Are you thinking or praying? Why the difference matters

SUE HARRIS|CONTRIBUTOR

A few years ago, a friend of mine received a tragic cancer diagnosis. As this mother of three labored through her arduous chemo schedule, I talked with her burdened and exhausted husband, who was a colleague of mine at the time. He lamented that loved ones didn’t know what to say to him about their current life circumstance. Of course, he totally understood, but I could tell the whole situation was taking a toll on him. He was working full time, had three kids in school, was taking care of his wife who was unable to pitch in as normal, on top of interacting with so many friends and family who, like all of us, just wanted his wife to be healed.

“Sometimes,” he said, “people tell me that they’re thinking about my wife and our family.” He followed, “Knowing that someone is thinking about us doesn’t really help too much. We desperately need prayer.”

Thinking vs. Praying

I think we all agree there is a huge difference between thinking about something in our minds and bringing someone’s name before the King who sits on the throne. My friend wanted people to offer up prayer to the One who has the power to save. He knew the significance and power of that conversation.

I know what we often mean when we say that we’re thinking about someone or a situation. But prayer is so much bigger and demonstratively more powerful than our human thoughts! I mean prayer isn’t a conversation that simply happens in my head. It’s not a positive thinking, self-help session in my brain. Most Christians wouldn’t use the word thinking in place of praying. But, does our prayer life indicate that we really know the difference between thinking deeply about something and approaching the Lord in prayer?

There is a moment, a shift, when we move from thinking to praying and if we don’t shift, we never pray. Look, we’ve all been in those prayer circles that take 45 minutes for each person to verbally process and share requests and then we relegate five minutes for actual prayer. What does that time ratio communicate about where we think our power comes from? If we never move to prayer, we’ve actually achieved very little. When we shift from thinking to praying, we stop trying to fix everything ourselves and relinquish our control to the Father.

The Cost of Prayer

Sometimes, I forget what had to happen for a conversation between mankind and God to exist, and maybe you do, too. I forget that my Creator is seated on his throne. I forget what it cost Jesus to give me access to that throne room of grace. I forget that, without Jesus’ intervention, I was God’s enemy (Rom. 5:10). And, frankly, an enemy receives no access to the King.

Jesus died in our place and in doing so, he has lavished us with his grace. That grace gives us entrance into God’s presence. We have peace with God and access to him (Rom. 5:2). We can enter the Lord’s presence with confidence (Eph. 3:12). We are able to draw near through our high priest (Heb. 4:16).

So, when we toss up a prayer (and don’t get me wrong, it’s a gift to be able to toss up a prayer any time, any place), but when we do that, our prayer is only heard because Jesus paid for that hearing. He paved the way. An audience with the Father required Jesus’ death and it’s a big deal—the biggest, most elaborate, and grave deal in the history of the world.

As we pray, let’s sense the significance of that moment. We enter into the true spiritual presence of the Lord and that conversation can only happen because of the death of Christ. Prayer is a holy moment. It is a sacred moment. It is an intimate moment. And, it is a surreal moment. To be clear, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in believers (Rom. 8:11). So, we’re never actually far from the Lord. Let’s place value on that conversation and the One who hears us.

Prayer is so much more than a thought that quickly runs through our brain. It’s more powerful than a conversation between humans alone. Let’s not “think” about someone in their suffering; rather, let’s pray for them. And when we pray, may we remember that moment was achieved through a high cost: Christ’s death and resurrection.

About the Author:

Sue Harris

Sue Harris serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director. She has a passion for spiritual formation as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University.

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