Prayer: It’s the Heart That Matters

Few Christians would dispute the necessity of prayer (after all, the Bible is full of commands to pray), yet for many, prayer remains awkward and a bit mysterious.

For some, prayer is usually reserved for crisis moments, such as an illness, financial complications or family issues. The thought seems to be, “I don’t want to bother God with little things I can take care of myself.”

Others use prayer sort of like rubbing of a magic lamp, requesting God to grant their wishes. But for some, prayer consists only of following along when the pastor prays on Sunday morning.

The main purpose of prayer, though, is simply to have a relationship with God. It’s not your finely crafted words or your deep spiritual thoughts that get God’s attention – it is your heart.

For example, have you ever spent an enjoyable time with someone you love and realized that the words hardly mattered because the important thing was just being with them? That’s the kind of relationship God desires to have with us – to just enjoy being in His presence.

The focus is more on communicating what’s in your heart than trying to say a bunch of pious-sounding words.

Sure, there is a conversation involved but it doesn’t have to be long and elaborate to be effective. Martin Luther said, “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matt. 6:7)

That doesn’t mean your prayers should be short, but the focus is more on communicating what’s in your heart than trying to say a bunch of pious-sounding words.

And what if you can’t think of any words? Sometimes, especially in moments of distress or sorrow, we are so overwhelmed we don’t know what to pray for. God has provided a “translator” for those times.

In Romans 8:26-27, Paul tells us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

There is no one right way to pray. Jesus provided a sort of template in the Lord’s Prayer, which includes praise, thanksgiving and making requests. There is certainly nothing wrong with making requests of God – Jesus tells us to ask God for what we need and Paul says that we should make our requests known to God.

Jesus set the example for how to do make requests through prayer. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest, he pleaded with God to take away the need for his sacrifice, but he concluded with “yet not my will, but your will be done.” (Luke 22:42) We can ask God for anything, but the reminder here is that His will for our lives comes before our own desires.

On the National Day of Prayer today and for the days to come, prayer will play a vital role in our personal and corporate spiritual development. It isn’t hard. All we have to do is open up to God and pour out our hearts.

National Day of Prayer has Long History in United States

Prayers are found throughout the Bible, and prayer was considered so important that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray correctly. It has also been a hallmark of United States history.

Thursday, May 4 marks the 66th National Day of Prayer, commemorating the importance prayer continues to play in our country. The day marks an occasion for the nation to humble itself before God and pray for wisdom for the country’s leaders.

The National Day of Prayer became official in 1952 with a proclamation during the Korean War. It was spurred by Billy Graham, who said, “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.”

“From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history.”—Ronald Reagan

Each president since Truman has reissued the pledge, with President Ronald Reagan establishing by law the National Day of Prayer to be the first Thursday of May. Reagan said, “From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future.”

But while it was made official in 1952, national days of prayer have been a common occurrence in the United States, starting before it became a country.

In 1775, the country’s leaders meeting as the Continental Congress, asked their fellow colonists to observe a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer on July 20 as they sought to obtain rights and justice from England. General George Washington called for the same in the springs of 1779 and 1780, and then again as President in 1789 in conjunction with Thanksgiving.

For the next 163 years, some presidents proclaimed a national day of prayer while others didn’t. In 1863, during the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called for the first national day of prayer since 1815.

All told, there have been 145 calls for a national day of prayer issued by presidents. In addition, there have been more than 1,400 state proclamations for days of prayer.

Estimates are that more than 2 million people will gather in 30,000 locations on Thursday to observe the National Day of Prayer.

As expected, the National Day of Prayer faced a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2008, claiming it violated the Constitution. A District Court ruled that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned by the Circuit Court of  Appeals.

There is also a national student day of prayer, See You at the Pole, on the fourth Wednesday of September when students meet at their school’s flagpole before school to pray.