Oh, what peace we often forfeit.Oh, what needless pain we bear.All because we do not carryEverything to God in prayer.
I dug out a Mahalia Jackson CD to play while I’m driving around town. The words of this old, familiar hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus’ struck me. Especially the stanza printed above. The text got me thinking about what goes on in prayer.
I’m trying to work on my prayer life with new intention. I’ve got some work to do. Pray for me in this endeavor. The longer I hang around the church, the less I feel I really know about the mystery of prayer: how, why, when it works. I’m thinking about Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing,” which I take to mean that there’s never a time when we can’t say thanks, help, or wow. (According to Annie Lamott, those are the only words we need to know in prayer.)
But a lot of the time I stop myself and think: Am I just giving myself a pep talk? Is this just wishful thinking? Do my prayers go higher than the ceiling? And what happens when my ADHD kicks in and I start crafting to-do lists during my prayer time? How does the Lord feel about that? What’s going on here?
I pray for lots of things (including parking spaces, and for the grace to avoid being a jerk when I can’t find one). But in those moments when those prayers begin to sound like a list of things to do, delivered to the Almighty, when the Holy One becomes my personal valet, I realize I may have missed the point.
In the practice of prayer (and by practice I mean that I still haven’t figured it out), I’ve come to realize that it is less about changing God and more about changing me. When I find my way to appeal to a higher power, I rely more fully on the power of grace. As a wonderful byproduct, I can become more graceful towards others. On a good day, I don’t forfeit peace. I don’t bear needless pain.
So as we find ourselves approaching Lent (It’s early this year), a season for course correction, self-examination, reflection, take it to the Lord in prayer. If you’re not sure what to pray or how to pray, take a cue from the disciples and ask Jesus to teach you. The Lord’s Prayer covers a lot of it.
Or take a cue from Annie Lamott and think about those things for which you are thankful, those things which you can’t do without God’s help, those things that make you say “Wow!” at the wonder that surrounds us.
Or better yet, stop talking. Be quiet. Sit in silence. 20 minutes.
Again, take a cue from Jesus. We’re reading the Gospel of Luke this year, and it seems that again and again, Jesus goes off to pray somewhere and amazing things happen. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up calling his group of disciples. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up feeding 5000. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up appearing on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah in a blaze of glory which we’ll read about this Sunday. He goes off by himself to pray in the garden and finds in short order that he’s led through Calvary to Easter morning.
What will happen to you, how will you change and grow when you take it to the Lord in prayer?
Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.
I talk to God but the sky is empty.
I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
The Simple Path:
Silence is Prayer.
Prayer is Faith.
Faith is Love.
Love is Service.
The Fruit of Service is Peace.
If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.