I love when my kids tell me about their day. They are 4 and 8 years old, so they’re eager and excited to invite me into their little worlds. When I’m able to be undistracted and present with them, I quickly find myself filled with joy hearing stories from school, learning about books they’ve read, art they’ve made, or friends they enjoy. Even when there are sad things from a hard day, I find some sense of delight in their desire to share it with me.
I am encouraged as I consider this experience a taste of how God feels when we go to Him in prayer—only His capacity is infinite and His attunement without flaw. If I, as an imperfect father with human limits, love to hear from my children, I know my Father delights in hearing from me.
Several years ago my oldest taught me an even more profound aspect of prayer. Highly energetic and self-absorbed, as 3 year-olds often are, he sat beside me at the end of a day, looked up with adorable innocence, and said, “So dad, how was your day?” He wanted to hear from me. It shocked me enough that I had him repeat the question. Then, as all the restless energy of a toddler seemed to melt away, he just waited with sincerity to hear my response. I don’t recall the specifics of what I said, but I do remember it was an interaction filled with genuine curiosity about the things I shared as he sought to know me in a way I had never experienced with him. He contemplated each thing I described with wonder and amazement. We had already been father and son for a few years, but our relationship made a notable shift when he realized he could ask about my day too. All of a sudden we shared being together in our relationship, known and loved. We’ve kept this practice ever since with the intentionality that busy lives require, and when his curiosity leads him to ask about my day, he’s attentive and expectant in ways that continue to bless me deeply.
Being with God in Prayer
This reciprocal way of prayer, that many of us don’t even know we need, is often referred to as contemplative prayer. A regular rhythm of life conversing with our Father like we would with a wise and loving friend—not just speaking to Him, but listening to Him, and learning to delight in being with Him. Sometimes it may require we say nothing at all, yet still we find what we need just by being silent in His presence. I believe this is one of the most needed and perhaps the most neglected practices in our busy Christian lives today—prayer as a way of being, not a mere discipline for doing.
We readily consider our participation in prayer as telling our Father about our day. This is a good and right way to go to Him. We often thank and praise Him, make our requests known, and conclude “…in the name of Jesus, amen,” only to go about our day apart from Him. Our “prayer life” easily becomes a dispassionate and impersonal religious activity. What if, instead, prayer isn’t viewed as an activity or event, but a way of being, thinking, and feeling? Perhaps then we could pray without ceasing. It’s not a matter of right or wrong prayer, but more a consideration of what prayer could be as an instinct of our faith.
When it comes to defining prayer, I agree with the African theologian, Augustine, who wrote, “Prayer is not the reverberation of sound; it is the articulation of love. It is with the heart rather than the lips that we pray… Therefore, whether we cry to the Lord with the voice of the body—where occasion demands it—or in silence, we must cry from the heart.” We are meant to be with God. We are to love Him with all that we are. Prayer, whatever form it may take, is an overflow and expression of that love.
I believe disciplines are means to an end. They are tools to be used with grace-driven effort that we may gain a truer sense of our being. I’m convinced that prayer, on the other hand, is an end in itself. This is why many view it as a practice instead of a discipline (i.e. We don’t fast to be better at fasting, but we may practice prayer seeking to grow more present in prayer).
In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul wrote, “We all with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” That is to say, unashamedly we share in intimacy with God. We find ourselves transformed into His image as we contemplate His glory.
Bearing this all in mind, I encourage you to finish this article and practice being with God in prayer. Do so with curiosity and compassion. More specifically, I urge you to intentionally set aside your agenda and lists of requests to just be with Him and ask your Father about His day. Imagine looking at God as He looks at you. Consider it like looking into a mirror for a moment of reflection. Know that He delights in hearing from you, but there is also much joy in just being together, known and loved.