Sunday, April 9, 2017

The shape of prayer

 Thanks to the Deepening Friendship book I'm working through, I've been thinking about prayer. As regular readers can probably tell, prayer is something that is often in my thoughts. It's been a pretty big part of my life in all sorts of iterations. I started thinking about that variety over the years:

  • booking time in a prayer room at Bible school and at churches where that was possible
  • being on a prayer team at the different churches we've attended over the years
  • starting a mom's prayer group at the school our children attended 
  • being part of care groups with strong focus on prayer
  • going on silent retreats

And then there's the way my prayers have changed over the years:

  • the prayers of my childhood - "now I lay me down to sleep..." and "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and may this food to us be blessed, Amen"
  • the ACTS method (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication)
  • lectio divina
  • centering prayer
  • the examen
  • the Jesus prayer
  • prayer beads
  • praying the Office  (set prayers at certain times of the day)
  • welcoming prayer

I've appreciated learning different ways of praying, and some I fall back on more than others, but I wouldn't say there's one method that stands out as my default method. There are some that I use more frequently in certain types of circumstances, but I rather like being able to switch it up. I didn't really feel that way in my younger years. Whether it's because I'm an oldest, or because of my temperament type, my love of organization and structure, or whatever, it's fair to say I've absorbed some wrong ideas about prayer. Things like, if I'm disciplined all the time, and if I pray the right way (whatever that might mean), and if it's in the morning like Jesus did, and (insert your own thinking of what God honors here), then God will hear me and will answer my requests.(Have you ever wondered why we're encouraged to write down prayers and answers to them? Are only the ones that are answered the "right" prayer?) Oh yes, I know that's not really how it works, but still, a part of me bought into thinking that all these steps would serve as kind of a cosmic vaccination against the spiritual equivalent of small pox or the plague.  A little far-fetched to say the least yet perhaps I'm not alone in these misbeliefs. It begs some questions: 

  • what is prayer? Does it even work?
  • why are some prayers answered and others aren't?
  • why does something get answered when it hasn't even been asked!!? Is God capricious?
  • will God still be at work if I don't pray?
  • how do I know what to pray for?
  • what kind of prayer does God answer? Are my sighs and tears enough or do I always need to use words?
  • If I'm really eloquent in my praying, will that make a difference? Why do I sometimes feel so inept in praying?
  • does prayer only count if it's protracted and persistent? What about unspoken prayers, or the mostly unspoken thoughts that flit in and out of one's mind? 

I actually have ideas about some of these answers, some of which may be more accurate than others but that's neither here nor there. Ultimately, I believe that when we reach out to God in whatever prayer form we use, we're responding to His invitation. And however He chooses to answer, is up to Him. Sometimes my desires may align with His, sometimes they won't but as Father Tim says in the Jan Karon Mitford series, the one prayer that is always answered is "Thy will be done". And there's great peace in leaving it there, knowing that God is still at work.

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