1.1 Background to the Study
Prayer begins with the affirmation that there is a God and that we can communicate with Him. This theological statement immediately rules out deism, according to which God the absent Lord or Creator, who, after finishing His work of creation, abandoned it. A theology of prayer will also rule out pantheism, according to which God is conceived as an impersonal power that permeates everything, including us. In that respect biblical prayer distinguishes itself from eastern meditation, which seeks integration into cosmic consciousness while prayer seeks communion with a personal God (Richard Rice, 1997).
“Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”. From around the globe the heavenly Father is addressed in the languages of earth. The prayer that Jesus taught begins where prayer must begin – with the true and living God. The Bible is God’s Word; it is his story of his work in bringing rebellious men and women back to himself. It tells, not of man’s seeking a lost God, but of God’s seeking lost men. The Bible does not present an art of prayer; it presents the God of prayer, the God who calls before we answer and answers before we call (Isa. 65:24). In the biblical history, prayer is not introduced as a separate spiritual discipline: it rises as man’s answer to God’s address. God speaks to Adam; Adam speaks to God. In the Book of Genesis we find conversations between God and Abraham. Indeed, Abraham bargains with God, begging God’s pardon for his insistence, but respectfully pleading his cause (Gen. 18). The richness of later revelation about prayer never does prejudice to this simple reality: prayer is personal address to a personal God: ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.
The primary aim of prayer is that believers communicate with God, thereby doing what is minimally necessary to keep up the relationship with God. The idea is that just like human love relationships need communication to keep them going, a relationship with God needs the same. According to Friedrich Heiler, Prayer is a living communion of the religious man with God, conceived as personal and present in experience, a communion which reflects the forms of the social relations of humanity. This is prayer in essence (Friedrich Heiler; 1997). Vincent Brümmer agrees: ‘basic forms of prayer like petition, penitence and thanksgiving, all presuppose a personal relation with God (Vincent Brümmer; 2008). And John Calvin claims: ‘prayer is the familiar intercourse of believers with God (John Calvin; 2016).
Prayer takes us beyond metaphysical necessity into personal connection. God is really present to and causally operative in rocks and rills that shine with divine glory. Prayer seeks communion with God. To be sure, the praying Christian is transformed. Prayer plunges into agony and soars in ecstasy, but it does not seek the heights or depths of experience. It seeks the Lord. The delight found in his presence is offered to his praise.
John Oman explains a similar view, giving somewhat more attention to the community within which people pray:
“Speech is the natural mode of communication between persons, because it enables both to think the same thought, each as his own thought, being a word only as it is spoken with the understanding to the understanding. Prayer is the intercourse of the family of God, wherein our brethren are included as well as our Father. Its chief task is in everything to give thanks” (John Oman; 1998)