One day this week, my husband called. “The cable company just called me and said we’re late on our payment, and they’re going to shut off our service.”
I felt a little grumpy because I generally pay everything on time or early. “How am I supposed to pay a bill I never got?”
“Yeah, I don’t know. Can you just call them and take care of it?”
“OK. Talk to you later.” He didn’t have time for a longer conversation. With the phone snugged between my ear and shoulder, one hand maneuvering an empty stroller, and the other hand keeping tabs on a fussing toddler, I didn’t really want a longer conversation then, either.
But it’s a good thing my husband and I don’t always communicate that way. Sometimes we have long conversations focused on particular issues. Sometimes one of us listens as the other talks about some aspect of the day. Sometimes it’s a frantic, “I need help now!” like when our daughter bumped her mouth and blood was flowing.
I’ve never felt pressured to choose just one way to communicate with my husband. But sometimes I think I have to find the perfect way to talk to God.
God responds to many different types of prayers:
- Abraham’s intercession for the city of Sodom sounds like a bargaining session (Genesis 18:16–33). God responded to each of Abraham’s requests.
- Hannah’s prayer for a son was so passionate, the priest thought she was drunk (1 Samuel 1:9–17). God gave her what she asked. Yet she didn’t always pray this way. Hannah’s prayer at the giving of her son to temple service was full of praise; it sounds like a psalm (1 Samuel 2:1–10). God gave her more children.
- When Daniel asked forgiveness for the sins of his nation, he fasted and covered himself in sackcloth and ashes (Daniel 9:1–27). God sent an angel with a special revelation.
- Jesus looked up to the sky as He gave thanks (Matthew 14:15–21). Five loaves of bread and two fish then multiplied to feed thousands of people. And there were leftovers!
- Members of the Jerusalem church apparently held an all-night prayer meeting at a woman’s house. Peter was miraculously freed from prison during that night (Acts 12:1–17).
I’ve encountered so much teaching about prayer that goes something like this: “If you really want God to answer your prayer, you must fill in the blank.” Here are some of the fill-ins I’ve heard: fast, pray in the words of Scripture, model prayers after the so-called Lord’s Prayer (as if this were the only time Jesus prayed), start every prayer with praise, get other people in the church or community to pray around the clock.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these methods. In fact, they can be helpful in different situations. But where did we get the idea that if we pray in a certain way, God will take us more seriously?
As far as I know, the Bible specifies one requirement for our prayer: that we pray with a desire to see His will done. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14–15, 1984 NIV).
God-centered prayer. Possibly the most difficult thing on the planet. Yet at the same time, maybe not as difficult as I’ve thought.