November 18, 2005

My Trouble With Prayer

1546 page17 cap?ve been having trouble with the word ?prayer.? I?m not sure I believe in it.

Don?t get me wrong, I love to talk with my heavenly Father, or any other divine being that will listen. But sometimes when I am asked to ?say a prayer,? it seems as if I?m a child being asked to ?say you?re sorry,? even when I haven?t had a change of heart on the matter for which I am being asked to apologize. And sometimes I feel as if my ?holiness? is slipping when I don?t get more whole-heartedly involved with prayer walks, prayer breakfasts, and praying for people I don?t know well. This attitude of mine concerns me because I really don?t want anything between my heart and God?s.

I began to see that my trouble with the word ?prayer? was the very fact that it is, indeed, just a word to name an abstract concept. It is a word that has come to have supernatural connotations, even though it is simply a term for a type of communication. Lawyers ?pray? the court (request). People ?pray? it won?t rain on the parade (wish). We ?pray? for one another (open our heart to God about).

1546 page17It occurred to me to try substituting a synonymous phrase for the word ?prayer.? I remembered the comforting phrase from Steps to Christ that equates prayer with ?the opening of the heart to God as to a friend? (p. 93). What would it be like if we were to have regular ?open-our-heart-to-God? breakfasts? Or ?open-our-heart-to-God? walks, or weekends?

Additionally, if I make a request, or express a wish to God about you, but don?t open my heart, am I really praying for you? And, very loosely paraphrasing 2 Chronicles 7:14, if I don?t (1) humble myself, (2) open my heart to God and show Him just exactly what is in it relating to you, (3) seek His face to look right through me, and (4) turn from any judgmental, critical, or even overly dependent thoughts I have about you, will He truly be able to hear my request for you, forgive my sinful heart, and heal it?

When I think of praying for others in that way, suddenly my intercession has become entwined with my own spiritual healing.

Even though it?s necessary, prayer doesn?t guarantee a relationship with God any more than memorizing all the communication tools presented at a marriage seminar guarantees a good marriage. It?s not the methods and procedures learned at a marriage seminar that improve a marriage; they are simply tools to help the partners open their hearts to each other and enrich their relationship. They are not the relationship itself. And it has been known for a person to master the tools and techniques and still lose the relationship.

Discipleship is the relationship we enter into with Jesus (through the Spirit) once we have decided to let Him be Lord of our life. We walk side by side, or closely following Him. Sometimes we need words, and sometimes we don?t. But if we are truly ?walking together,? we are communicating, and our hearts are open to one another. Can?t that be classified as prayer?

With that said, it?s true that there are many great ?prayers? in the Bible, and much counsel about what we should say to a holy God. They are there to teach us the important things about which to communicate with a divine being, just as in a marriage seminar there are tools and techniques provided for communicating with the gender that does not think exactly the same way we do. However, I pray I don?t get too caught up in the protocol and procedure of prayer, and lose out on the fully open-hearted relationship to which God is calling me.

After all, ?prayer? is just a word.

Kathy Beagles is editor of the PowerPoints, Real-Time Faith, and Cornerstone Connections quarterlies for juniors in the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference.