Prayer is not only petition, it is also something more basic—it is soul to soul communication with God. And this really must come first, before we ask God for anything. For this is the heart of prayer. Before we can expect Him to listen to our requests we must have made contact with His soul by our soul.
I got this idea from Jim Downing in his book Meditation, where he suggests that various passages in the Psalms (e.g. Ps. 62:5, 130:6, 25:1) “indicate that coming into contact with God involves the soul.” And he stated that “Theologians in general agree as to the soul’s principle powers…the mind, the affections and the will.”
So I am suggesting that “coming into contact with God” with our souls is really what prayer is. True prayer, therefore, will involves the mind, the affections (the heart or the emotions), and the will (that part of us that makes choices).
I believe that all prayer begins with the exercise of the mind toward God. We may call it meditation. And we can meditate on all kinds of good things, but we must make the source of our meditation the Word. We can’t go wrong by meditating on the Word of God. “As we meditate on the Word of God [says Jim Downing], the life of Jesus Christ flows out of Him, through the Word, and becomes a part of our spiritual bloodstream.”
Secondly, to engage our soul with the soul of God we must exercise our emotions (or our heart) toward God in communion. How do we do this? Well, our meditation on the word is how we start. It will open the door to heart to heart communion. When we study and meditate on His Word He speaks to us and then we listen. Communion is listening, but it is also speaking back to God. Hence, it is talking to God and listening. But it is more than that. It is fellowship on the highest level. It is the sharing of His holy nature. According to Downing, “Communing…is engaging our heart with the heart of God. The result of that communion is that our soul is watered (Jer. 31:12).” Downing goes on: “Communion…is a two-way communication, an alternating impact of two personalities where we listen intently and then share intently with the other person; there is an actual sharing of lives involved.”
The third part of the soul is the will. With the will we make choices, we choose to obey God or not. The exercise of this part of the soul is vitally important. Our listening to God and choosing to obey Him keeps the door of our soul open to His soul; it keeps our soul in contact and communication with Him. Accordingly, our willful obedience is the key to bringing life to our soul. For by it we receive His love and power (Jn. 14:21). Without obedience our prayers drop dead; but with obedience our prayers come alive and are continually energized by His life.
Now, as I said earlier, we can’t begin to make petitions without having this soul to soul communication with God. For this is the nature of true prayer. It is how we pray in Jesus name, that is, according to God’s will. Accordingly, when we know what His will is we can make petitions based on His will.
But this kind of prayer—soul to soul communication—is not only for a basis of petition, it is also just for the sake of conversation, or we could say for enjoying God. As E. M. Bounds has said, “[Prayer]…is communion and intercourse with God. It is enjoyment of God.” I also like what Bill Bright has said: “Prayer is simply communicating with God…It is a dialogue between two people who love each other—God and man.” Hence, if prayer is simply communicating with God, it is more than just petition. It is talking to God about anything we choose and listening to Him. I think prayer then would include such things as praise, thanksgiving, and confession.
Furthermore, although prayer normally always includes petitions (because we are so needy and dependent on Him for everything), in-between those petitions that we make we normally just make conversation—that is, we just talk to Him. In Jesus prayer to His Father for example (in John 17), Jesus makes basically six petitions (in verses 1, 5, 11, 15, 17, and 21), but in-between all of them is conversation.
Starting in verse one He prays, “Father the hour has come…” This is a statement of conversation. He is saying to His Father, “Well here we are Father, the time has come.” Then He goes on with His first petition: “…glorify thy Son…” And this is the way the entire prayer is. Verses 3 and 4 are mainly conversation; verse five is petition; verse 6 through 11a is mainly conversation; and then 11b is petition again. And so it goes through the entire prayer.
If you count the number of lines of petition in your Bible, and then count the number of lines of conversation (as I did) you will find that 85% of the prayer is conversation and only 16% is petition (I analyzed a few of the prayers of David, in the Psalms, and I came up with the same results). When I made this discovery it surprised me and really convicted me. Most of my prayers and the prayers I’ve heard from others, I would say, are almost the opposite, more petitional then conversational. What does that say about us? Well, whatever it says, I think we should work toward the model prayer that Jesus gave us here. His prayers were petitional, yes, but they were surrounded with ample conversation. And so, since Jesus prayed this way we must conclude that it is the natural, normal way to pray.