It is often very helpful for some Christians who struggle with prayer to think of it in terms of “talking to Dad.” This can help take some of the burden off of thinking our prayers have to be expressed a certain way or use a certain kind of terminology in order to be heard. Some people have a mistaken idea that we must only be positive in our prayers or never ask for things we want. Christians are great at coming up with rules for prayer that the Bible never actually gives us.
If you look through the Psalms, for instance, you will see how David and the other psalmists showed their true selves to God in prayer. They were honest about their fears, their confusion, their hurts, their doubts, their discouragements, and even their anger and their depression. They understood that we can’t hide that stuff from God anyway. It isn’t as if he wouldn’t know we feel those ways if we just didn’t tell him. No, when we pray, we can bring our real selves to the real God to get real help for our real lives.
But to say that we can “be ourselves” with God — in my book The Imperfect Disciple, I characterize prayer as “spilling your guts” — to say that we can pray as if we are simply having a conversation with our heavenly Dad, is not to say that we ought to be irreverent or disrespectful. God does not require that we grovel in self-loathing or jump through religious hoops to talk to him, but this does not mean we speak to him as if he is not the perfectly holy Lord of All.
In the example prayer Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Prayer, he says to address God as “our Father,” but the very next thing he says is a declaration of worship: “Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9b).
Christian prayer is respectful prayer. It is conversational, yes, but it ought to be reverent. We come to God as his children, but also as his subjects, as his creatures. We get to relate to God in ways that are special, unique, and intimate. But this should not mean we come to him casually or flippantly. Our prayers don’t need to be formal and eloquent or even particularly intelligent, but they do need to be respectful.
In Paul’s instructions to Timothy about prayer in the church body, he describes “lifting holy hands” (1 Tim. 2:8). He is assuming that however we pray – with supplications or intercessions or thanksgivings – we do so with reverence, understanding that to commune with the one true God is a sacred, holy thing.
Jared C. Wilson