I believe each of us wants and needs a meaningful connection on two levels: with God with others. Prayer is an incubator for both.
Intimacy with Others
“28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28)
Notice Jesus takes a few close friends with him to pray. Have you ever prayed with someone in a really meaningful way? It’s a very powerful and humbling experience. It connects us to others in a way that nothing else can. When prayer is sincere and vulnerable we can’t help but become closer to those we pray with; we can’t help but deepen our love for them. In fact, prayer is so powerful in creating intimacy between people the campus ministry Young Life includes as part of its training program the mantra, “the couple that prays together lays together.” It’s their way of warning dating to be careful about spending too much time alone in prayer, because when your heart connects with someone on that level–if there’s an existing foundation of attraction–your body will want to follow suit. Prayer is a powerful incubator for intimacy with others.
Intimacy with God
“32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’” (Luke 9:32-33).
During his time of prayer Peter has an experience of Jesus that is so awesome, he immediately tries to figure out a way to hold onto the moment forever. Peter’s experience of Jesus’ glory is so pervasie, so good, so restorative, so deep, that he’s willing to stay on the mountaintop forever. Those kind of profound personal experiences of God’s immanence (i.e. closeness) don’t happen very often in the context of prayer (at least for me). But sometimes God allows His presence to be experienced in a profoundly powerful and personal way. Those encounters are a gift, and often only happen within the incubator of prayer. They are beautiful and mysterious and build your faith and intimacy with God by leaps and bounds.
But if I want to experience that level of closeness with God, I need to follow Jesus’ way and consistently seek out places of voluntary under-stimulation (i.e. “wilderness”) where I can just be with God. Unhurried. At ease. Open.
In that environment–in that incubator–intimacy with God is generated, sustained, and deepened.