What Is Prayer? Part Two

We’re on this journey toward a deeper, more power prayer life. A great first step toward getting there is to define prayer. If we have a faulty or incomplete understanding of what prayer is, we’ll never move forward or grow more like Christ.

We started this conversation on Sisters in Study last time with “What Is Prayer? Part One.”

Today, we’ll continue that conversation by looking more closely at J.D. Walt’s Daily Text series on prayer. So far, we’ve been digging into Genesis 1 to see prayer through the Creation lens.

We’ve talked about how prayer begins with faith, that we need to see prayer as an invitation to speak as God speaks — that prayer is, in fact, Divine speech.

Let’s carry on!

Prayer is Less Pleading and More Calling Forth

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters He called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:9-10)

God models for us that prayer is less pleading and more calling forth. What He speaks comes into being!

What’s your tendency? To “wade around in the formless, empty, dark depths of a situation?” Or to speak as God does, calling forth what is wanted or needed.

Of all J.D.’s points about prayer, this one has stuck with me, and I’ve been practicing what “calling forth” looks like in my prayer life.

Recently, my brother found himself without a job. It wasn’t what any of us expected, yet he and his family were living the reality of it.

So, I started praying. And I caught myself “worrying” my prayers. I’d pray things like, “Lord, I’m worried my brother will get down on himself,” “Father, their marriage might be strained,” and “Lord, what if he can’t find another job?”

Do you see what I was doing? I was praying the darkness and chaos. I wasn’t speaking as God speaks. I wasn’t “calling forth” what I desired or hoped for. So, I changed my prayers.

“Father God, be David’s hope and salvation. You can redeem anything.”

“Lord Jesus, bring David and Kelly together in this season, drawing strength and hope from You for a future they do not yet see.”

“Lord, You are our Provider, and You have a plan and a purpose for David’s good. Reveal that to him in ways that he sees You at work, that he gives You glory for all you provide.”

Miraculously, I started to feel less anxiety and more hope. I discovered that “calling forth” in the way God modeled for us was WAY more effective and powerful than letting my worries spiral my prayers into anxious grumblings.

Can we voice our worries to God? Absolutely!

But what I’m discovering is that to remain there, only voicing my concerns, is to deny myself and those I love a great power and Presence.

Think back to Creation — we are created in the image of God. Our God, who speaks and things happen, invites us to speak like Him into our spheres of influence.

Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley (the Methodist founder) wrote many hymns that captured his theology and faith. “O For a Thousand Tongues” is one of his hymns that puts words to what J.D. is trying to get us to grasp:

O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise,

The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace!

He speaks, and, listening to His voice, new life the dead receive:

The mournful, broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe.

God prays.

Can you wrap your mind around that? Too often we think of prayer primarily as something we do.

But what if prayer is primarily something God does?

God’s sacred speech creates and brings forth new order, new life.

True Prayer is Participation in the Dialogue of the Heavens

We pray.

Not just saying prayers, but PRAYING as God prays.

We can claim the formless, empty, dark depths and speak, “Let there be light,” revealing the nature of the chaos we face.

So, what if prayer is us joining in the creative conversation of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

What if prayer is us participating in the dialogue happening in the heavenly places? (Daily Text, May 17, 2018

Nearly fifteen years ago I got a glimpse of what J.D. is proposing. In the power of the Holy Spirit, I felt this participation with the heavenlies.

My friend and neighbor was losing her husband to cancer, and their three young children (2, 4, & 6 years old) were confused and hurting. I sooooo wanted to do something to help, so I asked God what that could be.

Many times He spoke to my spirit that I should organize our neighbors and their friends for a prayer time up at the hospital.

You can’t imagine (or maybe you can!) how far out of my comfort zone this was for me. God wanted me to reach out to people I didn’t know well (or at all) to go pray OUT LOUD at the hospital for this man’s healing.

After quite a bit of wrestling, I gave in and started reaching out. The crazy thing is that instead of resistance, I discovered people were as eager as I was to do something, anything for this precious family.

So we met. Gathered in the waiting room down the hall from his room, we circled up and just started praying. We claimed God’s promise to be present “where two or more are gathered.” We asked for His healing hand to reach down from heaven and heal his body.

And I totally, fully expected all that to happen.

Only, it didn’t.

As things worsened, a few (a dozen or so) of us decided we should pray again. That night, for some reason, the hospital staff allowed us to circle his bed, his sweet wife at his side. As we prayed, this crazy, surreal, spiritual thing happened. I have no words.

But we opened our eyes to see him clear-eyed and smiling at us. No more confusion or hallucinations. No more fighting the tubes and cords. But peace and clarity.

He proceeded to go around the circle, pointing at each of us and speaking a word of truth and encouragement for us. We were speechless.

He even looked at a dear friend of mine that he did not know and said, “I know you.” His smile was sweet and…well, holy. I couldn’t help but think something was going on that I couldn’t see — a spiritual something. (Later my friend agreed).

Just as quickly and mysteriously as his lucidity came, it went.

Again, he was in pain and trying to “break free” from “his bonds.”

We. Were. Mystified.

What just happened?

Not long after that he passed away.

More confusion. I thought God asked us to pray so that he would be healed.

