When things are going crazy and we feel down, many of us turn to prayer. Even people who do not pray as a habit are moved to pray when things go awry. There is a natural understanding in our hearts that there has to be something bigger than ourselves out there. It is probably why we are so obsessed with aliens. There’s an odd comfort knowing the universe is bigger than even our biggest problems. 

It is in these moments, Sam Smith prays:

I lift up my head and the world is on fire
There’s dread in my heart and fear in my bones
And I just don’t know what to say
Maybe I’ll pray, pray

Sam Smith’s song “Pray” is beautiful. Sonically, it is about as pleasing to the ear as music can be. Its melody draws you in and entraps you in the sound of Sam’s smooth voice. More than being pleasing to the ear, it resonates. “Pray” speaks to the heart of where many of us are these days. For the religious and non-religious both, prayer is both a necessity and a mystery. 

Who Do You Pray To?

In those moments when life isn’t going as planned, who or what we pray to is a sign of where we’ve placed our hope. Prayer, in many ways, is looking for salvation. Therefore, we will only pray to something or someone that we believe can save us.

The interesting thing here is that Sam wants prayer without God. Smith says:

You won’t find me in church (no) reading the Bible (no)
I am still here and I’m still your disciple

Sam wants to do this without church and without the Bible. This actually fits in with the idea of relationship over religion. Many people today want to distill their relationship with God down to a private affair that comes with none of the trappings that have been associated with a relationship with Him.  

If we are praying to God but apart from community and the Bible, then we’re not praying to the God that Jesus was pointing us to.

It is understandable.  Many Christians today have been hurt by the church.  They have felt rejected, unwanted, or have been abused.  They don’t want to leave God behind, just the people who claim to be His.  

It’s easier when it’s just you and God. We don’t want the rigidity and rules but we do want the Savior. The problem is, the Christian life is most fully expressed in the context of community. There are about 50 “One Another” commands in the New Testament that relate directly to life in the local church.  These are the phrases that tell us to love one another, bear one another’s burdens, essentially, live life together. You can’t exactly discount the Bible because it is the source for how we learn about the object of our faith, Jesus. So both the church and the Bible are essential for understanding how to be the sort of disciple Jesus calls us to be.

If we are praying to God but apart from community and the Bible, then we’re not praying to the God that Jesus was pointing us to. We are praying to a version of Him we’ve created in our minds, which means we’re praying to ourselves. The truth is, we make terrible gods. There is no power within ourselves that can change our inner turmoil or keep the world from crumbling around us.  

The Necessity of Prayer

Sam says in verse 2 of “Pray” that when trying to “explain the words run away.” Jesus gets that, and it is exactly why He contends for us. The whole point of the Gospel is that we cannot save ourselves. Jesus had to come down from His high place to rescue us (Philippians 2:5–8). He now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Romans 8:34).  We are able to pray with confidence knowing that through our fumbling and stumbling, through our distracted thoughts and disjointed words, the Father still hears us because the Son is telling Him everything we can’t.

Prayer is one of God’s chosen means to communicate with us. It is sustaining for the life of the Christian. Prayer is also our means of communicating with God. We adore Him, thank Him, and lay our needs before Him. In Practicing the Presence of God, author Brother Lawrence says this about prayer:

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.

Prayer leads us into a beautiful relationship with God. It is through prayer that we come to know Him more deeply and in turn learn to trust Him more deeply.  

What Do We Pray For?

We pray for a lot of things. We pray to know God better (Ephesians 3:14–18), for healing (James 5:14), for the salvation of others (Acts 26:18), and for freedom from sin (Galatians 5:1). Sam is praying for some sort of sign that things will change:

And I’m gonna pray (Lord), pray (Lord), maybe I’ll pray
Pray for a glimmer of hope  

We are hope-fueled creatures. It is how we survive some of the worst conditions we face in life. When you read stories of people who have survived things like being prisoners of war or stranded at sea, there is always one thing they can point to that got them through: hope. Many of us have lived through hard times and were able to make it through because of hope.  

Misplaced hope only disappoints though. Hope in things that have no power to save you will only leave us more hurt in the end. And this is why Sam’s song, while mesmerizing musically, is rather empty spiritually. If we need a glimmer of hope but want it on our own terms—apart from being a disciple of Jesus—that hope will be rather flimsy. 

Everyone Prays in the End

There’s that old joke about there being no atheists on a crashing plane. While tongue in cheek, there is some truth to be acknowledged there. In the end we are all praying to something or someone to be our hope. We are all looking somewhere to be saved from something.

We may not all get on our knees and clasp our hands but how we live, what we give our time and energy to, all indicate where our hope lies. Sam is begging for a one-on-one with God, despite the earlier refusal to meet with God in the common places He’s been found (church and the Bible):

Won’t you call me?
Can we have a one-to-one, please?
Let’s talk about freedom
Everyone prays in the end

In some way, we are all saying that same prayer. Can we get a one-on-one with God to just talk about freedom? At our core, it’s what we all want: freedom. We want to be free from the turmoil and mental anguish. We long to be free from the guilt and pain. In our hearts, we want to know God and this is why we cry out to Him.  

This is the heart of prayer: relationship with God. For the Christian it is a necessity. Speaking on prayer, Martin Luther said: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” 

In the end, every attempt to save ourselves is some form of prayer. Because everyone prays in the end.