I would like to start this post out with a confession. I have read (or tried to read) many, many books on prayer. I have listened to many, many sermons on prayer. And for some reason most of them have, at some point, rubbed me the wrong way.
I don’t know exactly what the problem is. I don’t know why I have such a hard time stomaching these treatises on prayer. After all, prayer is the lifeline between you and God. What is there to be so put off by?
That previous confession isn’t quite true, though. I have a few rough ideas on what the problem could be. It is always said that the true prayer warrior must wake up at the crack of dawn (or before) to pray for at least two hours at a time. I hate mornings. I think mornings were sent from Satan to torment us. So that is strike one. I think that even more than that, though, it is the way that prayer is often talked about as a required ritual. This is not really prayer we’re talking about, but Prayer. We need to Pray. We need to Pray a lot. If we really love God, we will Pray for this many hours a day. If we love God even more, we will Pray faithfully for so many hours a day on weekends. If we are completely devoted to God, we will Pray with Fasting as well. And if we miss our quota of Prayer, we should — nay, must — feel Guilty. And if we happen to see someone struggling with this, it is our job to chide them for not Praying enough, and to Humbly extol our greatness on this particular subject.
On top of this, there’s all of the people I’ve seen who seem content to “pray and see mountains move”, but never want to do anything apart from this to see those mountains move. To me this is not faith: it’s laziness. And I don’t believe God will often answer a person who is not willing to do anything about the thing she prays for. (I’m not speaking, of course, about the things we can never hope to change on our own: all I’m saying is that, in many cases, prayer — like faith — without works is dead.) The last thing that bothers me about prayer is similar: how often Christians will say to someone, “I’ll pray for you.” But how often does that person actually pray for the other? How many times is it just empty words so that we look like we care? (This is something I am surely guilty of.)
So, really, my hang-ups don’t have anything to do with prayer at all. They have to do with people, people’s biases, and how people treat this most sacred occupation.
When we strip away all of the thoughts people have thought, the beliefs people have enshrined, the dogma people enforce, what do we have left of prayer?
Here’s what I feel, deep in my gut. This is what prayer is to me.
Prayer is like a cool summer rain on a blistering hot day. It is a spring of water that wells up inside you and drenches you from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. Prayer is a centering of yourself, and a death of yourself to live for Someone else.
Prayer is mystical. It opens pathways to a Force beyond anything that we can possibly imagine or contain. Prayer is beautiful. It reveals to us a world of unimagined peace and wholeness and glory. Prayer is your lifeline to the Creator of the universe. Prayer is your way to touch lives you could never otherwise reach.
Prayer – in all its varying forms – is a tool to change the world and the course of history.
Prayer is not dead words or empty repetitions. It is alive. It is a breathing, swelling, moving thing. It is poetry given life. And, if you listen very closely, it is also a conversation.
So how do we do this prayer thing? Without compulsion, without guilt, as a genuine and free expression to God? We start by simply engaging in conversation. Tell God what you’re thinking. What you’re feeling. Ask what He thinks you should do for a given situation. You might not get an answer right away, but slowly you will start to. Whether in words or in images or just in leanings toward a certain direction, you will hear if you listen. If you don’t know what to say or need something to get you started, pray the Lord’s prayer (1) or one of the Psalms. (2) There is power in the words of the Bible, and doing this can help propel you into that place of peace. As you feel more confident, use the Lord’s Prayer as a blueprint, following its basic structure while making the words your own. I still do this quite often, especially starting with praising God and then calling His Kingdom to earth and His will to be done. Two other things that can be extremely effective in getting you into that place of deep peace are reading the Bible and praying in tongues. (If you don’t believe in praying in tongues, that’s fine. If you want to do it but haven’t yet, let me know. I’d be happy to give you some help.)
Once you’ve started with this, you can expand to other areas like praying for other people. I normally start by asking God to help them, but then I quickly move into the authority that God has given every Christian (3) and start working with God by commanding sickness to leave people or situations to resolve themselves. I have seen this work many times, both in my life and in the lives of others, so I know it works (no matter how strange it may sound.)
But what about timeframe? When should you pray? Whenever you are able to carve out time and feel the most open. I seem to be the most open mentally and spiritually around noon. Having said that, I find myself praying all day long. In the car, walking in the store, at home. I find that I pray best when I’m walking or pacing. It is important to have time just between you and God, but that’s not the only time you can or even should pray.
If you’re looking for further reading, I highly recommend “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. There’s a reason this little book from the 1600’s written by a monk is still widely available today. It’s because it’s awesome. “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson is also really good, though I’ll admit I did struggle through some of my old feelings while reading it.
I realize I’ve barely grazed the surface on the subject of prayer. But I hope this helped you see that there’s more to prayer than a requirement and empty repetitions. It is a living conversation with a very real and living God. Prayer has the power to change your life. It also has the power to change the world.
What’s your thoughts on prayer?
- Matthew 6:9-13
- Psalm 23
- Luke 10:19; Mark 16:14-18
Image (c) Can Stock Photo