Prayer. Prayer.

What kind of feelings does the word itself stir up for you?

I’ll start. Sometimes, I can feel a sense of obligation. Like, I haven’t done my part as a “good” Christian until I’ve spent time in prayer. Maybe I’ll pray because I believe, subconsciously, that God will be more inclined to bless me if I’ve done my “good” works, have been a “good” daughter. Sometimes, I can feel shame around prayer, if I haven’t done well in meeting that obligation.

Maybe you’ve felt the same. And this is where we are gravely mistaken.

Of course, we know we should pray. As Christians, it’s not a recommendation, but a foundational aspect of our lives as sons and daughters of the most High God. He requires nothing from us but ourselves — but we know that prayer is good. Right? We’re in agreement there, yes?

I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer. At work, my coworkers and I have started our Friday morning meetings with “Prayer Over Problems,” and in my personal life, I’ve been encouraged to level up my prayer life to see breakthrough in certain areas. So, it’s got me thinking. Why? Why pray?

Too often, if I haven’t been spending time in the presence of God, prayer feels more like a burden that it feels like a blessing. So, here’s where I want to start: Prayer is good for our relationship with God. Stick with me, here, because I know you know this already…

But, prayer actually affects your brain…your living, tangible, physical brain — the organ that sits inside your skull and tells your lungs when to breathe and your heart when to pump your blood.

Scientific studies have shown that, during an MRI, people that were actively praying (regardless of the deity), activated the same parts of the brain that awaken when speaking to a loved one — a family member or friend. A human, in-the-flesh, being. Spending time in prayer is not so that you can alleviate the wrath of a God that is always angry — that needs you to earn His love. Spending time in prayer is physiologically similar to having a deep conversation with a loved one.

I don’t know about you, but I’m an introvert. Heavily. (According to Meyers-Briggs, on a scale of 1-100, I sit around 88% introverted.) If conversation isn’t deep and stretching, or purpose-driven, it can be hard for me. I get awkward real quick and don’t know what to do with my hands. Or legs, for that matter, except just dance around the refreshments table. But, I have never once walked away from a conversation with someone that I love deeply feeling unheard, unseen, or unloved. It’s a shot of energy — of life, of vigor, a reminder of identity, that we get to receive when we talk to God, our Father in heaven.

More than just being a one-way conversation — like a random blurting of all your thoughts unto nothing or no one — prayer actually, tangibly, builds your relationship with God, and not just spiritually, but physiologically, too. It affects your natural brain, as you grow in intimacy with Him.

Prayer is a way of saying, “God, you know what? I have a lot going on. I’m stressed, I’m overwhelmed, and I don’t even know where to start. But our relationship matters to me. It matters that I work on us, so all these other things can wait. I trust that you have everything under control. Thank you that you do.”

Not only does prayer change our brains, physiologically, but it changes our physical bodies, too, in the natural. I’m not just referring to those moments when we pray for healing and see it — as that is a beautiful, tangible manifestation of heaven’s signs and wonders.

But Proverbs 16:24 — this is one of my favorites — says, “gracious words are a honeycomb; sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” And, too, if we know that “the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8), meaning He is inherently gracious, like He is inherently love, we can and should expect that the words He speaks to us are healing to our bones.

And, similarly, the words that we cry out to God, in prayer, out of love and petition and thanksgiving, allow our soul to be strengthened by the sweetness of our words and that our physical bodies are being healed and restored.

So, if we know that prayer both changes us physiologically and physically, of course, we need to address how it affects us in the spiritual realm.

Prayer changes our ability to hear the voice of God.

How many of us beg our Father, “God, why can’t I hear you? Why are you silent with me when I know you speak to my friends? They can hear your voice. Why not me, too?”

But, if we’re not hearing His voice, it’s not because He’s not speaking. It’s because we don’t recognize it, because we haven’t been in close communion with Him. We can consider God a close friend, right? And the closer we are in friendship with somebody, the more quickly and easily we recognize their voice — we know their intonations, their choice of language, their humor. You and a close friend have inside jokes, you use similar emojis in texting; you develop a language all your own, marked by the nuances of your friendship.

God is the same. When we spend time with Him, we develop the ability to recognize His voice.

Prayer changes everything for us. It changes us physiologically, physically, and spiritually.

I think that, when it comes to prayer, we too often forget that God has given us the incredible ability to actually partake in relationship with him, and is that not the biggest blessing of all? Is that not why Jesus came and gave his life for us, that we might find intimacy with God our Father, unashamed and confident in approaching His royal throne as heirs to his kingdom and co-heirs with christ?

I had a pastor once tell a story within a sermon at church, regarding prayer. He said that it was a Saturday in Seattle, and he had his whole day planned out. He was going to work on his sermon for the following Sunday and go for a run and write a chapter of his book, but his daughter came up to him and asked him instead to a tea party. I can guarantee you that my pastor did not wake up and schedule a tea party into his day, but she made her request known to him. She approached him with confidence that said, “Obviously my daddy wants to have tea with me. He doesn’t want anything else in this whole world (nor does he have anything else to do) than join my tea party. He loves me, and he’s excited to come.”

Her prayer moved him. He altered his schedule around the tea party; her request redirected his actions for the day.

If this is an example of the way God loves us, then we better believe that God hears our prayers and responds accordingly. Not one falls to the ground, but He lends His ear to every child that presents his or her requests. He’s delighted to fulfill them, solely because He is good — and in the meantime, while waiting for the fruition of our requests, let’s keep praying, because it is so, so good for us. Inside and out.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash