Now we may come to the first lesson of prayer—the meaning of prayer. May I ask you, brothers and sisters, what is prayer? What is prayer all about? What is the meaning of prayer? Many people, upon hearing the term prayer, immediately think that it means man coming before God to make supplication. Because man is in want and needs material supply, or is sick and needs healing, or has other problems and needs some solution, he goes before God, asking Him to supply his needs, heal his sickness, and solve his problems. Men consider these as prayers. Apparently, there are examples of such prayers in the Bible. For example, the widow in Luke 18 continually went to the judge, asking him to avenge her of her grievance. However, brothers and sisters, please remember that this is not the proper meaning of prayer as it is revealed in the Bible. We dare not say that such a definition is wrong, but it is too superficial and lacks both depth and accuracy. If we desire to know what real prayer is today, we must clearly realize that it
is not man merely making supplications before God for his own needs.
We know that we should not judge any truth of the Bible merely on the basis of a single passage or aspect. In the same way, you cannot tell what a house looks like simply by one of its corners or rooms. You need to view it from various sides as a whole, and then you will be able to make an accurate judgment. In the same principle, if we collect all the Bible passages concerning prayer and view them as a whole, we will see that prayer is not just a matter of man making
supplication to God because he has some needs. This may be partially the meaning of prayer but not entirely. If we have the time, we should gather all the specific examples of prayer in the Bible. For example, in the Old Testament there are the prayers of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, and others, and in the New Testament there are the prayers of the Lord Jesus and of the disciples. If we study every one of these prayers and look at them as a composite, we will be able to see clearly what prayer is all about. It is not the intention of this writing to study them in such a detailed way; we will use only a simple word to speak concerning the meaning of prayer.
Prayer Being the Mutual Contact between Man and God
Prayer is not just man contacting God; it is the mutual contact between man and God. This matter of the contact between God and man is a very great subject in the Bible. We have often said that the purpose of man’s living is to be God’s vessel. In the universe God is man’s content, and man is God’s container. Without man, God has no place to put Himself—He becomes a homeless God. I do not understand why this is so, but I know that it is a fact. In the universe God’s greatest need is man. God as an entity in Himself is complete, but as far as His operation in the universe is concerned, He still needs man to fulfill that operation.
By this you can understand the last sentence of Ephesians 1, which says that the church is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Christ. The term fullness is very hard to translate. It not only
denotes the fullness of Christ but also implies the completeness of Christ. Hence, the church is, on the one hand, the fullness of Christ, and on the other hand, the completeness of Christ. In
other words, without the church it seems that Christ is not at all complete.
We all must be very careful in understanding this word, for it can stir up vehement arguments in theology. I do not mean that God is incomplete and that He needs man to make Him complete.
What I mean is that God in Himself is perfectly complete, but without man He is not complete in the universe according to His plan. O brothers and sisters, this matter is too glorious!
In His eternal plan God has ordained man to be His vessel, or in other words, to be His completion. Hence, Genesis 1 and 2 show that when God created man, He made two
preparations concerning man. The first preparation was that He created man in His image and according to His likeness. As man was created according to God, he resembles God in many
aspects. The various aspects of man’s expression, such as his pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, preference, choice, etc.—whether it be his emotion, will, or disposition—express God to a
certain degree and are miniatures of all that is in God.
Another preparation was that God created for man a spirit in the depths of his being. Of the countless varieties of living things in the universe, only man has a spirit. The angels are spirits,
but that is a different matter. In the whole creation there is one kind of created being that is not spirit yet has a spirit, and that is man. Why did God create a spirit for man in the depths of his
being? We all know that it was because God wants man to receive Him, who is Spirit. In the same way, He created a stomach for man because He wants man to take in food. Consider this:
suppose God did not create a stomach for man—how could we take in food? Because we have a stomach, we can receive food into us, enjoy it, digest it, and assimilate it into our being, making
it our constituent. In the same manner, since we have a spirit within us, we can receive God into us and assimilate Him, making Him our very constituent.
In the first two chapters of Genesis, when God created man to be His vessel, He made these two steps of preparation: one step was to create man to be like Him, and the other was to put a spirit within man so that man might receive Him. After He had made these two preparations, He placed Himself before man in the form of the tree of life in order that man might receive Him and obtain Him as life. Brothers and sisters, it is in man’s spirit that the contact between God and man is made. Once there is such a contact between God and man, God enters into man to be his content, and man becomes God’s vessel to express Him outwardly. Thus, God’s eternal intention is fulfilled in man.
