we might just catch a sense of what the Spirit is whispering back to us – right from the center of that Divine conversation.
Ready to join in?
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Download a PDF version of this session here
If you pray to God what have your last, say, 5 prayers been about? Have they been the ‘help me, I’m in trouble!’ kind, or asking for things? Maybe a prayer of worship?
How honest do you feel you can be with God? Do you feel like you have to be at least some level of holy before you can speak, or when you speak?
Who have been your role models in learning how to pray?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to re-read one or more of the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them on the third tab on this page.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Are there any posts that you disagree with or are not sure about?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
Here’s Brad Fish attempting to explain what happens when we pray … Link here
Some questions to help you replay your story …
o Was there anything in this session that surprised you or stood out for you?
o Are there any parts that seem like really good news? Anything that’s hard to believe?
o Imagine if you were able to pray completely honestly and with confidence that the Spirit was praying your words for you into the center of God. How would that change the way you pray?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
While Jesus was on earth he depended on the Spirit to connect with his Father too – see Luke 3v21-22, Luke 4v1-2 and 4v18-19 and Luke 10v21.
How does seeing how dependant Jesus was on the Spirit for guidance, power and comfort shape the way you understand what Jesus is like? How well might he understand your limitations and weaknesses too?
What practical action, response, thought do you want to take into the week?
Have you encountered something today about the way you pray, or don’t pray that makes you want to say to God:
‘wow, I’ve totally got that wrong in my life, sorry! Guide me into a better way of talking to you from now on’ ?
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o What one thing do you need to remember about how the Spirit helps you to pray?
o What are some new ways to pray, and new things to pray for that you can begin to include in your prayers this week?
From the WordSpace
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
What happens when we pray?
My four-year-old freaked out today because I wouldn’t give him NikNaks for breakfast. He thought I was mean.
I’m trusting that as he gets bigger and wiser and gets to know me better, he’ll understand that I’m not a NikNaks killjoy. I just love him.
Sometimes God says no to stuff that I pray for and I think he doesn’t care what I want. But the more I get to know God, the deeper I dive into his love and the more I understand that his ways are perfect. It gets easier to trust that he knows best.
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3v5)
‘God never speaks to me.’ Does that ever sound like you? I know I go through phases like that where it seems like God is so quiet when I REALLY want to hear him.
But then I am often reminded of the first few words of Psalm 46v10, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
Sometimes God doesn’t speak to me because I fill up all the prayer time with my words. Phew. That is a hard one to swallow, but a great reminder that when I make time to listen, God often makes use of that time to speak.
Psalm 46 here: http://bit.ly/1bMbNnC
So here’s a thought: isn’t the idea of joining the conversation at the heart of God just a bit intimidating? Like being invited to speak at the United Nations to all those powerful people – and you’re, like, 8 years old?
Here’s what makes prayer even remotely thinkable for me: the Spirit who lives in me and searches my heart – and so knows me way better than I know myself – takes my completely inadequate and inappropriate words and … get this … carries them right into the heart of the conversation that’s been going on forever.
You don’t have to try hard to find the right words to say to God. Just start talking!
Read Romans 8v26-27 here: http://bit.ly/1e27hmT
‘Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two / but I can shake it, shake it, like I’m supposed to do’
Despite critics accusing her of ‘skinny shaming’, everyone agrees that Meghan Trainor has written a huge hit with All About That Bass (http://bit.ly/1ol1Cni). It’s great to hear some reshaping of the world’s beauty standards, but the Psalms go much deeper:
‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made / Wonderful are your works / my soul knows it very well’ (Psalm 139:14 ESV)
One of the benefits of prayer is that it slowly brings us to see God’s view about ourselves, and the world we live in. He loves us because we are His creation, we are wonderful to Him however we look. The more we pray, the deeper that goes, until finally we believe it in our very soul.
Are you one of those people who talks to themselves out loud? Sometimes I am 😀
For most of us, most of the time, only we can hear what’s going on in our heads. Or is that really true?
The Bible tells us that God’s Spirit knows us better than we know ourselves which means even when we have no clue how we really feel or what we really think, God does!
Prayer is hard when we don’t know what to say. So when you’re stuck, try sharing those mixed-up and messed-up thoughts with the Holy Spirit and let him do the translation!
Want to try it now?
Romans 8v26-27 here: http://bit.ly/1e27hmT