August 10, 2022

Educate Me to Pray

Earlier than you go any additional in studying this text, which you in all probability assume is about prayer and how you can do it, it’s a must to hear my confession. Are you prepared? Right here it’s: I have no idea how you can pray. I’m writing out of what I don’t know, not out of what I do know.

I’ve discovered some issues about prayer from sensible individuals and good books, so something helpful I’ve to say about it comes from them and never me. The truth that I’ve discovered these things and nonetheless don’t know how you can pray makes my wrestle that a lot worse. Perhaps a few of what that’s like, attempting to do one thing with out realizing how you can do it. Relating to prayer, all I’m is one beggar telling one other the place to search out bread. I actually don’t have any bread to supply.

A part of my downside is that I don’t perceive what prayer is or does. That is insupportable to me. I can by no means make heads or tails of progress in something until I’ve some mental grasp of the way it works.

I used to be hopeless in studying how you can drive my dad’s stick-shift till he gave me an in depth mechanical rationalization of what precisely was taking place within the engine after I punched within the clutch and lurched my manner into first gear. After that, all the things was straightforward. However what of prayer? I all the time have to ask, what does it do? How does it work? So far as I can inform, there are mainly two theories in regards to the matter.

Principle 1

The primary principle is that prayer strikes and modifications God. Our loving Father in heaven hears our pleas, takes pity on us, considers whether or not or not our petitions are worthy, after which grants a response, generally sure and generally no. There’s one thing inherently suspicious about this principle to me. God already is aware of our wishes, even vegetation a lot of our wishes in us, provides voice to them and makes use of them to attract us to Him, so our prayers aren’t precisely surprises to the Lord Most Excessive. There’s one thing suspicious about God altering His thoughts on account of our opinions — perhaps for His personal causes, like within the experiences of God’s repentance within the Outdated Testomony, however not as a result of we predict He ought to. So there goes that principle.

Principle 2

The opposite principle is that we pray as a result of it modifications us. In our conversations with the divine we be taught new issues about ourselves, conform our will to His, alter the very issues we ask for, and in so doing God’s will is enacted in us. I feel that is type of suspicious, too. There are many methods we get modified in life, for the more serious and for the higher as effectively, and if we’re on the lookout for plain laborious outcomes we might in all probability do higher than prayer, particularly when you think about how a lot prayer is last-resort. For that matter, what we carry to the prayer within the first place usually incorporates the seeds of our transformation already, so some fruitful self-reflection or quiet meditation might in all probability accomplish the identical factor.

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There’s a downside, after all, in the way in which I body the query in any respect. What it cares about is my half in prayer and the way shut I can get to having a magical genie named God who grants me three needs a day. Each methods of taking a look at it are fairly egocentric. Prayer advantages me; due to this fact, I’ll do it. Whether or not petition or reward, the actual benefactor is myself as I be taught to decrease my expectations to fulfill a God who I don’t anticipate will do what I’m asking for anyway. It overestimates me and underestimates Him.

A lot as I hate to concede the purpose, a mechanical-intellectual strategy to prayer simply isn’t going to work, so I’ll have to provide it up. At this level, probably the most intellectually unaccountable factor is that I carry on praying anyway.

A Behavior

A cynic would possibly say that that is simply drive of behavior. Prayers have been a part of the framework of the day and week ever since I can keep in mind. My mother and pa had us say grace earlier than each meal within the phrases that, I’d guess, 95 p.c of all Lutheran households use in some kind or one other: “Come Lord Jesus, be our visitor, and let thy items to us be blessed, amen.” (Quick and to the purpose, with little probability for the drifting scent of Sunday pot roast to get in the way in which of holy ideas.) After which there have been bedtime prayers, a spherical of “God bless”es by which each human being I might consider on planet Earth — and never a number of canine and imaginary mates — had been handed over to God’s care.

Naturally, we additionally stated the well-known kids’s prayer “Now I lay me” that dates again to the twelfth century or so. On the age of 10, I used to be already getting pissed off with prayer and felt compelled to alter “I pray the Lord my soul to take” to “I pray the Lord my self to take,” as a result of “soul,” I believed, didn’t do justice to the resurrection of the physique. This will have been an indication {that a} theologian was within the making or perhaps simply unbearable vanity. Both manner, the purpose is {that a} day with out desk prayers and bedtime prayers made no extra sense to me than a day with out meals or sleep.

Nonetheless, the comparability begs a really critical query. You possibly can’t survive a day with out meals or sleep very fortunately, and lots of days in a row of no meals or sleep are going to result in bodily and psychological breakdown, and while you transfer into weeks of deprivation, demise is bound to comply with. Can’t one survive a day or per week or perhaps a month with out prayer? An entire lifetime even? Presumably, loads of useful individuals handle with out.

