Exploring Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer
Prayer is one of the most common ways in which Christians throughout time have engaged in the spiritual disciplines. However, how we think of prayer has evolved significantly over time.
Unlike meditation, which emphasizes stillness and listening to God, prayer operates more like a dialogue. We see these dialogues throughout Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, where God communicates with the leaders of the Israelites frequently.
Nowadays, we rarely actually believe that our prayers will change anything. Charismatic televangelists have given a bad name to prayers of healing because of their obvious agendas to take advantage of people who are desperate, and the failure of prayer to yield immediate results has made us skeptical of its power. But the examples of prayer changing events is sprinkled throughout Scripture. One of the most powerful examples occurs in the book of Exodus, when Moses is meeting with God on the mountaintop. Because of Israel’s idolatry, God tells Moses that he will destroy Israel and begin again with a new people. But Moses intercedes—he pleads with God not to destroy his people, who have already endured so much pain and suffering. And God listens! He relents and chooses to continue to dwell among the Israelites.
The reasons that this is important to realize is that stories that this tell us that our situations are not unchangeable. God deeply desires to have a relationship with us, but a relationship is not a real relationship if there is no give and take. Part of the beauty of our relationship with God is that he has allowed himself to become vulnerable for the sake of a real relationship with his creation. We are showed this most clearly through Jesus; he experiences sadness in the death of his friend Lazarus. He experiences the betrayal of one of his closest friends through Judas. He experiences joy at Peter grasping just who he is. God makes himself vulnerable to the painful experiences of relationships just so that he can have one with us.
I say all this to try to emphasize that prayer is important. It is engaging in that relationship that God has so lovingly opened himself up to, that he has chosen to engage in even though it means that the Almighty will feel the pains and sadness that we all feel in our personal relationships.
When it comes to how we pray, it is hard to say that there is a right or a wrong way. Thankfully, our Scriptures are filled with hundreds of prayers that can show us what a good starting place is. Jesus himself gave us this prayer:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
Additionally, throughout the history of the church, there are thousands of prayers that have been written down that traditions across the world pray and recite each week. Reading and praying through these prayers can give us insight into how those who devoted their lives to Christ communicated with him, and can help open us up to new ways of praying.
As we continue to practice prayer, know that it is not a lottery ticket to get us what we want, or a Christmas list for some ethereal Santa; but that it is an essential part of building a real relationship with our loving God, a God who wants so badly to be in relationship with us.