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In the book of Malachi, God insists that the children of Israel stop bringing offerings to the Temple (Malachi 1). That’s quite an astounding charge, seeing as God was the one who instituted the sacrificial system.

Apparently there was a right way to bring a sacrifice and a wrong way to bring a sacrifice. The idea of bringing a sacrifice was the right idea, but when not carried out consistent with God’s design, the sacrifice was worthless and God would not receive it.

It seems to me that a similar dynamic is evident in prayer. The idea of praying to God is the right idea, but when not carried out consistent with God’s design, the prayer is relatively worthless and God does not give it much heed. This doesn’t mean that we must pray perfectly–as if there is just the right formula to make prayer “work.” But it does mean that it is possible to not pray well and as a result not experience a life of prayer the way the Lord intended.

Jesus touches on a number of facets of prayer when speaking with his followers in a conversation he has with them in the upper room before his crucifixion. Explaining to them how they will do life in relationship with him when he is no longer physically present with them, he calls them to a rich prayer life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”  (John 14:23-24)

This seems to be an almost unbelievable invitation to prayer. The Father will give to those who pray. Prayers will be prayed and the answers will be granted. The answers to prayer will result in a fulness of joy.

I am sure that this kind of prayer is not typically the picture of my life of prayer. I often talk to the Father about stuff with great uncertainty regarding what is going on in life. I find that often my praying seems to result in little evidence of clear and certain answers. And my life of prayer and the answers I receive (when I see the answers) don’t typically flow into a life full of joy.

My prayer life is not commonly a source of great joy. My prayer life is frequently devoid of receiving what I have specifically asked for. My prayer life characteristically feels a little bit more like whining and complaining about how things are going.

So I what I am thinking is simply this. The idea of prayer is a good thing–Jesus invites us to pray. But my experience of prayer seems to fall short of what Jesus invites his friends and followers into. And that leads me to wonder about how and why I pray.

If my asking is not followed by answers and those answers are not flowing into a fulness of joy, is it possible that I have not come to understand what it means to “ask . . . in [Jesus’] name”?

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