In my ongoing quest to help people understand biblical practices with using biblical language, I come to the issue of prayer. A new believer needs to know what prayer is, and isn’t. But how do you help them see that prayer is merely talking with God, even though they can’t see him and he rarely speaks back audibly.
My default is to go to the idea of conversation within the contact of a relationship, as is true of any relationship. And since I am fond of hiking, I tend to put it in these terms. What do you think? Is this helpful? Any better ideas?
Here is what I would say.
Many times when I go hiking, I prefer to be by myself. When I am out enjoying God’s creation and his general revelation, I don’t want to be distracted by voices, questions, comments, and the seemly ever-present, ”Are we there yet?” “Can we go back now?” “My feet hurt.” (Of course, now that my kids and I are all older, I’m often the one moaning about my feet.)
I enjoy solitude. It brings me peace and comfort. It settles my mind, bringing order to my daily chaos. And when I am silent, it is much easier to hear God speaking. That’s the thing about hiking alone: I know more clearly than any other time that I am never alone. Jesus is always with me. He’s ahead of me, waiting for me to arrive at day’s end. He’s behind me, protecting me from what might be stalking me.
Most importantly, he is by my side, sometimes walking in silence, sometimes leading me into deep thought, but mostly he’s just there to chat. I love to chat with God. He’s my friend, my traveling companion, and like any good friend he’s there just to chat. Sometimes I chat about nothing overly important: the weather, the beauty of the forest, all the shades of green and how their diversity reflects the manifold beauties of their Maker. But usually my chatter moves to more important topics. I ask him how my kids are doing, thank him for the joy of my wife, inquire as to whether there is anything he has been trying to say to me but I have been too busy to hear. And as the conversation carries on, I often find one or two topics that require more serious discussion. Sometimes I will stop walking and just stand, look at the Pend Oreille river, and just be silent, wanting to hear anything my friend has to say.
I also love to hike with Robin, my wife. She’s truly my best friend. We’ve been married almost thirty years, and that process of spiritual unity that began on our wedding day has deepened to the point that we usually know what the other person is thinking, often before the other knows it himself. We can sense it. One of our favorite hikes is to the back of the subdivision where we used to live and down a road to the valley of the little Spokane River. Foster, our dog, is busy chasing moving grass and shadows, and we just chat. Sometimes about nothing. At other times, the conversation moves to things of significance. I ask about how she is feeling about the events of the previous day. Was she hurt by what happened, or by what that person said. She’ll ask about any struggles going on in my mind. Or the topics will be more joyful: Tyler singing in his first concert downtown; Kiersten being accepted to a great college; Hayden’s deep love for people. At times it feels like Robin is Jesus to me, that she is the visible representation of my divine traveling companion, eager to listen and share, to ask and to challenge, always to love. But speaking with Robin, as is speaking with Jesus, is one of the most natural things I do. When the discussion is with Robin, we call it “conversation.” When the discussion is with Jesus, we call it “prayer.”
Prayer is simply this: speaking with God, and listening. It is a joyous time, even if it is a bit mysterious. We can’t see him. We can’t get visual feedback like we can with a human friend — wouldn’t it be great to know if Jesus is frowning or smiling while we chat? And rarely do we hear a spoken word. But he is our traveling companion. He is right there with us on the path, always ready to listen and to speak in his own way.
This is prayer, in its simplest and most sublime form. Prayer is the language of relationship.