In Genesis chapter three we read of the fall of mankind. Quite aside from the myriad of other things revealed about Him, His people and His world, we can further learn something about prayer there. It reads in part, “The Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
What Genesis 3 tells us about prayer is that fallen mankind’s prayer life was conversational. It might not have been deep, scholarly or sophisticated, but it was conversational. Neither Adam nor Eve babbled. They did not issue forth mystical words or repeat God’s Name over and over again. They simply talked to Him, like anyone might talk to another.
It is such a simple and obvious thing that it often gets overlooked. We assume that we can’t pray meaningfully because we don’t know “how” to pray. Or because another prays louder and with bigger words, or with flowery phrases littered with Scriptural hints (“Christianese”), or more meaningfully, prays almost entirely from memorized Scripture. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with any of that. It’s all good. But Adam and Eve didn’t do that. In fact, their prayer in Gen 3:9-13 is little more than a confession. Not even a good confession, because Adam pins the blame on Eve instead of owning up as head of the home and firstborn of humankind. Yet in spite of that, and in spite of their limitations, obvious sin and their appalling lack of theological education, God speaks to them.
God – who knows full well where Adam is – asks Adam where he is. God – who knows full well what they had just done – asks them what they’ve done. God – who knows full well who started the whole mess – pursues the question till they confess what happened. In all of it, their words to God are heard and responded to. It is a conversation that opens both Adam and Eve to confession, the first step of repentance. Interestingly, you never read of Adam or Eve sinning again. Conversational prayer is both natural and effective.
Thousands of years later, Jesus instructs His followers, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” God doesn’t need us to approach Him with special phrases, or repeating formulae, or Christianese. He doesn’t need us to pray entire Psalms back to Him. Those things are nice, but He already knows what you need to say. That is because prayer is a means of us connecting with God, not of Him connecting to us. It is far more (perhaps entirely) for us, and not so much for Him.
After all, He can speak in every language to every age level. More than that, using words we truly understand, or using ten thousand different media entirely without words at all. Praise God, neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit need us to pray using any particular formula. We can just open our hearts to Him and speak as best we can.
And in the end, that is true prayer. A child does not need to gain a doctorate in English before they can begin to speak to their own father, no matter how well educated their father is. We can and should speak to God as we would speak to our own father. With respect, with reverence, with love and with candour, and with the language and ability we have. Any structure, scaffold or formula we use is just a template to that end – a memory aid to help us keep our focus; Our focus on who we are speaking to, and who is there, speaking to us. Amen.
We are always in God’s presence, even when we are not aware of it.Brother Lawrence
Recognize God’s presence with you today. Worship Him as you go though the day.