Prayer is more than asking for something
Do you know what the first prayer in the Bible is? Many learned scholars have told us that prayer first appears in Genesis 4:26, where it tells us that "At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD." (New International Version) And that does seem to indicate that, for whatever reason, prayer became much more prevalent at that time. But the first report of prayer in the Scriptures happens a little earlier than that. In fact, it occurs shortly after Adam and then Eve were created by God.
Many people, when you ask them to define prayer, will talk about bringing our requests to God, or perhaps praising God with our words. But the Bible looks at prayer differently. Prayer, the way that it was practiced in both the Old and New Testament includes a strong emphasis on dialogue; not just us talking to God, but him talking back. In fact, in many places in the Bible, God is the one who initiates a time of prayer by calling out to someone. Examples of this include Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, David, Solomon and any number of prophets. God called, they responded, and a dialogue was initiated that included input from both God and the one who was "praying."
So, what does this mean for us as 21st century pray-ers? As Christians, we are urged to pray. In fact, Martin Luther once said, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing." And there are many books on the market that promise to help people to be more effective in prayer. (By "more effective," they mean getting more of the things that we ask for when we pray.) Often these books are heavy on formulas and procedures — if you pray this way, then God will answer!
But what if the Scripture view of prayer is the correct one? What if prayer is not primarily about bringing our requests to God, but about entering into a dialogue with him? Some people might be nervous even considering that. After all, it's fine if we talk to God, but what if he talks back? People will think that we are crazy, won't they?
But all the great men and women of the faith were spoken to by God, and they were some of the sanest people on the planet, doing amazing things at God's specific direction. That includes Jesus himself. He claimed that he never made a move without the Father's clear direction (John 5:19), and he often went off by himself to pray, so that he could hear the Father's voice loud and clear, without all the noise and distraction of the crowds that surrounded him.
We are living in confusing, often frustrating times when God's people really need to hear God's voice, to be able to receive clear direction from him, and even to receive reassurance from time to time. So, when we pray, we need to make sure that we don't just reel off our list of prayer requests, and then add a quick "Amen" before we hurry off to our other agenda items. We need to make a space in our prayer routine for God to respond, a time of resting quietly before God's throne with our ears, our eyes and our hearts wide open to his input into our lives. And then, once we have heard from him, we need to go forth and obey whatever he has told us to do, just like Jesus, just like Peter, just like Paul, just like all the heroes and heroines of the faith that we all admire.