Go for the WineRelated Media
Every now and again we must be reminded that the Lord's Prayer begins with "Our Father" and not "Our needs." Prayer involves access to the presence of God, first and foremost. C. S. Lewis observed essentially the same thing. In discussing the question of whether prayer really "works," with his candid insight, he explains that,
The very question `Does prayer work?' puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. `Work': as if it were magic, or a machine-something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its wine. In it God shows himself to us. That he answers prayers is a corollary-not necessarily the most important one-from the revelation. What he does is learned from what he is.1
Now we are clearly not saying, nor would God ever endorse the idea, that making requests of Him is unchristian or pure paganism. Not at all. But, we are saying that coming to Him only for what we can get out of Him or constantly coming to Him, first for what He can give us, is sub-Christian. This is the same mistake made by those who revel in God's promises all the while divorcing them from the Promise-Giver who wants to be known personally as the Faithful One. These people want the gifts, but not the Giver. They've passed over the adoration and the presence and vision of God for something less.
Therefore, what prayer is really all about knowing God intimately, and while that entails answers to prayer, the more important fact is communion with Him and the enjoyment of His presence. Communion with Him, however, is deeply rooted in who we understand Him to be. A. W. Tozer has said that,
what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. ...the gravest question before the church is always God himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. ...Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about him or leaves unsaid. ...Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the questions, "What comes into your mind when you think about God?" we might be able to predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the church will stand tomorrow.2
Our understanding of God is absolutely crucial to our relationship with Him and especially to our prayer lives. Prayer is carried to God in faith. Growing faith, in many respects, is dependent on who we think God really is. Therefore, the vibrancy of our prayer lives is directly dependent on our thoughts and our personal knowledge of God.
This may answer the question as to why there is so little real prayer in our churches today. People do not think about their God very often, and according to the latest polls in evangelicalism, not very seriously either.3
Here I am not referring solely to "knowledge" as mastering systematic theological outlines and details, though it most certainly entails this kind of thinking. Rather, I am referring to a deep, theological understanding of God, ourselves, and our world, as pressed home to our hearts in biblical study, meditation, prayer/worship, and going through temptation.
But, while the distance from the head to the heart in most people is only about 12 inches, the pipeline joining the two appears to be less than the width of a straw. The solution: Repentance and Trust-trust expressed in sincere and devout reflection on God in his Word and in His presence. We must also reflect on what godly theologians as teachers of the church have said about Him in the past and present. But we must do so with humility and prolonged meditation, not just to fill our heads for the next unsuspecting victim, but to be truly drawn into a fuller experience of and relationship with our Savior! We must lay hold of God himself! We must go for the wine, as C. S Lewis has said. What would that look like for you?
1 C. S. Lewis, "The Efficacy of Prayer," in Fern-seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity, ed. Walter Hooper (Glasgow: Collins, 1975), 101.
2 A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1961), 1-2.
3 See Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What To Do about It (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994); Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).