4 minute read
By: Shane James O’Neill
“I Don’t Know How to Pray”
I was leading a Proven Men Group at a church this summer and one of the guys in the group made a confession I didn’t expect. He said, he didn’t know how to pray. Of course, he knew the mechanics of it, but as far as talking with God in a deeply relational sense, that aspect of prayer was something he never connected with.
His admission caught me off guard for several reasons, not least because I could relate. Prayer can feel tedious and one sided, like we’re talking to a computer, something empty. Often times, it’s hard to see the value of prayer, as though God is just waiting for you to get on board.
Which raises the hard question: If God is just waiting for us to live better, then what’s the point to prayer?
The thing that was apparent in this guy’s statement about prayer is his perspective on Christianity. Though we may not say it out loud, we often approach Christianity like a value system, a way of living. If the point is to live better or fix your life, then Christianity doesn’t give us much of a reason to pray, only a reason to try harder.
Yet, a value system is not the central aim of Scripture, nor of Jesus.
The Curse of Eden
Let’s nerd out for a moment:
The curse of Eden was not sin; it was exile. That exile is an exile from relationship. We became separated and estranged from God. You and I experience that exile every day, in our depression, anxiety, hurt, and relationships.
Related Article: Humans are Made for Pleasure
The entirety of the Old Testament is a collection of events where God is working to know humanity and be known by humanity.
The story meets its peak when God decides to rip apart that veil of distance, permanently.
The Gospel, Backwards
In steps Jesus: The mediator of all things. The one who makes us known before God and the one who makes God known to us.
On the cross, Jesus was exiled from God, and then the exile of our sins was buried with Jesus’ body.
Before Jesus experienced the exile of the cross, Jesus lived a life in perfect relationship with God, and the four Gospels, the stories of His life, are given to us as a means of knowing how to live out our lives, now that we are reconciled to (no longer exiled from) God.
We live Jesus’ life (the Gospel accounts) backwards — by faith, we share in his death and resurrection, which allows us to explore living His life.
Jesus’ life wasn’t just an introduction to His death, His life is an example of how we practice knowing relationship with God in our lives. His death bridged the chasm of Eden’s exile so that we could learn how to be truly human, sons of the living God.
By encountering His death, we are able to experience His life. That life, His life, was grounded upon walking with His Father.
The resurrection allows us to inherit His life, Jesus’ relationship with God. And as we read the Gospels, we are reading about the kind of humanity that Jesus is inviting us into — a humanity that lives with God.
Jesus says as much in John 17:3, when he states: “And this is eternal life, that they (me and you) may know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah whom you sent.”
Eternal life is less about a location and more about knowing God. Sanctification is really just learning to live the life of Jesus by receiving His relationship with God.
Let me bring this back to our present lives. Jesus experienced the exile of this world and engaged it everywhere he went. We experience that same exile, everywhere. Exile is at work in the depression we feel, the anxiety we experience, the physical illnesses we encounter, the relationships we’ve lost. We feel and experience exile every day, or, as Romans 8 says, we, along with all of creation, groan and ache as we live in exile.
To say we live in a fallen world is to say we live in a world exiled from God.
You live in your exile when you form a relationship with pornography, and you feel your exile the moment your done. In that moment, you feel your distance from God, you feel that something is wrong, as you feel less than who you’re supposed to be.
We look for relationships, even imaginative ones in porn, because we were designed for a relationship to be the focus of our existence. When we look at porn or sleep around, we are trying to undo our exile by bridging the distance. And when we fail, we see and feel how far away we actually are.
Prayer and Exile
So, why do we pray? Pray walks us across the chasm of being exiled. Jesus’ cross and resurrection have bridged the chasm of exile — we can actually know God again.
God doesn’t expect perfection from us, otherwise He wouldn’t have sent His perfect son for us. Really, He just wants to know us, in the depression and anxiety, in our moments of celebration, in the quirks of life, and especially in our exile.
Prayer allows us to know God, and to be known by God.
Our cultural fixation on sex isn’t about sex alone, rather, it’s a cultural longing to be known.
Prayer allows us to be known by a God who is so big that He even cares about the small things of our day, and He longs to know those small moments with us.
Learning to pray is just learning to be honest with God. Sit down and speak with Him, tell Him how you feel, ask Him questions, talk with Him.
In summary: Eden means “pleasure” and our exile away from God has broken our sense of pleasure. Only through prayer can we know God and all that He has gone through to be with us in our exile and bring true pleasure into our lives.
Join us at our October 19th conference in Lynchburg Virginia!
— axe throwing
— keynote speaker
— did we mention axe throwing??
Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.