Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What is prayer?

"The true church lives and moves and has its being in prayer." -Leonard Ravenhill

Prayer is the very life blood of the follower of Jesus Christ.  We as his followers pray continuously, as the scriptures say.  My prayer life has at times been very difficult and at times quite wonderful.  A friend once said that she finds prayer awkward.  I can certainly understand what she means.  Prayer has at times been painfully awkward for me.  What do I say to the designer of reality?  What do I say to the one who knows the future, past, and present better than I could hope to imagine?  How shall I say it?  And do I really mean what I'm saying?

"Trouble and prayer are closely related. Trouble often drives men to God in prayer, while prayer is but the voice of men in trouble." -E.M. Bounds 

Perhaps the most honest prayer I've ever prayed is a very simple one: "God help me.  Jesus save me."  It was a very effective prayer.  That prayer changed my life.  Though more correctly, the one on the other end changed my life. 
When I pray for those I despise, my enemies, those who annoy me or upset me, or people that actively work to ruin my ambitions and keep me down in organizations, I find in the days that follow, that I learn to love and forgive that person.  My view of that person is changed by praying for them.  

"There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him." - William Law 

Prayer is communion with God.  Prayer is communication.  Prayer is conversation with God.  A man once said that to be a Christian is to pray, if you don't pray, you're really not a Christian.  Many of the greats across Christian history have been dedicated to prayer.
Martin Luther would pray two hours in the morning before starting his day.  He said he had too much to do that day to not pray for two hours before starting.  Prayer changes my outlook on life.  Prayer changes my vantage point.  Prayer puts me in the shoes of God for a few moments.  Prayer helps me see things from the vantage point of love, selflessness, and hope, if only for a sweet second.

"Prayer does not mean that I am to bring God down to my thoughts and my purposes, and bend his government according to my foolish, silly, and sometimes sinful notions. Prayer means that I am to be raised up into feeling, into union and design with him; that I am to enter into his counsel and carry out his purpose fully." - Dwight L. Moody

As Moody said, prayer is where I learn about prayer itself.  We may start out with the idea that prayer is about letting God know what I want.  Prayer is about making a request.  That is a small aspect of prayer, intercession and requests, but perhaps the most important part of prayer is summed up in this statement: seeking knowledge of God's will, and the power to carry that will out.  We ask God for his purposes for us, and we submit ourselves to his plans for our lives.  
A very effective prayer is one Jesus uttered: Not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

Yet prayer is about talking to God.  Sometimes I just tell God about what I'm thinking about.  I tell God about my pain and sorrows.  I tell God about my struggles, my depression, my happiness, my hopes, my fears, and my joys day to day.  Any relationship needs conversation and discussion to flourish.  Prayer is the vehicle of that.

I've been reading a book called A Year of Living Prayerfully by Jared Brock.  It's been an excellent read.  I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for a down to Earth examination of prayer from multiple perspectives.  Brock looked at the prayer lives of Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and many others to learn ways to improve his own prayer life.  Probably my biggest take away from the book was learning the Pope Francis five finger prayer.  I like simple and effective ways to pray.  My prayers can get very jumbled up and messy.  But the five finger prayer is super helpful.

All you have to do is look down at your hand.  Your thumb points to you, so the first thing you pray about is the people closest to you: immediate family, grandparents, and close friends.  Your pointer finger is where you pray for people who speak into your life and mentor you, like church leaders, teachers, professors, or people at work who oversee your work.  The middle finger is the tallest, so for that one you pray for authorities and leaders.  I tend to pray for Congress, the Supreme court, and the President.  I also pray for local government, police officers, and international leaders.  The ring finger is the weakest finger on the hand, so for that finger you pray for the weak and the lost.  I tend to pray for those who struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction.  I also pray for the poor, homeless, and those who are struggling with tragedy in their lives.  The last finger is the smallest finger the pinkie, and lastly we pray for ourselves and our needs.  I like that, simple yet effective.

Prayer is vital to the Christian life.  So what is a good number for prayer?  How many minutes a day is wise?  Martin Luther prayed two hours a day as we discussed.  George Whitefield (Anglican Priest famous for helping spread the great awakening in the USA) prayed three hours a day.  William Bramwell (Methodist itinerant evangelist) would sometimes pray four hours a day.  

I don't try to shoot for a particular number of minutes or hours, but somewhere between 30 minutes - 1 hour would be ideal.  Though I seldom hit my ideal.  Today I tend to get on my knees and say a short prayer before I start my day (5-10 minutes).  During the middle of the day, whether at a meeting, or standing outside, I'll try to pray the "Our Father" slowly, focusing on meaning what I'm saying.  Then at night, just before I go to bed, I'll usually get on my knees, in the dark, usually around 11pm or 12 and pray my longest prayer where I'll use the five finger method, then segway into some random thoughts, and close out with some praises to the Lord.  The night prayer is usually my longest (7-25 min).  That way I'm praying at least three times a day, a method originally used by Daniel (Daniel 6:10).   

Prayer changes everything.  Don't let disgruntled skeptics tell you it's pointless.  Prayer is real, because God is real.  Trust in him, keep praying, and watch the world change.  Believe.  

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