A religious mindset perceives prayer as a conspicuously unique activity separated from the rest of life. We close our eyes. We bow our heads. We fold our hands. We kneel. It is an activity rich in ritual. That was not the model that Jesus demonstrated for us throughout the Gospels. Several times we read that Jesus went by Himself to the mountains to pray or when he and the disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Those moments were distinguished, though. More often, Jesus spoke to the Father in the daily routines and ins and outs of life. According to the standard set by Jesus, the Father was never far off, and there was no requirement for a special setting or physical posture to come to God in prayer.
There are times when, like Jesus, we need to be alone to pray. There is nothing wrong with that. More often, though, prayer takes place, as it did in the life of Jesus, in the daily routines of life. Prayer is the language of eternity. It is our hearts, souls, and bodies walking in synchronization to the ways of the Kingdom of God. When we pray, we are participating in the language of the Kingdom of God, speaking and hearing, communicating with God, the King of the Kingdom.
To that end, prayer is something that originates, as all things in the Kingdom of God do, within the human heart – not a physical posture. Our heart is the base of our operations within the Kingdom of God. It is at the level of the heart that God speaks to us. It is at the level of the heart that we speak to God. Prayer is not something that comes from our minds or even our mouths. Prayer comes from our hearts.
“Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ Genesis 24:45 (NIV)
This verse comes from the account of Abraham’s servant sent to find a wife for Isaac. As he describes his initial encounter with Rebekah, he notes he prayed in his heart. The words did not come out of his mouth. Perhaps they were on the way to his mouth, but the words had not made it there yet. God heard his heart before the servant spoke the words because prayer arises from the heart.
The language of true and effective prayer is the language of orienting our hearts toward God despite the circumstances all around us. Through prayer, we are saying out heart looks to God no matter the pressures or distractions that surround us. Further, in prayer, our mind is detaching itself from the hold of the mortal realm and following our heart towards its gaze upward to the throne room of God in the eternal realm. Finally, our lips and words align to this same pattern as a final note of submission to the heart’s priorities toward heaven.
It all begins in the heart!
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6 (ESV)
Jesus did not have a problem with public prayers. That was not the issue here. The issue was placing more emphasis upon what is done in the open rather than what is done from the inner, secret place of the heart.
Prayer is the language of the Kingdom of God.
It is a language born in the heart. It is meant to guide our behavior. When we teach our tongue to find prayer in the heart we are recalibrating our behavior. That is why James said a managed life starts with managing the tongue.
Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. James 3:3-5 (HCSB)
True prayer born of the heart trains the tongue to obedience to the heart. The practice of prayer guides our life to submit to the eternal realm of God that our heart is focused on during prayer. It synchronizes our life to the correct design, pattern, and order we should live by. Prayer is not only a communication process with God; it is a life-giving resource for human beings. It trains us to live in line with the heart-towards-heaven oriented design of God for our lives.