Opening a new email from my church’s online prayer team coordinator, I sighed as I saw how long it was. So many needs were represented there: several people were looking for jobs, some were ill or injured, and others had stressful relationship issues. Scanning through the list, I felt the pressure of time constraints because I had to leave in a few minutes to get to an appointment. So I simply read the list aloud to God in a rushed prayer, adding “in Jesus’ name, amen” at the end. Then, satisfied that I had completed the task, I deleted the email from my inbox.
The more I thought about my prayers as I drove to my appointment, however, the more I realized that I had done a disservice to everyone for whom I’d just prayed. Technically, I had indeed prayed for them. But simply spouting off prayers like I was placing an order at a fast food restaurant’s drive thru wasn’t building the kind of strong connection with God that invites powerful answers to prayer.
Prayer is meant to be much more than transactional; God intends for it to be relational. When we pray, we’re not just speaking into a microphone hoping that God hears us from a distance and will get our orders right. We’re speaking to a loving Father who is close to us, listening carefully to our prayers and hoping that we’ll connect with him personally through a conversation. God meets us in prayer to build closer relationships with us.
Here are 5 ways to pray relationally and not transactionally:
Focus on God himself rather than on what you want from him. Make your main goal while praying to simply enjoy time with God. Approach your prayers as tools for getting to know God better instead of as ways to try to convince God to grant your requests. First and foremost, prayer should be a way of communicating with God as a loving child would communicate with a loving father – with a pure focus on enjoying each other’s company – since God is your heavenly Father and you are one of his beloved children. Remember 2 Corinthians 6:18: “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
Discover just how close God really is to you. Often, we pray as if God is far away, when in fact he is right here with us in all situations. In John 14:17, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “lives with you and will be in you” and in verse 20, Jesus explains that “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” That’s as close as it possibly can be! If you’re a Christian, God himself lives right inside your soul. So whenever God seems distant, it’s not because he moved; it’s because you moved. Every decision that you make moves you in one of two different directions: either farther away from God, or closer to God. You can change course at any time by confessing wrong decisions to God in prayer and turning away from sin and toward God. But, no matter what, God will stay close to you. Deuteronomy 31:8 promises: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Pray throughout each day in different situations. Communicating with God as you go through various activities on your schedule will train your mind to be aware of God’s constant presence with you. While it’s valuable to set aside special time for prayer, God will meet you anytime and anywhere that you pray – and when you check in with God regularly through prayer, you’ll be encouraged by his Spirit whenever you need it. So pray while you’re driving, working, cooking, playing with your children, etc. God’s Holy Spirit is your constant companion, who “sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) to you.
Get your emotions involved. Approaching prayers like business transactions doesn’t involve much feeling, but praying relationally taps into your emotions, which are gifts from God that can teach you important lessons. Emotions are powerful motivating factors in your life, and when you express them to God in prayer, he can help you direct your feelings in the right ways so you’ll care about what’s truly important. God himself is emotional, as Bible verses such as Zephaniah 3:17 show (“…He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you…”). If you express your emotions when you pray, you may even sense the Holy Spirit’s presence through tangible feelings. One of the times that happened to me was when I was praying in a chapel called the Portiuncula (Saint Francis of Assisi’s chapel) along with many other people who had made spiritual pilgrimages there. I felt a powerful sensation that was like someone pouring warm honey all over me, until I was completely encased in it. That physical feeling was accompanied by a mental feeling of pure bliss, which came from a thought that filled my mind: God loved me and the people around me completely. After several minutes, the warm honey feeling melted away, and I emerged from it awed and humbled by having literally felt the spiritual energy of God’s love at work.
Expect the unexpected. Be open to surprises from God. My late mother got the surprise of her life one night after she had prayed for encouragement while fighting leukemia. As Mom looked at the courtyard outside her hospital window, an angel appeared! That event was the culmination of many years Mom had spent seeking God; she had finally decided to commit herself to a relationship with him just before he sent the angel to visit her. You can never know what wonderful surprises God has in store for you outside of a relationship with him. But when you pray relationally, God is pleased, and he may choose to give you some surprise blessings to encourage you. James 1:17 promises: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Praying relationally invites God to send unexpected blessings into your life.
So the next time you pray, don’t worry about trying to conduct business with God, and simply let yourself enjoy his presence. The more you connect with God relationally, the better you’ll get to know him – which will motivate you to keep pursuing a stronger relationship with God through prayer!
*Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, produces a site about angels and miracles for About.com. She is author of the young adult inspirational novel Dream Factory (which is set during Hollywood's golden age) and writes about the power of thoughts on her “Renewing Your Mind” blog.