Prayer is a conversation, it is a two-way dialogue, not a one-way monologue.
You’re overstating it, you may say from looking at the previous sentence, but it is a point that cannot be overstated! I could refer to places in the New Testament for this, but you may be surprised to know that this was well understood in the Old Testament. Here are a few examples.
The example of Abraham.
Well there is Abraham for starters, ‘he was called a friend of God’ (James 2:23 NRSV), and what do friend do but talk with each other! When he interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah he was involved in a literal, physical conversation with God see Genesis 18:16-33, he was also bold enough to negotiate with God, but was wise enough to know where the limits were.
This is quite a challenge! How much are we prepared to argue someone’s case before God? Not for a Christian, but for a non-Christian to be saved! After all, ‘The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3:9 NRSV). We should not think that Jesus is slow in returning which is the context of this verse, but as with Sodom and Gomorrah, when he does there will be judgement, and by then all choices about eternal salvation will have been made. Until then, let us be like Abraham praying for mercy and salvation, and wrestling in prayer for those who don’t know Jesus.
The example of Moses.
Moses is another great example of how prayer is a conversation, and again the best example we have of this from his story are when he was interceding on someone else’s behalf. We see this in the time when Israel sinned by worshipping the golden calf (see Exodus 33).
God was angry, the people he had brought out of Egypt had spiritually returned to Egypt by making and then worshipping an idol. God was more than angry, he was going to destroy all of Israel except Moses and his family, and make a nation out from him alone. But Moses stood up for the Israelites, not because they had not sinned, but for the sake of the patriarchs and because if God destroyed them all the Egyptians would have a cause to celebrate and say that God could not complete what he started!
The result of this pleading. God ‘changed his mind’ (Exodus 32:14 NRSV) because Moses had asked him to, ‘Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people’ (Exodus 32:12 NRSV). We may deserve God’s judgement, but if we humble ourselves, pray and seek God’s face he can, and will, send revival (see 2 Chronicles 7:13-14).
Like Moses we can cause God to change his mind, or we can stand by, be fatalistic about it and see others perish. Prayer is so powerful if we only grasp it, it is not just for the weak, and for old ladies (though it is for them also), in fact to pray like Moses did takes both strength and humility, and comes first of all out of a close relationship with God.
Are we, like Moses, prepared to lay down something that could be to our advantage, to see God’s kingdom advance? What a challenge!
Prophets, priests and kings.
I could give other examples, when the nation of Israel came to together to pray, it was the prophets, priests and kings who would pray. Why? Because these were the people who would not just speak to God, but who could listen to God’s reply!
Under the New Covenant we are all prophets, priests and kings so this responsiblity of prayer and intercession now falls on us, and we can fulfil that task because we can have a conversations with God!
Lord Jesus, help us to learn to listen as well as talk when we pray, because only then can we pray and intercede effectively for those who don’t know you. Help us to take up the challenge, and to lay down our agendas for the sake of others to build your Kingdom. In your name we pray, Amen!