Please remember, real prayer is the mutual contact between God and man. Prayer is not just man contacting God but also God contacting man. If in prayer man does not touch or contact God, and God does not touch or contact man, that prayer is below the proper standard. Every prayer that is up to the standard is one which is a mutual flow and contact between God and man. God and man are just like electric currents flowing into one another. It is hard to say that prayer is solely God in man or solely man in God. According to the fact and experience, prayer is the flowing between God and man. Every prayer that is truly up to the standard surely will have a condition of mutual flowing between God and man so that man may actually touch God and God may actually touch man; thus, man is united with God, and God with man. Therefore, the highest and most accurate meaning of prayer is that it is the mutual contact between God and man
PRAYER BEING MAN BREATHING GOD, OBTAINING GOD, AND BEING OBTAINED BY GOD
A real prayer is also man breathing in God just as he breathes in air. While you are thus breathing in God, spontaneously you are obtaining God, just as when you breathe in air, you receive air. Consequently, not only is God obtained by you to become your enjoyment, but also your whole being surrenders to God, turns unto God, and is wholly gained by God. The more you pray, the more you will be filled with God, and the more you will surrender yourself to God and be gained by Him. If you do not pray for a week or, even worse, a month, then you will be quite far from God. What does it mean to be quite far from God? It means that you cannot obtain God and be obtained by Him. The only remedy for this situation is to pray. And it is not enough to pray for only two or three minutes; you must pray again and again until you have actually breathed God and are actually obtained by God, and God by you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, real prayer is of great importance to a Christian’s spiritual life.
Brothers and sisters, never think that prayer is merely asking God for something. For example, you need a house, and you ask God to prepare one for you. After praying, you receive a word from the Lord saying that what you have asked shall come to pass unto you. The next day a brother comes and says to you, “Do you need a house? My neighbor has two houses for rent; the location is convenient, and the rent is cheap.” So you immediately thank and praise the Lord,
saying, “Hallelujah, the Lord is really the true and living God; He has answered my prayer.” I would not say that this is not prayer, but this is not adequate prayer. Brothers and sisters, if you have really learned the lesson of prayer, whether you can find a house is actually secondary; the primary thing you should be concerned about is whether you have obtained more of God and whether you have been gained more by God through such a prayer. If the result of a prayer is only the accomplishment of a particular matter, without obtaining God or being obtained by God, then such a prayer is a failure, a miscarriage. The ultimate result of a prayer should be that the intercessor gains more of God and is gained more by God, although the thing which he has asked of God may also be fulfilled.
Please consider, are your experiences of prayer like this? Although many times we may not know such a meaning of prayer and may still pray to God concerning certain affairs, God still brings us into Himself through our prayers for those matters. For example, a sister who is a mother loves her child dearly but loves the Lord very little. Regardless how much you help her, she would not seek the Lord. However, one day her child becomes ill. After numerous visits to
physicians, the child remains sick. She becomes helpless and has no alternative other than to put her trust in the Lord. When she comes to pray, she only asks the Lord to heal her child. She does not have the slightest intention of seeking the Lord Himself. Who would imagine that through such a prayer she would be able to actually meet Him, touch Him, and enjoy Him? Because of such a prayer, this one, who for many years refused to be gained by the Lord, has spontaneously entered into God and, at the same time, has been gained by God. But still she does not understand what has happened. After three days her child is actually healed, so she comes to the fellowship meeting and testifies how faithful God is, how He has answered her prayer, and how her child has been healed. Although she has obtained the reality in prayer, she still does not realize it. Many times we are just like that ourselves. When we see the desolation of the church and go to the Lord to pray, we feel that we are praying for the church’s condition, but in God’s view the purpose of our prayer is to cause us to touch Him, inhale Him, obtain Him, and allow Him to obtain us.
I believe that in the remaining years God will cause every one of His children to become more and more clear that real prayer is not to pray concerning affairs, ask for things, or intercede for people. Real prayer is to inhale God Himself, to obtain God, and to be obtained by God. All those prayers for people, affairs, and things that are outside God are not the essence of prayer but are merely the outer skin or accessories of prayer. A real prayer, a prayer of essence, is one in
which you actually contact God, breathe Him, enjoy Him, obtain Him, are filled with Him, and allow Him to gain your being. If the children of God can see this point, they will have a better understanding of the real meaning of prayer.