In the days and weeks that followed his funeral, his wife and I talked through this. And while we really don’t know why God didn’t heal her husband, we knew without a doubt He did call us to pray. And, there were some great things that happened because of it.

My friend wept as she told me what a gift it had been to have her husband back…if only for a few moments.

And she is just sure that this intersection of spiritual and physical would leave an impression on her husband’s family, who were not believers. We had some solace believing that God’s agenda had eternal value.

When I look back on that season, my prayer life was rich and full. I took much time to lift my hopes and ask God for big (and little) things. And I sensed His presence the entire time.

For J.D. to give me this visual of God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit in dialogue and at work in the Heavenly Places allows me to have words to try to express what happened that night in the hospital room. Somehow our little band of believers joined in that dialogue, and somehow it allowed God to step in and do something miraculous. When it comes to prayer…

“God is the initiator, always working. Our praying is always a response to God’s prior initiative…and the most ready pathway into the activity of God.” (Daily Text, May 18, 2018)

Jesus has claimed OUR chaos, and day by day He is sorting it out!

  • By praying as God prays, we join Him in the work He’s already doing.
  • By praying as God prays, we align our prayers with His.

Remember the verse I used last week? “Truly, truly (Amen, amen) I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” (John 16:23) It’s not a verse that sets God up as the genie-in-a-bottle-god. It’s not giving us a free pass to just ask for anything and we’ll get it.

But it is inviting us to pray in God’s name, to align our hearts with His. And as we do that, our prayers start to look and sound a lot more like God’s.

Prayer is Participation in God’s Restorative Work

J.D. takes us back to Genesis 1 to help us understand all this more clearly:

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23)

J.D. says, “If there is a word to describe Genesis 1, it would be FLOURISHING.” (Daily Text, May 21, 2018)

  • Plants
  • Trees
  • Birds
  • Fish
  • Animals

Instead of approaching prayer as a means to solve problems, what if we see prayer as a participation in the Word of God (Divine speech) to call forth what God intended for us all along?

If we jump to the end (of the Bible and of life as we know it), we see Jesus on a throne: “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:5)

This is a picture of Jesus no longer at the right hand of God’s throne but ON it. It’s time for action.

Do you see Him wringing His hands, trying to fix broken things? (what an image, right?)

Then… neither should we.

“This is prayer, not a reaction or even response to sin, darkness and death, but co-creative participation in the word and work of God to renew all of Creation.” (Daily Text, May 21, 2018)

Let’s go back to that notion that we are created in God’s image.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He Created them; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

After 25 verses of God speaking Creation out of chaos, of all that was created…

  • What was created in the image of God?
  • What has the capacity to speak as God speaks?

Us! Humans! As His image bearers, the most powerful and creative capacity we have is to speak as God speaks — to pray! (Daily Text, May 22, 2018)

Is this giving you chill bumps as it is me?

The most powerful and creative capacity we have is to pray.

“When it comes to prayer, most of us don’t need to try harder. What we need is a deeper understanding. We don’t need a change in method as much as we need a change in mindset.” (Daily Text, May 22, 2018)

We need to understand that prayer is Divine speech, not just our usual “amplification of anxieties to God.”

Prayer is World-Making Speech

“As we get past our technical understanding of saying prayers, and seek to understand the deeper milieu of ultimate reality, prayer will take on enormous significance. It will, in fact, enter the realm of world-making. That’s what prayer is — world-making speech.” (Daily Text, May 14, 2018)


What a journey.

And we’re only just beginning!

We’ve spent the last little bit talking about what prayer is. It is talking with God–but it’s so much more.

  • Prayer begins with faith
  • Prayer is learning to speak as God speaks
  • Prayer is less pleading and more calling forth
  • True prayer is participation in the dialogue of the Heavens
  • Prayer is Divine speech
  • Prayer is participation in God’s restorative work
  • Prayer is world-making speech

I’ve been processing all this for quite some time now, so I expect that if this is mostly new to you, you will need more time to process it all. I hope you do process it. Sit down with God. Go for a run and hash all this out with God. Do whatever you need to get to a place that you begin to resonate with the truths that begin to unveil the deeper purposes and power of prayer.

As deep as all this might feel, as uncomfortable as it might be making you feel…try to think of this way of seeing prayer as a new pair of shoes. They might take some “breaking-in,” but they’ll be a beautiful asset going forward.

Next time, we’ll talk about WHY we should pray — another important question to tackle so that we can grow deeper in our prayer lives.

Working out these new shoes,

Shelley Johnson

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

3 thoughts on “What Is Prayer? Part Two

  1. Shelley, thank you for your words today. You and JD Walt have spoken to my heart and given me a glimps of what prayer really should look like. I have a new understanding of “God Speak”.

  2. Shelley, thank you for sharing what you and your class is learning. I NEEDED this reminder – what a faith builder! Our prayer time in the hospital room………………it was indeed holy. As if the Lord moved the veil of the unseen and allowed it go co-mingle with the seen in a very real and tangible way. It was one of the most powerful and peaceful experiences I have ever had. It was such an honor to pray with that precious couple and the believers that were together. True community in the midst of such hardship. I am so thankful you took that step of faith.

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