Reflections on Prayer
As a concept, prayer is a massive thing. The idea that each of the individuals among the billions of people on this planet has the attention of God. God, who is ostensibly busy with the maintenance of the universe, will turn to us when asked. That's insane...and beautiful.
The ins and outs of what prayer is have been discussed, defined, debated, and redefined. We at Trinity decided to call on some of our congregants to talk a little bit about what prayer has meant in their lives.
Amanda Grossman shares instructive thoughts
“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6
Most of us have a friend with whom we can talk about anything, anywhere, at any time. Even if we are miles apart and haven’t spoken in years, we can pick up a conversation where it left off without any effort at all. Our relationship is familiar, comfortable and completely natural. God desires the same level of easy intimacy with each one of us, although for many of us the habit of prayer is anything but easy. But it can be if we regard prayer not as another chore, but as an ongoing conversation with our Best Friend.
Like someone picking up the phone or sitting down to compose a message, the first move is ours to make. Sometimes we have good news to share—that’s praise. But more often when we call a friend it is because something went wrong, or something is bothering us, and we just need to vent. Luke 6:45b says, “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” If we desire true intimacy with God, we don’t have to hold back; we can and should tell our Best Friend everything that is on our minds and hearts. This involves not only confession, but contemplation. A conversation is both giving and receiving, both speaking and listening. Listening requires a period of intentional silence on our end of the line. Listening also means waiting with an open mind and an open spirit for a response, and thoughtfully considering it when it does come. The best friends are not only great listeners, but also give great advice. Like any good friend God does not force us to follow his advice, but he knows us better than our closest earthly friends ever could. Psalm 139:1 says “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” Verse 17 says, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” We seek out the advice of our earthly friends because we love and trust them, and we value their opinions; what would happen to our relationship with our Best Friend if we approached him with the same confidence?
The only way that friends can deepen their knowledge of one another is by spending time together and sharing thoughts…in essence, engaging in conversation. The times that prayer was most meaningful to me were when I stopped thinking of it as a task or a discipline but rather an intentional exchange of time, presence and ideas. Like a chat with an old friend, time spent in prayer will never fail to calm, encourage, reset, re-center and recharge us. And God is always waiting at the other end of the line.
Morris DuBose's frustrations with prayer
There are a host of verses instructing us on the function and efficacy of prayer. Everything from peace to healing, from wisdom to miracles, and simply the desires of your heart. But sick people die despite the prayers of others. I almost never feel wise, much less divinely wise, despite entreaties to the Divine for wisdom.
Prayer is often described as a conversation between friends. But that analogy baffles me. Through the whole of scripture, prayer most resembles young children talking away at their parents’ elbows while the adults carry on, occasionally engaging with the kids. If I had a best friend who spoke in vague notions, hints and symbols, the novelty would wear off quickly and I would move that person into the realm of quirky acquaintance. And that’s how I feel when I pray. Sure, I find guiding principles in Scripture. And I see the hand of God in the world around me (people, nature, technology, art, and on and on). But when I look up and tell God why I’m sad or happy, what I need or want, all I usually see are the ceiling tiles.
But, in the same way that a young child is comforted by the mere act of talking to her or his parents, I am still able to derive comfort from prayer. Not as a cosmic wish-granting system but as a way to put a voice to the things we hold close to our chest. Prayer has given me a place to be entirely vulnerable.
Abby Lietz and her ever-changing life of prayer:
I’ll share the first time prayer was meaningful to me - that I can recall! After my sister and I were born, my family didn’t start going to church again until we moved to my mom’s hometown just in time for me to start second grade at my new school. Prior to that time, Jesus and God were household names and folks my sister and I were taught about from an early age.
I remember lying in bed with a horrendous headache, unable to sleep; I might’ve been 8 or 9 at the time. I remember thinking to myself, “I could just tell God I have a headache. Maybe he can do something about it,” or whatever an eight-year-old says to themselves about a God they’re just beginning to know. I believed the Tooth Fairy and Santa could bring me anything on their respective occasions - and God was certainly a bigger deal than those two! So I began to talk to God about what was going on, and I remember crying because the pain was so intense; I was a rotten chewer or swallower of even the kid-friendly headache medicine! And there in the dark, staring up to the simple canopy above my bed, as I poured my pain out to God I instantly felt a wave of relief sweep over me. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it since. God became real to me then. Real and loving and caring when I opened up and believed he was there.
It’s difficult to explain what prayer means to me - the wonderfully mysterious open-line of communication we have with God, Jesus and The Counselor - in this short space, or at all, really. Prayer, while confounding when we ponder how it “works”, why it “works”, what it’s for, why we’re supposed to spend time doing it, means to me that God is seeking me and choosing to be available to me, AND ALL OF US, 100% of the time no matter where we are, what we’re doing, who we're with or what our spiritual state may be at a particular moment. God chooses love; God chooses you - and me. All the time. It’s this nature that means so much, this nature of a being Who would choose to be open to me and all my beautiful messiness when I might not do the same if the tables were turned. In fact, I don’t do the same when I choose self over God and instead cave to fear, anxiety, anger or just plain selfishness over turning those obstacles to him or seeking his ways. Prayer means there’s somebody who can hold the whole world, and care about my heart, too. Prayer means there’s someone to turn to when I need to rid myself of self and fall at the feet of Jesus. Because I want more faith. To be more full of love. To be transformed into Jesus’ likeness. To know God’s way in this world and how to walk in it. To me, prayer means there’s worship and glory and humility and forgiveness. Prayer means there’s not a moment to waste walking in anything other than dignity and grace and trust so that I can intercede for others in places where God’s love is needed.
This week, try out different prayer forms
There are many ways to pray and differences in personality and disposition impact our “prayer style.” In the book Paths to Prayer, author Patricia Brown discusses four categories: Searching Prayer, Experiential Prayer, Relational Prayer and Innovative Prayer. Try out different prayer forms to see what you find most meaningful and what best nurtures your relationship with God.
Searching Prayer – Lectio Divina is way of praying the scripture, of experiencing scripture as God speaking to us through his Word. Allow at least 20 minutes so you have time to reflect following each reading of the scripture.
Experiential Prayer – Centering Prayer makes use of a sacred word to help us clear our minds of clutter and busyness so we can be more focused on God’s presence. We empty our minds of distractions so they might be filled by God’s Holy Spirit. (I find it helpful to set a timer for centering prayer so I don’t become anxious about the time.)
Relational Prayer – The Prayer of Examen is a way of reviewing your day (or week) with God to better notice where God is moving in your life and be more intentional with your thoughts, words and actions in the future. As you mentally review in your day, consider:
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