On a Thursday night some years ago, I had the distinct privilege and honor of leading a class of youth in my church. This youth bible study was a continuation of the classes I taught in another state, in a different church, in a different time. That is to say that my teaching method was raw and not always up to the task. It often required me to be adept at recognizing the needs of the young adults and help explain the bible in ways that sometimes even I didn’t quite fully grasp. In my shortcomings I found ways to become less and less a fairly good teacher of several and soon the underwhelming leader of one or two.
It wasn’t exactly my best example of leadership on display. But there was this one time, a very important lesson needed to be taught. It was born of a question the kids asked one week prior.
What is prayer? And this is what I said. This is what I believe. This is what I know for myself.
Prayer is one of the most recognized actions of the faithful but the least explained. I have spent most of my life hearing the faith leaders in my life explain to me that prayer is something we as the devout do when we wish to talk to God. That its something we all do as men and women of faith. And it’s not exclusive to Christians but is common to most every religion and faith. And they told me it’s an action that must come in any one of several forms:
Praise and adoration. This is prayer that is focused upon God, Himself, and in this prayer form we express love of and for him. This prayer form outwardly shows our love of and for Him in as much as a child of God can. It’s an expression of love returned. Since love is a circle, it’s simply completing the circuit.
Penitence. This is the prayer that expresses a willingness to show an admittance of personal fault and a true need for Gods forgiveness. It’s the kind of prayer that recognizes that sin is part of who and what we are but we are still seeking His guidance. It’s not true that we are wholly sinful, but those who would follow the Word of God are expected to seek to rise above our sin filled heritage.
Petition. This is the prayer that we normally fall into. It’s the kind of prayer that is us asking for something. Usually something that has a price tag that you can affix to it. It’s always a prayer of asking. Heal my illness. Take away this hurt for my friend. Almost begging for anything and everything. The hope is that petition is not for material possessions, but instead for the betterment of self so that the glory of God can be seen clearly from within to the without. Petition should be beyond what one wears on the outside and be more about who and what we are on the inside. Asking for inner peace and a giving heart may be a good place to start. Or perhaps asking to be more like what God wants us to be: truly like Him on earth.
Thanksgiving. That’s the prayer that essentially boils down to a spirit of thankfulness. It’s a chance for us to express our gladness and joy in the blessings of God. This is the prayer that for some is most often want to offered. It is the prayer some may feel is all the prayer we ever need do. It’s the prayer form that I’ve seen some use to “lord” over the petitioner. The hard part is that many of us have a very hard time thanking folk for things they’ve done or said or given. I am an advocate of thanking God for the time he gave us to be in his presence and the time we have to live.
Intercession. This is the prayer that is selfless in nature. It’s designed to intercede on behalf of others and see to their needs and not your own. This prayer may have elements of petition-like language but the language is not personal, but magnanimous. It’s literally asking God to be a bulwark for someone where you see them in trial or trouble and have not the power yourself to help, aid, or assist. But you know God and ask for Him to step in.
So back to my class: here is where I took a left turn. I asked the children just what should a prayer say? How does one pray? Is there a certain set of rules that apply to the meditation we call prayer? Should we be on bended knee? Prostrate on the ground? Standing with our eyes closed? Open and gazing heavenward? Is there a biblically prescribed rule that says that when you pray, you must be in this place or that building or the other position?
In all my reading of the bible, the answer I have is – no.
I’ve arrived at this conclusion. And I ask you to look at this example of prayer:
president Bartlett prays
It’s an example of prayer that I’ve never before seen so wonderfully presented on television or in life. Prayer has literally nothing to do with where you physically are. Because of grace there is no requirement for us to be in any particular building, situation or physical position to speak with God. God never said that He will ignore your pleas if you are not in a massive cathedral, kneeling on a hard bench, head bowed, and hands firmly clasped in a position of supplication. That if you don’t have someone pray for you at an altar or in a room out of your eyesight then God hasn’t heard your hearts words.
You may have heard that prayer requires a certain set of words to be acceptable as prayer. The model prayer of the bible for example. But that too is not my belief.
I believe that prayer is fully and centrally devoted not to the position of ones body, but to the position of ones heart. The heart not the mind. Ones mind may be in a state of abject fear, or confusion. But if ones heart is sincere and open to receive, then prayer can begin.
I also believe that prayer is not more recognizable nor more correct nor likely to be heard by the Almighty God if it is of a particular length. No prayer must be long winded and include all the elements of “traditional” prayer. I say “traditional” because I am hoping to see a new tradition. One centered upon the open dialogue and personal relationship that develops with communion. Let’s not fool ourselves. Prayer is communion with God. Common. Union. Unification with God as a commonality. It need not be formal. Grandiose. Edited for clarity. Presented to a board for approval. Written and checked for grammar.
Prayer is a chance to chat with God. Or to yell at Him. Share your day with Him. To tell God off. Ask Him how He’s doing. Tell Him how unfair things are. Mull things over with Him. Chew the fat with God. Tell Him all your troubles not so much because you think He doesn’t know them. Far from it. But as an acknowledgement that YOU know the troubles and are not above asking His intercession on your behalf with a penitent spirit.
Prayers may be as long as the Gettysburg address. Or they may be a single word. It’s not the length or the position or the formality. It’s the heart that supplies the prayer with its power. Sharing time, our most valuable possession beyond life itself, with God, is the ultimate gift to him. Time well spent builds relationship, not just with Him but with our fellow humans too. And in the end, that is what God really wants with His children. Relationship.
So whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Druid, or Wiccan, prayer is a chance to express your heart to your God or god or goddess. I am not here to judge your faith walk. I am only suggesting that if you have faith, and you feel like it is waning in the slightest, maybe you need to take a minute…. Just a tiny little minute… And have a nice little chat with someone.