On this day in 1876, Patent Number 174,465 was awarded to Alexander Graham Bell for a device that would electrically transmit sound. Bell’s application to the U.S. Patent Office, made just after his 29th birthday, beat another inventor, Elisha Gray, by mere hours. The patent was for “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically… by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound”—an invention that would soon be known as the telephone.
Days later in his workshop in Boston, Bell uttered words that would be immortalized in history textbooks. Needing help, he called for his assistant in the next room, who heard the words come over a crude receiver: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”
Success! Yet now Bell faced another daunting challenge—promoting his invention. Curious crowds showed up for demonstrations of this newfangled talking device. They were entertained, but not impressed enough to open their pocketbooks to invest. When the inventor offered to let Western Electric buy him out, the communications giant declined, dismissing the telephone as an “electric toy.” Even President Rutherford B. Hayes did not capture the vision, admitting that it was an amazing invention but doubtful that anyone would have any use for it. Undaunted, Bell kept up his campaign until the public—and investors—finally caught on to the merits of the telephone. Bell died a rich man. (Ironically, Bell himself installed the first telephone in the White House—during the Hayes administration).
The telephone is a remarkable invention, but Jesus taught us about an even more impressive form of communication – prayer. Jesus was happy to reply to His disciples’ plea, “Teach us how to pray.” In a prayer that takes less time to recite than to watch a TV ad, Jesus gave us an entire primer on communicating with God. He told us that we can personally address the Maker of the universe (“Our Father”); request for the heavenly kingdom to be ushered in (“Thy kingdom come”); ask for our vital needs to be met (“Give us our daily bread”); receive pardon for our sins as we pardon others (“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”) and find strength in conflict (“Deliver us from evil”).
Jesus knew that prayer wasn’t a mere wish list or a last-ditch plea when all else fails. Admittedly, there are biblical words for prayer that mean “to ask” or “request.” It is perfectly right and good to ask God for our basic and deepest needs—yet we should never relegate the Lord to being a Santa Claus in the sky. The most profound New Testament term for prayer combines two words: “to face” and “to speak, utter or call.” Thus, prayer is turning toward God to speak to Him—and to allow Him to speak to us. Prayer is communion, a means of contact, a loving and open-hearted exchange between Creator and the created. As Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost For His Highest, “We look upon prayer as a means for getting something for ourselves; the Bible idea of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself.”
If you have the right number, a phone can get you in touch with a movie star, professional athlete or even the President of the United States. But prayer can take us into the throne room of God Almighty, who has given us this precious gift so His children can stay in contact.