Monday’s Meditation: What is Prayer?
Prayer raises lots and lots of questions.
While there are lots of ways to define prayer, let’s start with a really basic one: Prayer is opening yourself to God in the things that matter most to you.
you’re friend is dying,
you find yourself the recipient of an extraordinary gift,
you want something,
you’ve wanted something for a long time and you still don’t have it and it’s killing you,
you’re filled with joy,
you’re thoroughly confused,
you’re wondering what the point of any of it is-
prayer is when you open yourself to God in the midst of that.
Why do I define it like that? Because I understand prayer to be what happens in the midst of the blood and sweat and struggle and joy of life. That’s why in the question you say
I feel compelled to talk to him…
Because that’s where the power of prayer is-in the warp and woof of everyday life.
Now, let’s do another definition of prayer: Prayer is when you’re at the end of you.
We don’t always like this-we like control, power, force, might. We like to believe that we’re fine on our own, thank you. This confidence in ourselves is like the ocean of the modern world we’re swimming in-it’s so present it’s hard to even see what you’re swimming in. Until you suffer or struggle or come up against something so crushing and massive and overwhelming that you quickly exhaust your own resources and resolve.
Prayer is that moment. When you’re broken, powerless, when you come to the end of yourself, when all you can do is mutter an anemic little…help!
This is why people often ridicule prayer-it feels like it’s a cop out for stepping up and being somebody, doing something, flexing your strength. But the wise ones know that when you get to the end of yourself-when you’ve exhausted your own power-is when you are ready to experience power way beyond yourself.
Which leads to another definition of prayer: Prayer is your best focused on someone else’s. Have you ever met up with a friend and you knew they were angry with you without them saying anything about it?
Me, too. How is that?
How were they able to communicate that negativity simply through their presence?
The answer is power. We have power. Our thoughts and intentions and feelings have power to them. When people are behind you, cheering you on, supporting you, you know it. You feel it. Prayer is when you direction your thoughts and energies and being toward the well being of another. Of course it’s powerful.
I’m guessing at this point you’re about to ask the question: So how come God appears to answer some prayers but not others?
I have no idea. No one does. It’s not a bad question, it’s very common and people have been asking this question for thousands of years, it’s just that the question is trapped in categories that aren’t helpful. Which takes me back to this man who has you cranked by insisting that if enough people pray it will end trafficking.
The truth is, sometimes we are the answer to our prayers.
That’s what you’re asking in your question: you have this sense that it’s better to do your part to help people than to pray and ask God to help them, especially if you can do something about it.
Which takes us back to our first definition: prayer is opening yourself to God in the things that matter most to you. And if ending slavery matters enough to you to pray about, then it matters enough to you to do something about it.
Prayer is energy, intention, power.
Prayer is you coming to the end of you, which is when it gets really interesting.
Prayer is you directing your best towards someone else’s best.
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