Several months back I came across a book on prayer that I found troubling. The author stated that the purpose of prayer was to get answers. As you might expect, the author never mentioned that God might say no or not yet to our requests. Instead, as imagined by this writer, the goal of prayer was to get God to say yes to our petitions. He existed to add his blessing to the life we’ve chosen for ourselves. Please and thank you.
I wish I could say I’m better than the author of that book, but I can’t. I have more in common with Simon the Sorcerer than I might care to admit (Acts 8:14–14), and here’s why:
I would prefer to use God rather than serve him. Just say the prescribed words and . . . viola! . . . God does what I want him to do. Perform a ritual, go through the religious motions, and . . . presto! . . . God performs on demand. I want a divine vending machine, not a relationship with the sovereign Lord. I want a God I can control. Actually, I want to be God.
But I don’t think Scripture portrays the discipline of prayer that way. Here’s what I do see:
Prayer is communing with God. Think of it like this: We commune with “the happy God” (1 Tim. 1:11). And “[p]rayer is our way of entering into the happiness of God himself.” We enjoy his happiness by starting our days acknowledging his presence and talking with him as the day unfolds. We open ourselves up to God and seek to discern how he is at work in the details of our lives. One way to do this is by making connections between our morning Scripture reading and the events of a given day. For example, during my spells of dizziness last week, my mind often returned to Exodus 14:13–14: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. . . . The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” I responded by thanking God for his promises.
We commune with God. We do not commandeer him.
Prayer is making our requests known to God. My go-to verses are Psalm 62:8 and Philippians 4:7. In the first text David encourages us: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). In the second, Paul urges, “let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). These passages, I believe, call us to move beyond envisioning prayer as nothing more than rattling off a laundry list of entreaties. Think of prayer instead as “mental wandering in the presence of God.” This will free you from loathing yourself when you lose focus. Don’t do that. Tell God what’s on your mind and then refocus. You’re talking to your God. You can speak to him as you would to the dearest friend you have on earth.
To those wondering: Why do I need to tell God what I need if he already knows? (Ps. 139:4; Matt. 6:8). Tim Keller provides a biblical response: “God often waits to give a blessing until you have prayed for it. Why? Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and diligence. Gifts from God that are not acknowledged as such are deadly to the soul, because they thicken the illusion of self-sufficiency that leads to overconfidence and sets us up for failure.”
A transactional relationship with God is more efficient, less time consuming, and caters to our selfishness. But life with God is an adventure. He is always committed to us, constantly at work, doing far more than we can see. Pour out your heart to him. Make your requests known. Then watch what he does.
 Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 68.
 Keller, Prayer, 102.