Relationship, Not Routine

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From the Oxford dictionary, a routine is “a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.” We use the phrase in computer programming to describe a method or function that performs a particular job, so every time I need that job done, I call the function to do it for me, saving me time and effort. You may relate if you are a parent and have to say the same things to your kids over and over: “Stop hitting your sibling!”, “Do your chores!”, etc. We have joked that we could just record these sound snippets and play them back when needed, instead of repeating ourselves ad nauseum. Imagine if prayer were programmable this way.

I frequently pray for the same things each day: I praise God for who he is, I confess the same sins—especially throughout a particular season of life—, I pray for the marriages of couples we are close to, parental struggles, wisdom, and work. I pray for the salvation of family members and friends. Many of the details repeat. My petition for wisdom acknowledges my lack of wisdom, admits my need for wisdom, and pleads God’s promise in James 1:5 to receive wisdom. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to package it up in a convenient function? It may look something like this:

function prayForWisdom() {

Now, whenever I want to pray for wisdom, I could call the function instead of repeating myself! And I could do that for all the things I pray for. I could even automate daily prayer for each day of the week:

function dailyPrayer() {
  // etc

// do this every day of the week
for $day in ['Sun', 'Mon', 'Tue', 'Wed', 'Thu', 'Fri', 'Sat'] {

The idea is, of course, ridiculous. Prayer has no API to program to, because the foundation for prayer is a relationship. I would not interact with my wife this way, why would I with God? Blind repetition of praise and petition do not befit a child of God, because they ignore the ever-changing nature of how I relate to him. I grow in knowledge and holiness, I gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of his attributes, and my prayers must reflect that. My asking for wisdom as a baby Christian should look different than my asking for wisdom as a mature one. That is all part of Christian growth.

However, I often run through my prayers like rote, heedless of the fact that, while my needs may be the same1, my relationship with God is ever changing, because he is molding me into his image continually. Instead, I should weave my life into my prayers, connect my praise with past and present victories, my laments with current hardships and God’s past faithfulness, join my pleading for lost family and friends to my many prayers past and hopes future: “How long, oh Lord, will you delay? I have been pleading for their souls for years! Save them, so they may know your joy! Yet not my will, but yours be done in your time.”

When I approach prayer like this, functions no longer make sense. My prayer life is not something I must optimize for time. I would gain nothing if I did, but I would lose the riches that flow from a relationship with God, because efficiency is not the goal, knowing God is. My heavenly father knows my need, even when I forget to pray for it because I was resting in his bosom instead of racing through my prayer list, ticking all the boxes. Prayer flows out of a relationship, one that began before time, when my triune God loved me despite myself. At the cross he purchased me, and for all eternity I will be with him and he with me. That is the basis for my prayers.

What about you? “Prayer is like code” may not be your first thought, but maybe praying is “routine” for you in the original sense. Are you treating God only like the recipient of your wants and needs, your problems and difficulties? If so, let me recommend a few resources to help.

With that, let us mature in our prayers as we are molded more and more into Christ’s image.

  1. I have found that my needs actually increase with maturity. While it is true that I still have a need for wisdom now as I did when God first saved me, I feel that need more deeply today, because I am more aware of how much I actually lack. ↩︎