If there is anything wrong with our praying, part of the reason may be that we confuse it with language. We assume that we are talking with God.

We have certain terms that perpetuate and reinforce this impression. We say we “talk to God,” “tell him things,” are assured of his “understanding” and “memory” (although we consider it appropriate from time to time to remind him of what we have already informed him or of what we have petitioned from him). We do all this because we believe that God has personality, that he is in fact a Person. He therefore is expected to behave toward us as people do, linguistically as well as volitionally.

This continuity between the normal use of language and prayer is further manifested in the particular contexts in which Protestant prayers are so often uttered. There is no sacrifice, no incense, no darkened room. Transition from man-directed to God-directed communication is smooth. There may be a group of people talking among themselves or being addressed by one person, but when it comes time to pray, all that happens is that the person of the addressee becomes invisible. Talk goes on, but no one can see the person to whom it is directed. It is as if a message were being tape-recorded to send to God.

So casual are we about our public praying that there is little control over what precedes the “prayer time.” I have been in missionary prayer meetings (too many of them) when the time for “prayer requests” could hardly be distinguished from what goes on over a cup of coffee. People’s names were mentioned in connection with praying for their going on furlough, their return to the field, their health needs, but we also got ...

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