This week I’m preparing a talk about prayer, and it’s raising interesting questions about how broadly I define the term. Not on purpose; it’s just sort of how things have evolved over the course of my faith life, ever since the fourth grade, when the book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret introduced me to the idea that my heavenly Father might like to hear from me.
Since then, I’ve believed that prayer is a conversation. It’s about receiving and transmitting. Hearing and being heard. In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon described how God has placed a longing for eternity in our hearts. Prayer is one of the ways we chase this longing.
I pray in my mind, and sometimes out loud. I pray Psalms, and sometimes personalize them to my circumstances. I borrow prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Jabez, and the Apostle Paul’s prayer that we grow in the knowledge of the incredible greatness of God’s power. I’ve been devoted to The Power of A Praying Wife since before I had a husband (I figured he was out there somewhere, so why not pray for him now?) Recently I’ve added The Power of a Praying Parent because I’m new at this and the author covers things I never would have thought of.
I have a prayer I say when I start the car. We say grace at the start of meals. We pray with our kids before bed, but that mostly ends up with someone collapsing in giggles. Steve and I mumble a tired, cobbled-together litany right before we fall asleep each night.
I pray when I walk the dog, and when I run and listen to worship music. I used to pray through a list of people and circumstances I wanted God to bless, but I haven’t done that in awhile. I’ve followed 30 day directed prayer programs from a wacky charismatic website because I like that kind of thing, and led 40 day directed prayer blogs because I like that kind of thing, too. I’ve sat silent for long chunks of time in a Catholic chapel, just breathing deep and hanging out with God. I’ve taught friends to pray, mostly by being willing to go first and by talking to God the way I talk to people, showing that while it’s definitely weird, it’s not scary.
I don’t do all these types of prayer every day. But I do some of them, most days.
I usually pray in Jesus’ name, because I believe what He says in the Bible about how His name gives us special access to God the Father. I don’t think these are the only prayers God hears, but there does seem to be an acceleration or emphasis that happens when my prayers travel on Jesus’ authority. When I remember, I pray, “Come Holy Spirit” at the beginning of church and life group gatherings. I love what happens when the Holy Spirit shows up. Lives are transformed and impossible things suddenly come within reach.
When our foster daughter lived with us, one of her favorite songs was by gospel artist CeCe Winans, called “Anybody Wanna Pray?” I thought she liked it because toward the end it sets the Lord’s Prayer to a beat and she could sing along. But then I realized she thought the song was, “Anybody Wanna PLAY with me?” which was pretty much her refrain in life. And rather than correct her, I let her bask in the joy of having a song written about her most fervent prayer.
Prayer is equal parts beautiful and impossible. Like the rest of faith, it works if you work it (and sometimes if you don’t). It’s worth the effort, no matter who or where you are, and there are as many ways to do it as there are people to pray.
Give it a try.