In the Christian “community,” one major aspect of the lifestyle is prayer. As some of y’all know, I have recently begun to “tweet” stuff out there in the big internets, and one question I posed this week was, “What does prayer mean to you?” I sent that question out there into the wide universe of technology for all to respond to, hoping that different people would provide thoughtful responses that I could use here.
Prayer has always been a tricky and tedious part of my church-going existence. (**For a while, I am going to refrain from calling myself a Christian, I’m still struggling with what that term means to me, and more importantly, if my conception of that term applies to the person I want to be/identify with. And plus, in general, it is a loaded term that I don’t fully understand at this moment in time…) I understand fully that it is a way to personally speak to God and tell him what is going on in my life; it is also the means through which I can confess of any sins or repent for any wrongdoings. However, the most challenging aspect of prayer for me is that I struggle to sit still and have a long-winded conversation with God. Much of my resistance to prayer at times has to do with the fact that I am unsure how I fit into the “Christian” community. So, all this seems extremely contradictory, right? None of this makes any sense right now, right? Welcome to my existence!
Prayer has been explained as “something very beautiful, God’s way of saying, ‘I love you all and bless anyone who kneels before me; its his way of letting us know He is always there to talk to, and finally, a way to show our gratitude to God for everything He has done for us.” (Thanks to a Twitter connection…) This was a random submission that came along after I tweeted none other than Beth Chapman (Dog the Bounty Hunter’s wife…yes, I did that…laugh it up…). I thought this was an extremely simple, yet eloquent way of describing the power and purpose behind prayer. For me, when I do pray, I pray for things that are of utter importance, things that are life or death, or something that needs to happen for the betterment of the world. (Well, at least for a community or person…)
As with every blog post I have put out thus far, I also address the issues I find with a particular issue. For one, the Christian community feels the need to pray for every single little thing done in everyday life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with praying for safe travels or a successful exam, but sometimes I worry that there isn’t enough time spent on simply thanking God for paying attention to us. Yet again, I am not without fault in this case, but I worry that we spend too much time asking for specific prayer requests and praying for every little thing and every person we meet, rather than spending time THANKING God for all the little things and big things he has done for us. This may sound incredibly hypocritical, and I’ll take that as it comes, but I worry about that. Like for example, in my small group, we spend time at the beginning taking prayer requests from everyone in the group. This is a great way for us to discover little things about the other members of the group; at times, though I worry that this is just a false act, a silly little waste of time. Further, I have no interest in this part of the small group, but it appears important to others in the group, so in order to serve the larger interests of the group, I silently smile and nod, adding my own prayer request in turn. I think there is nothing wrong with taking prayer requests, because several voices praying for one thing is potentially more effective than one single voice; but the biggest problem I have is that our attention is stretched too thinly over several prayer requests when we could pray for just one thing every day. I don’t think God is like a vending machine, where you can feed in as many prayer requests as you want into him and in turn receive a corresponding answer to each request upon demand. I was raised to believe that God reveals little bits to us when it is the right time, not simply because we want to know NOOOOWWWWWW.
Since I am talking about prayer, I also want to stress the importance of prayer in all faiths, not just prayers directed toward Jesus Christ. A Jewish friend of mine told me that the most incredible thing he does every day is that his first and last thoughts of the day are directed at God, lifting prayers of thanksgiving up to Him for all that has happened during the day, and also prayers that he would wake the next morning to do it all over again. It appears to me based on his experiences that prayer for him is far more intimate, as though he is exalting God for waking him every morning and allowing him to take rest every evening. He thanks God for his very breath and words, and the ability to serve every day. Prayer for him isn’t as nuanced and complicated as it seems to have become for the average Christian; it focuses on the important things – the fact that he remains alive.
The best definition or way that I’ve heard prayer described has to come from my friend Grace. She said that prayer means connection. What I loved most about this description is that it wasn’t caught up on language or overly wordy. Sometimes I see that Christians and churchgoers are too concerned with how we phrase or describe our faith, when in reality, it doesn’t matter how we justify or depict our faith, as it is a personal decision, unique to each and every subscriber. Along Grace’s lines, prayer another way we can connect with God, or make a connection with Jesus. It isn’t about making bargains or negotiating the latest desire with the Divine, or even about making one voice louder than the infinite others trying to appeal to God’s innate sense of fairness (also known as grace…God’s grace…). With this in mind, I really want to discuss the pros and cons of the different types of prayer. I am under no circumstances placing any value judgements upon anyone’s prayer preferences, I’m merely speaking from my personal experience as a 22-year-old college, soon to be PTS student. I have experienced in my 4 years of college a wide variety of different prayer styles that span denominations and traditions both nationally and internationally. Some pray out loud in a group, others choose to pray silently. What makes one a better way to communicate with God over another? I was raised to pray silently at all times other than at meals, where we prayed a short prayer together. But as I entered college, it dawned on me that you could also communicate with God aloud. My experiences with this form of prayer, however have been mostly negative. I’m not entirely sold on the idea. Personally, praying out loud forces me to focus on words, rather than on thoughts and the reason why I’m praying in the first place. I worry about sounding dumb or idiotic, rather than focusing on my prayers directed toward God. In general, I find that praying out loud becomes a contest for who can pray the best or the most; for me, it takes away from the point of prayer in the first place. I know there are people who love it, as it tends to add a community feel to prayer, as everyone can hear their requests prayed for or even themselves prayed for. All this aside, however, I find it extraordinarily distracting for me personally. I love nothing more than sitting alone in the privacy of my own room and having a nice little conversation with God….Because my interaction with God is private and personal, and something that I share only with Him. That for me is where the problem lies with praying out loud…the prayer becomes about more than you, and all the private moments you could have with God are brought out into the open for all to see and critique. With all this said, I plan to keep to my quiet private prayers, rather than spread them out into the open for all to hear and judge.
But maybe I am tremendously off base, and none of this is substantiated. But ultimately what I am trying to say is that as followers of Christ or church-goers, or whatever you select to call yourself, we shouldn’t be so eager to prayer for 60 or 70 people or things when all we need to do is thank God for making us as we are. My mom always said growing up that you get a lot further in life by saying please and thank you, and I believe the same applies to a life lived according to any faith system you choose. God is always willing to hear you out, but you can’t always expect him to sit there and listen to you read off a list of 1000+ wants for your life. God’s like any guy, He needs to hear how awesome and incredible He is on a daily basis. He’s like your boyfriend, who needs to be told how cute he is or amazing or whatever. God has feelings and emotions the same as we do, and at times, we need to encourage Him along the way much in the same way He encourages us. If we take the time to support and encourage Him, without a doubt, we can expect the same from Him on our end. All it takes is a few extra minutes each day, but in the end, it is all well worth it. Its like we are dating God. The more effort we put into our relationship, the longer it will last and the brighter it will shine!