Prayer is such an interesting topic in our world today. You don’t necessarily have to believe in any god to pray–it can simply serve as a means of offering up good thoughts and hopes to the wider universe. We see this on the heels of any tragedy, that people begin to comment that their thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered. On a more personal note for each of us, how many times have we said the phrase, “I will pray for you,” and then not followed through? It is almost as if saying the word prayer has grown to be enough as a widely held posture of graciousness toward one another–not saying a prayer, just saying the word prayer.
Or maybe our prayers have grown so stale and meaningless that we simply go through the motions. Saying prayers without any expectations whatsoever. Or maybe we have limited prayer to only serve as an intermediary when someone we know and love is sick or injured.
But this does not describe Christian prayer.
And it makes it difficult to think of Jesus fasting and praying in the wilderness for 40 days and nights (he must have known a lot of people who needed to get better). It makes it difficult to think of those times when Jesus goes off to pray by himself overnight. If Jesus is just praying for people to get better or if he is just going through the motions–that doesn’t sound very interesting. It does not give me life or joy or passion to do the same.
But, again, this is not Christian prayer.
So, what is Christian prayer? Well, as always, allow me qualify my answer. For this is just one single blog post (and a flawed one at that). Christians have spent lifetimes dedicated to this practice–seeking to find the answer to this question and so many more in their lives from God through the medium of prayer. Christians have spent centuries working this into the daily rhythm and routine of their lives, and we have basically boiled it down to those ways of praying that I described in the first two paragraphs. So, we still have a ways to go in terms of getting to the heart of what prayer is and why we should do it.
But, I will say this: Prayer is the means by which we hear the voice of God alive and well in our lives today.
Last week, we focused on why we read Scripture, and we settled on (or at least, I did) that we read Scripture to meet God. It is in the pages of Scripture that we receive our introduction to who this God is, what this God cares about, and how we can begin to follow this God in our lives.
So, if Scripture is our introduction, then Prayer is our Masters course.
Now, hear this clearly, because it matters a great deal. God’s voice is not the only voice we hear in prayer. Nor do we always hear God’s voice in prayer. (In fact, I would venture to say that the vast majority of our prayer is working to get out of our own way and to quiet the other voices that we hear so that we can be open to hearing God’s voice.)
So why pray? Well, to say nothing of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits to prayer, we pray because it is through prayer that we continue to meet the God who we are introduced to in Scripture. We pray to have our lives ordered not by our own desires, but by God’s. We pray so that we can be transformed back into the image and likeness that God instilled within us at creation–the image and likeness of God’s very self. We pray because it is through prayer that we commune with God today.
Much more can be said about the practice of prayer, or techniques of prayer, or any number of other items, but allow me to close with a quote about prayer:
“We pray to prepare for we know not what.”
We pray because each of us need’s someone beyond ourselves to help us through life. If not now, then at some point. We pray because life throws its best punches our way and we get knocked down, perhaps more than we would like. And we pray so that when those punches come, we are ready before God and with God to continue to live as faithful followers of Jesus.
In other words, we pray because we must.