Most likely, we must have heard about the prayer of petition, the prayer of praise and the prayer of thanksgiving. Also, there is the prayer of intercession, which we all exercise when we pray for each other.
Additionally, there are vocal, mental prayer and contemplative prayer. But if we were to try and describe the ultimate end of all our prayer, how might we define it?
It is relevant to recall that all prayer is simply the act of standing in the presence of a loving God. We can on occasion fall into the trap of perceiving that we are the principal actor in prayer, but of course, we are not. Even our involvement in prayer is a gift from God.
“And he who searches the hearts of men understands what is in the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit prays for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27)
Moreover, we must try to take the time to properly get ready for this single most important act of the day, by first understanding to whom we are speaking in prayer. When we pray, we are presenting ourselves before the One who created the universe, time and all eternity, not to mention each and every one of us.
We have all had the experience of standing before a person we consider to be of some relevance, whether a sports figure, a singer, actor, politician or maybe someone interviewing us for a job. We all recall how this experience can leave us flabbergasted and overwhelmed. If we really come to comprehend with Whom we are speaking in prayer, we will surely be left speechless and in awe.
Here is how the Book of Habakkuk expressed the issue of prayer or this idea of standing in the presence of God:
“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
We recall that each of us is a Temple of God, (“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you”) (1 Corinthians 6:19). Each of us is truly a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, but anytime we take the time to communicate with God in prayer, we must also take some time to put ourselves in a state of reverence.
Revisiting Habakkuk, just two verses later, the writer goes on to offer his understanding on this God before Whom he stands:
“O Lord, I have heard the report of thee, and thy work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years renew it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)
I am certain there have been times in our lives when we could relate to the Prophet Habakkuk’s prayer. By way of background, Habakkuk is asking God to take revenge on his adversaries. Habakkuk is specifically impressed with God’s former deeds, His intervention into history, and Habakkuk would like to see God act again.
This desire might continually be true for us when our lives seem to be spinning out of control, or when we are facing a great turmoil. But if our deepest desire in prayer is to truly seek an encounter with Him, God is less likely to be found in His deeds or actions.
Too many people who start a serious life of prayer want God to reveal Himself to them through His actions, through what He will do relating the issues of their lives. The issue with this approach to prayer is that God is not often discovered by us in His actions, He is more often manifested by His attributes, those characteristics that really define Who God is. These include things such as His Mercy, His Love, His Omnipotence and His Transcendence. God does not want to be known for what He does, but for Who He is, and we cannot discover that simply through His actions.
Think of this in line with your own relationships with other people: none of us wants to be loved for what we do for another person. Yes, we want to show our love through our actions, through our generosity, through our willingness to make sacrifices for the other person, but we do not want to be loved exclusively or even basically for these actions. Rather we want to be loved for who we are, even if we were not able to do anything for the other.
God Our Father works with us in the same way. He desires an intimate relationship with each and every one of us, and He wants us to want to know Him beyond His actions, beyond His blessings, and beyond our desires. Indeed, God’s greatest wish that He will become our greatest desire.
In other words, Habakkuk had it partially correct. The end of all prayer is not simply the answer to our prayer or to have God acting in our lives. The key end of prayer is for our soul to come to a state of yearning, indeed, to thirst for God with an unquenchable desire. And when we truly come to desire Him above everything else in this life, we will one day stand before God in perpetual silence and awe, desiring nothing but Him for all eternity.
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42:2)
We will understand we must have started to make real progress in our prayer life when we cannot imagine ourselves living a single day without praying.