The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer as “an offering up of our desires unto God.” And if we just take the Westminster Shorter Catechism at face value, it can sound like prayer is simply having a conversation with God, it’s simply asking for things, it’s offering up our desires unto God. And yet I think the Westminster divines meant more about prayer. They meant more than just that it’s this list of wants or a list of things that we offer up to God or some kind of communication with God. And the proof to that is in some of the proof texts that we’re given.
There’s one main proof text that was originally given for that phrase in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and it comes from Psalm 62:8 which says something about how we need to pour out our hearts to God. And so the Westminster divines in defining prayers and offering up of our desires unto God actually show us what they had in mind. It wasn’t simply some kind of communication with God, as though we’re yawning and we’re disinterested in the rest of it, but we’re having a conversation. And it’s also not that we’re simply just giving God a list of our wants and our desires but rather we’re pouring out our hearts unto God.
I’m reminded in thinking about prayer of what Charles Spurgeon said about prayer. Charles Spurgeon said something like this. He said that we ought not to think that we have prayed until we have pleaded, that the very essence and the very marrow of prayer is pleading: we pour out our hearts to God.
When I was going through a time of grief or pain, it’s those times in my life where I felt like I’ve really prayed. And I think one of the reasons that Christians struggle so much with praying is because we don’t understand what prayer is. We think it’s this conversation that we need to talk to God about, and we find it to be something so hard to do because it’s like our heart is detached from it. I can think about some of the times in my own life where my prayers were emotional and they were raw because of the place and the circumstances that I was going through at the time. And I think those times, when I was going through times of difficulty, when I was going through a time of grief or pain, it’s those times in my life where I felt like I’ve really prayed. That’s what the Westminster divines had in mind in laying out prayer as an offering up of our desires unto God.
It was more that we are to give our hearts over to God and commune with him, not just express our wants in some kind of a checklist fashion or have a conversation that is disinterested and detached from our hearts, but rather to engage our hearts in pleading with him for things that we want that will be in accordance with his will and will bring glory to his name on earth.