Sunday, September 5, 2010

What is Prayer?

What is prayer?

My old Webster’s New World Dictionary dated 1957, defines it this way; “To implore; beseech; entreat… An earnest request; entreaty; supplication…humble entreaty addressed to God.”

When I was growing up we always said stuff that I was told was prayer; for example we always said the “Lord’s Prayer” during the service. But most of the time we listened to someone read words from a paper supposedly for me and for everyone in the congregation…my mind would wander and I’d sneak peeks at what my brother was doing, as I fidgeted on the other side of mom.

As I got older, I knew that I should pray to God for myself and for others. But the hardest thing for me to do was to string more than 10 minutes together to God…I’d lie in the bed, try to pray and generally fall asleep.

But as I studied scripture, something began to happen; I began to care more and more for others and for God. It began to be not an obligation or chore; but a joy, a love, and a privilege to pray. I knew that the people that I am asked to pray for (or are just on “my list”) may not be able to ask God for help “right now”; so they need me to intercede for them. And I know the comfort that it brings me to know someone is praying for me if I ask.

But maybe I should explain my “prayer time”…yes, I do what may be considered “formal” prayers…but for the most part, it is a fairly one way conversation with God. I have come to the place of having confidence in being in God’s presence. I have trust that he hears me, and is “here” when I am praying. So I simply talk to him; knowing he won’t get tired of listening to me (um…he’s the only one!) as I ask for help, listen to my gripes, try to figure out my homework, and pour out my pain or sorrows. Then when I begin to “lift up” the needs of those who have problems, pain, sickness; something begins to change in me—my own needs aren’t so pressing anymore. And even if my needs seem unresolved; I cry out for God to have mercy on all of us trying to keep to his path in this fallen world. The more time I spend in God’s presence, shows to me my own sinfulness…I pass beyond my asking for help to humility that the Creator of the Universe is listening to me…that is where I can only ask for mercy.

That is where the insights are. That is where God meets me, as I fall at his feet in humility.

And that is where my listening begins. This is the joy of prayer, that if I am at the bottom of a muddy pit, I reach up my hand to God in faith; I feel him grasp my hand to pull me out…that is when I turn and reach back to those I know are still in the pit; to help pull them out.

That is what it means to me to pray…for my needs and for the needs of others.

O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thought from afar. Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, and art intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all. Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, and laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. (Psalm 139:1-6)

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you are praying do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. There fore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him. ( Matthew 6:6-8)

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