A Reflex

The dilemma was pushed dwelling to me by an anecdote my mother instructed me. When she was herself a bit of child baffled by the aim of prayer, she questioned if she couldn’t say a really critical once-and-for-all type of prayer. In it, she would put herself into God’s safekeeping and love for her entire life, ask that she would all the time be supplied for, and promise to like Him all the time — however then afterwards by no means ever pray once more. If she actually meant it, and had set herself up for all times, what can be the purpose of continuous harassment on the throne of God? It appeared an insoluble downside till my dad identified how a lot I might dislike it if he took the identical strategy with me: one remaining and eternal “I like you,” by no means to be repeated however all the time to be believed. I didn’t like that concept very a lot, and I might simply extrapolate to God’s personal displeasure if we did the identical.

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At this level I can start to see some correctives to my misguided mind-set about prayer. The primary and most blatant factor is that prayer, when it truly is prayer and never whining on the sky, is just not about engaging in one thing. It doesn’t matter whether or not the “aim” is to have a request granted or to show right into a extra religious individual by advantage of laborious work at prayer. Both motivation is misplaced, sure to fail, and me-centered. Prayer occurs as a result of a soul loves God and may’t hold quiet about it. Prayer occurs as a result of a soul loves God and may’t hold quiet about it. I feel it’s that straightforward. Or: prayer occurs as a result of a soul is offended at God and may’t hold quiet about it. (Check out these psalms of lament!) Or: prayer occurs as a result of a soul is sorrowful with out God and may’t hold quiet about it.

In every case, prayer occurs. It’s not a plan or a program. It’s extra like a reflex or a response. Whether or not the prayer is spontaneously composed or learn out of a devotional guide, it begins within the need of the soul. Everyone knows you could’t simply speak somebody into believing in God, and I believe you possibly can’t speak somebody into speaking to God both. It has to begin someplace deep, in pleasure or in ache, and — that is the vital half — due to the presence and motion of the Holy Spirit.

A Self-discipline

The wonderful thing about the Holy Spirit right here is that He upsets the classes of motivation and accomplishment to make all the things level away from self and again to God. The Holy Spirit responds to the will of a coronary heart eager for God, however He additionally creates within the first place a coronary heart that can lengthy for God. Needs get changed into disciplines, and disciplines maintain regular at the same time as need comes and goes. That’s why the entire historical past of the church has testified {that a} self-discipline of prayer is an effective strategy to specific and train the undisciplined need of the soul.

There is no such thing as a finish to the varieties and kinds of prayer disciplines. Roman Catholics pray the rosary, after all, and the Orthodox say the Jesus Prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer is the ultimate measuring stick for any type of prayer in any respect. There are two specific sorts of prayer that I’ve run throughout these days that match this mannequin of disciplined need very properly: Lectio Divina and contemplative prayer. They’re neither laborious nor straightforward, as a result of that means measuring progress as much as some state of perfection. As a substitute, they’re methods of directing the will of the soul to God.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is holy studying. Often, we learn for info or leisure. That is neither. It’s studying for illumination or devotion. It’s why you retain studying the Bible after already what it says, when it comes to content material. The phrases kind and form you and the way in which you assume and consider, so you retain going again to them for extra shaping and forming.

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In this type of prayer, for example, you would possibly take the hymn to like in 1 Corinthians 13 and spend half an hour with it. You may get the gist of the argument in 30 seconds, however within the apply of Lectio Divina you flip all of your consideration to the phrases and their that means and soak it up, kind of the way in which you tan on a sunny day simply from being exterior whether or not or not you’re attempting. Your ideas and praises and requests are all formed by the phrases earlier than you. The phrases are instructing you how you can pray, as a substitute of constructing you provide you with one thing by yourself.

Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer is a type of prayer with out phrases or ideas — not one thing that comes naturally to any of us. Thomas Keating, within the appendix to his guide Centering Prayer, says that it’s “the opening of thoughts and coronary heart — our entire being — to God, the Final Thriller, past ideas, phrases and feelings. We open our consciousness to God whom we all know by religion is inside us, nearer than respiratory, nearer than pondering, nearer than selecting — nearer than consciousness itself.”

He suggests you begin in a quiet and cozy place so that you’re minimally conscious of your personal physique. Then you definately select a phrase — Lord, Jesus, Mercy, Shalom, Amen — and make that the central level of your prayer. For 20 minutes (the really helpful time period) and with eyes shut, you gently open your self as much as God, not by analyzing or reciting the phrase you’ve chosen, however by utilizing it to hush the extraneous ideas that come creeping in. Such ideas are inevitable and never a sign of failure. The purpose is that each time an outdoor thought is available in, you’re given one other alternative to put it apart and switch again to God once more. In that sense, it’s a microcosm of the entire life of religion.

Studying Course of

I’m attempting this stuff, and I nonetheless don’t actually know how you can pray. Typically I feel the entire level of life on this earth is to be taught prayer or to be taught prayer, as a result of our everlasting lives will likely be everlasting prayer, all the time turned to God and in communion with Him. Weak point and failure at prayer, for now, isn’t such a foul factor. Even St. Paul thought so. “The Spirit helps us in our weak point; for we have no idea how you can pray as we ought, however that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for phrases” (Romans 8:26).

In a manner, it doesn’t matter that I don’t know how you can pray, as a result of God does all of the praying for me. So, Lord, keep in mind me in Your kingdom and train me to hope.

Copyright 2001 Sarah Hinlicky. All rights reserved.