The problem with prayer

prayer-warrior

Photo Credit: The Issachar Initiative.

Literal fireworks went off in my mind and heart when my eyes were opened to the reality of our unearned inclusion in the life, love and dance of the Trinity. While I formerly believed that I had to do good things or believe in a certain way in order to earn God’s blessings and favour, I now saw that he gave those things to me purely because I was his child. There was nothing I need do to win his love and nothing I could do to lose it.

The repercussions of this realisation are still being felt in my life today. It has brought hope and brightness to my life, and dispelled a great deal of my worry and doubt. But one thing I have struggled with is how and even whether to pray.

Looking back, I can see that I once prayed in much the same way one rubs a magic lamp. I needed a good outcome, but it was largely out of my control. So here was God. If I begged him enough, praised him enough, and especially if I enlisted others to do that with me, I might get what I wanted (if my recent track record was clean enough).

Of course, there were so many cases when this wasn’t the case — I had made mistakes, sometimes big ones, so my track record wasn’t “clean” — yet blessings poured into my life. And in those dark moments of the soul when I knew I had really screwed up, he felt closest of all to me.

Perhaps this is why when I learned that God is not the kind of God I had grown up believing in — the kind who rewards only the faithful, punishes the wicked with gusto, and turns his back on us when we disobey — I saw it as truth immediately. I had been blessed when I had not obeyed and good things came to me even when I didn’t pray for them. When I was suffering under the weight of the consequences of my poor choices, even then I had sensed nothing but compassion and shared suffering. He suffered with me.

Obviously this is not a treatise on why it’s ok to do things that are harmful to oneself and others. With all my heart, I believe that the guidelines set out by the Bible, understood in their proper context, and others transmitted by the Spirit to us in other ways are our Creator’s attempt to shield and protect us from preventable harm. But it’s a far cry from believing that life is a test and that we are being graded by a harsh school master.

But so, if I do not need to pray in order to secure favourable outcomes, why and where and how to pray at all??

The why is easy. We are in a relationship. He is always communicating with us. We can confide everything in him and he is always listening. He wants intimacy with us.

The where, for me, has not been so easy. Understanding that God is in us and that we are in him, means that he is not distant. Our Father who art in Heaven. That had always indicated distance to me — far, far away, out of our world. I’ve come to see that this isn’t true. There is no far, far away. He inhabits our world and our world is encompassed, surrounded and held within, by him. He also inhabits me and I am encompassed, surrounded and held within, by him.

So how do I direct my prayers?!! Up into space? No. Into my own heart? Yes and no — I am not God and while I believe that I hear from him from within often, other times it is just my own thoughts I am hearing too.

I read recently that beneath our thought life  is our prayer life — and that the spirit is always praying. (I apologise – I have wracked my brain trying to remember where I read it, but cannot.) Imagine if you will, three layers: conscious thought (the tip of the ice berg), beneath that unconscious thought, and beneath that, prayers.

This was immensely encouraging to me because I realised that prayer really need not be an effort. Our spirits are always praying. And it’s not ever one-way. As our spirits communicate constantly with God, he communicates constantly with us. If our unconscious thought life is a mystery to us, no wonder our prayer life is too.

I have to admit, sometimes I miss my fictitious magic lamp and “genie.” There was some sense of control in believing that I could influence his response by doing and saying the right things. Now when I approach a potential crisis in my life, I can be a little unsettled knowing that I have no real control. I can’t manipulate God into acting on my behalf. I’m not more special to him than someone else is based on my behaviour. We are all infinitely special to him. I am not favoured above others any more than one child in a family should be favoured above her siblings. Sometimes my prayers and those of others are answered and sometimes they are not and there is generally no way to understand why. This is life though. As much as I wish it wasn’t, suffering seems to be a necessary part of it. (That is a topic for another post!)

But I know I am not alone in having experienced the sunburst moments where a prayer is answered — perhaps even one you didn’t consciously utter. Those are the mountain-top experiences, and they make life worth living. But we all trudge through many valleys to get there (only to find that we have been lifted there on eagle’s wings in the end). And for the sake of the development of our souls, they seem not to be places of permanent rest.

So the only answer I am able to offer, as it so often is, is to relax. Knowing where to direct our prayers isn’t important. Knowing that he is near and not distant is what is important. Knowing that he cradles you in the palm of his hand no matter what you’ve done is what is important.

As always, the benefits are reaped by us. Prayer is our lifeline to the Anchor that we all desperately need in life, but it is not dependent on us to maintain it. We often panic or despair and let go, but he never does.

The great news is that it really can be effortless — prayer is happening whether we know it or not. Our conscious prayers are just the icing on the cake! All we must do is to open our eyes to the beauty that surrounds us and to the myriad signs that there is One who cares for us. Gratitude cannot help but follow, and gratitude is the best kind of prayer of all.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

5 comments so far

  1. Jonathan Stepp on

    Wonderfully said!

  2. tjbrassell on

    So fantastically written! Thanks Jeannine!

  3. MARTIN KENYAH on

    EVERY TRUE BELIEVER IN CHRIST JESUS MUST ALWAYS KNOW THAT,IT ISN’T THE INTENSITY OF OUR PRAYERS THAT MOVES GOD TO DO WHAT HE WISHES TO DO IN OUR LIVES.BUT IT IS THE WILLINGNESS OF GOD TO DO WHAT HE
    WANTS TO DO IN OUR LIVES.

  4. MARTIN KENYAH on

    if human beings cannot wait for a God who answers prayers at His own time….the they should find their own God.

  5. MARTIN KENYAH on

    GOD KNOWS WHEN TO ANSWER EACH INDIVIDUAL PRAYERS….HE HAS SET A TIME ,A DAY A PERIOD ETC FOR THAT.ONLY BELIEVE AND WAIT ON THE LORD AND HE WILL GIVE YOU POWER.


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