On Prayer (Maybe Not What You’ve Been Thinking)

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

Prayer: “an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship, typically a deity, through deliberate communication.

Prayer can take a variety of forms, it can be part of a set liturgy or ritual, it can be performed alone, or in groups. Prayer may take the form of a hymnincantation, formal creedal statement, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person.”

ON WHEN, WHERE, AND HOW

A lot of preachers and teachers will insist that morning is the best time to pray. They tack on “early,” too. I don’t know why it always has to be early (I am not always a morning person), but that’s what most of them tend to recommend.

Maybe they are always morning people?

Others will suggest that whether it’s morning, afternoon or evening, a good way to get God’s ear is in some kind of “prayer closet.” If you can find one. If you can leave your job, a crowd, or your toddler and sequester yourself away for a bit (and good luck with a toddler underfoot!).

And if you aren’t claustrophobic…

Still others encourage believers to spend time kneeling beside your bed at night to pray so as to cover both the issues of the day just ending as well as in anticipation of the day to come.

And others insist prayer is best done in a formal, Church setting.

Praying hands from Wikimedia Commons

As a former Catholic, I grew up with church prayers. Of course back then most of the prayers were in Latin during what’s called the Catholic Mass. Such prayers usually required standing or kneeling on cue. There were varieties of Catholic prayers and “devotions“* outside of Mass, too, for specific needs and purposes.

Many Protestant churches and fellowships I’ve attended since also have their own brand of prayer rules and practices for certain times during the services (or before and after), perhaps under the headship of a pastor or elder. Prayers take the form of words, chants and/or hymns, and in churches that subscribe to the doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, there might also be an orderly expression of the gifts of tongues and interpretations of tongues.

But for myself–as for many believers–personal prayers can take on myriad forms and occur in myriad places.

I pray at any and all times of day and/or night. Inside, outside. Formal, informal. By myself and in churches, and, as they say in medical-abbreviation-land, “PRN” (pro re nata–Latin for “as needed”) which in the case of prayer, could mean, “pray right now”–for all the usual reasons: request, thanksgiving, intercession, guidance, and help, STAT (another medical abbreviation: statum–Latin for “immediately”).

But whenever and however I have prayed–and continue to pray–this practice over time has become a lot less formal, a lot more familiar.

As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus Christ, the gap has narrowed between me standing or kneeling in the church pew and Him surrounded by pomp and circumstance (incense and Latin) up at the altar to a much “closer event,” you might say, more like a human relationship. My prayers have evolved over time to be more here and now. He and I. One on one.

And I’m learning to listen more, for the answers.

Answers usually come via an idea of what I might do, or a memory of a verse or a teaching,  or perhaps even an image–or something else tangible.

For example, one time I was thinking about–and praying for greater understanding of–God’s love while I was on a springtime walk and, shortly, some soft pink blossoms from a tree fluttered down in front of me as if, it occurred to me, God was illustrating one more way in which He “showers” His goodness down on us in this, the land of the living.

I mean, He didn’t have to create trees from which fragrant, velvet petals in various shapes and hues waft down to lay at your feet of a spring day just as you happen to walk by. Trees could have been created one size, shape, color, and scent fits all.  No fuss. No muss.  You know?

He could have saved His energy to help us with the Big Ticket items like End Times and Armageddon, right?

But He cares about the little stuff, too, even as by His handiwork He made me feel a little more loved, that day…

Other times, after I pray about an idea I have for, say, a blog post, it occurs to me to look up some verse or concept in a Bible concordance or commentary for more information and/or explanation.

Or I decide to take the topic to my small fellowship group or just one other with some insight or expertise in the subject.

FROM OUTSIDE TO INSIDE

As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus Christ my prayer life has changed from primarily external cues to predominantly internal cues, you might say, similar to how developing a relationship with another human being can grow deeper and more personal over time and interaction after the formalities of the introductory period have passed.

My concept of a prayer is more of a conversation than a convention, more natural ebb and flow than specific times and places.

And sometimes, when words fail, prayer is a sigh, a sob, or a  shout. But I have become gradually more confident that God knows what I mean. There will be no loss in translation.

And, of course, there are those prayers like Peter’s prayer when he thought he could just walk on that stormy sea,  like Jesus! Yeah!

And then he looked around at the wind and the waves and he started to sink.

“Lord, save me!” was all Peter had time for.

And Jesus did.

Peter’s lessons in presumption, faith, failure, and redemption would come later.

In short, my answer to all things prayer has become “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NIV). When I think about it. Which is more and more as time goes on.

But that verse in context has a kind of peculiar kicker, too: “Rejoice at all times” (v. 16).

Say, what?

Rejoice?

When I need to pay a bill and there’s no money? When the baby is sick? When my heart is broken?

I personally think the “rejoice” part was included because however–and for whatever reason–we pray here, there or everywhere; now, then, or all the time in a kind of stream-of-consciousness awareness (or by whatever formal prayer we know), God gets it because He gets US, courtesy of Jesus, Whose death on the cross not only paid our sin debt but also tore open that high, thick curtain obstructing our access to the throne room of God where we might, even right now, present our petitions, offer thanksgiving, or just sit for a while all the while still here on terra firma. 

One friend uses her long commute time, for example, in His presence, to crank up a praise and worship CD and sing along, sometimes even in tune, she says, while engaging in her “mobile prayer space,” you might call it.

Another friend opens his prayer book and lights his candle at the edge of his small dining room table, sequestering himself right there in the open for a time of prayer and meditation.

And then there’s that crazy brand of pew jumpin’ Bible thumpin’ Pentecostals doing God knows what (and He does) when they pray!

IN SHORT…

It’s not so much about the where, what, when, how much, and what format to pray in, as it is about Who we pray to.

And here are a few of HIS words from His Word on His response to our prayers–as varied as they may be, say, as those flowering trees:

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14)

“But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19)

“And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:15).

So what’s on YOUR mind to pray about today?

~~~~~

*From the same link, above re Catholic “devotions”: “Devotion, in the language of ascetical writers, denotes a certain ardour of affection in the things of God, and even without any qualifying prefix it generally implies that this ardour is of a sensible character. On the other hand, by the term “devotions” in the plural, or “popular devotions”, we commonly understand those external practices of piety by which the devotion of the faithful finds life and expression.”

I know: WUT?

(With all due respect.)

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4 Responses to On Prayer (Maybe Not What You’ve Been Thinking)

  1. Point taken, Phyllis. There are devotions and there are devotions.

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    • pbn says:

      Colin,

      I was actually going to use those very words, “There are devotions and there are devotions.” As we know, a plethora of choices abound but not all are biblical.

      Cheers,
      Phyllis

      Like

  2. An excellent post on prayer, explaining that there as many forms of prayer as people who want to pray. A Christian life is a continuous communion with God, as the Quakers are right to emphasise. There is scope in a busy life for different expressions of spirituality. For me there are two times in the day, morning and evening, in which I create a space for solitude and dialogue with God. This does not preclude prayer at other times, as and when needed. Some prefer a prayer book with a set format. They find the orderliness helpful, but at some point there needs to be a period of silence for spiritual communion with God, listening for the leadings of the Spirit.

    All prayer is worship and all worship is prayer. You have described well the various forms of prayer, from Catholic ‘devotions’ to spontaneous spiritual moments. Both the beauty of God’s creation and the profundity of his word are rich sources of inspiration feeding into the spiritual life.

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    • pbn says:

      What (you) said.

      I would only add, of course, that discernment is still in order, some of those “devotions” being what they are…and not limited to the Catholic religion…

      Thank you for your elegant comment.

      Phyllis

      Like

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