PRAYER BEING MAN COOPERATING
AND CO-WORKING WITH GOD,
ALLOWING GOD TO EXPRESS HIMSELF
AND HIS DESIRE THROUGH MAN,
AND THUS ACCOMPLISH HIS PURPOSE
If a brother or sister has really learned the secret of prayer covered in the preceding two points, spontaneously there will be the following result: such a praying one will certainly cooperate with God, work together with God, and allow God to express Himself and His desire from within him and through him, ultimately accomplishing God’s purpose. This is according to Romans 8:26 and 27, which tell us that we do not know for what we should pray as is fitting, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s purpose. Actually, we do not know how to pray. We know what people ordinarily call supplication, but we know little about the prayer that is spoken of in the Scriptures. The first time I read these two verses in Romans 8, I questioned their meaning. When I was sick, I thought, did I not pray to God asking Him to heal me? When I was in want, did I not pray to God asking Him to send me provision? How could the Scriptures say that we do not know for what we should pray as is fitting? Gradually, the Lord showed me that we really do not know anything about the kind of prayer that God desires. We know those prayers that people generally consider to be prayers but that are below the standard. We do not know those prayers that touch God’s desire and are up to the standard. This is our weakness. Thank God, in this matter of our weakness, the Spirit Himself joins in to help us and intercede for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Brothers, real prayers are the Holy Spirit within man expressing God’s desire through man. In other words, real prayers are prayers involving two parties. They are not simply man alone praying to God, but they are the Spirit mingling with man, putting on man, and joining with man in prayer. Outwardly it is man praying, but inwardly it is the Spirit praying. This means that two parties express the same prayer at the same time. Please remember that this alone is the prayer
which is spoken of in the Scriptures.
We often speak of Elijah’s prayer. James 5:17 says, “Elijah was a man of like feeling with us, and he earnestly prayed that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.” Earnestly prayed in Greek means “prayed with prayer,” or “prayed in prayer.” This is a very peculiar expression in the Bible. Please remember, this is what we mean by prayer of two parties. When Elijah was praying, he was praying with, or in, a prayer. In other words, he prayed with the prayer of the Spirit within him. Thus, we can say that Elijah’s prayer was God praying to Himself in Elijah. Andrew Murray once said that a real prayer is the Christ who indwells us praying to the Christ who is sitting on the throne. That Christ would be praying to Christ Himself sounds strange, but in our experience this is really the case.
Let us look again at Romans 8:27: “The Spirit…intercedes…according to God.” This means that the Holy Spirit prays in us according to God; that is, God prays in us through His Spirit. Thus, such a prayer certainly expresses God’s intention as well as God Himself.
By these illustrations we can see that real prayers will certainly cause our being to be wholly mingled with God. We will become a person of two parties, i.e., God mingled with man. When you pray, it is He praying, and when He prays, it is also you praying. When He prays within you, you express the prayer outwardly. He and you are altogether one, inside and outside; He and you both pray at the same time. At that time you and God cannot be separated, being mingled as one. Consequently, you not only cooperate with God but also work together with God so that God Himself and His desire may be expressed through you, thus ultimately accomplishing God’s purpose. This is the real prayer that is required of us in the Bible.
Hence, Jude 20 says, “Praying in the Holy Spirit.” This means that you should not pray in yourself. In other words, it means that your prayer should be the expression of two parties, you and the Holy Spirit, praying as one. Ephesians 6:18 says, “By means of all prayer and petition, praying at every time in spirit.” It is hard to say that the spirit here refers solely to the Holy Spirit. All those who read the Bible from an orthodox viewpoint admit that the spirit here does not refer solely to the Holy Spirit; rather, it also includes our human spirit. When we pray, we must pray in such a mingled spirit.
From our fellowship in this chapter we can see that the Bible is God breathing out Himself, and prayer is our breathing in God. Bible reading and prayer are our breathing before God and thus our breathing in of God. Hence, we should not be those who only read the Bible and fail to pray. If we only read the Word, we do allow God to breathe out Himself, but we still do not breathe in God. Thus, we still need to pray. However, in our prayer our supplications for people,
happenings, and things are but the outer skin, the framework. Real prayer always matches the Scriptures; it is an exhaling and inhaling before God, causing us and God, God and us, to contact one another and to obtain one another. Consequently, we wholly cooperate and work with God, and God expresses Himself and His desire through us, ultimately accomplishing His purpose. This is a fundamental meaning of prayer in the Bible.