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the power of prayer

i'm thinking about prayer this week, since my sermon on sunday is going to be dealing with it.  i'm looking at 1 Timothy 2 when we are asked to pray for kings and leaders of nations, that we might live peaceable lives.  i'm all for prayer as an important spiritual discipline, but i'm not necessarily such a big fan certain approaches to try and convince people of this truth.  it seems to me that much of what has passed for 'teaching' about prayer in our churches is really a harmful oversimplification of something that is much richer and more profound than we often realize. 

let me say this: i believe prayer is powerful.  in my experience it is without question a vital element of a rich and growing faith.  i have found it to be transformational, and i do not shy away from saying so.  but perhaps it hasn't been transformational in the way that we often think.  let me explain.

i have often struggled with the way we pray, as i find it to be incredibly selfish.  when i was a child playing pee-wee football, i used to pray that God would help us win.  i used to pray that God would make the Steelers win.  those are cute prayers, in a way, and to be frank i don't think there is anything "wrong" with them as the prayer of a child.  but if we think about it, we realize that there may be people on both sides praying for a win, and only one side gets to win.  is it to God's credit that one side wins, and God's fault that the other loses?  or might it have more to do with poor play by one team and better play by the winning team? 

or consider the prayer of the one who wants a convenient parking space at the mall.  this kind of prayer strikes me as quite selfish, in the context of a world where bombs are being made, and children are dying of hunger and underprivileged people are being forced to toil their lives away for a meager meal and young girls are traded like objects on the black market for some twisted sexual satisfaction.  you get my point.  in such a world, is it okay to pray for a parking space so we don't have to walk the extra 75 feet (when we could clearly use the exercise)?   for me, anyway, it seems to border on sinful.  at the very least it betrays a sadly misinformed understanding of prayer as a kind of "magic wand of convenience" that we can wave when we need it.  when we need a better parking space.  or a victory.  or a safe trip.  or a promotion.  or whatever it is we think we want

the way i look at it, prayer is totally different than this.  it isn't a direct line to our Butler-in-the-Sky.  instead, prayer, at least the way i see it, is the hallmark of an intimate relationship with God.  if i want to have a good relationship with my wife, for example, i have to talk to her.  and she will be quick to point out that this involves a healthy dose of listening.  what will help us to grow in our relationship is an intentional and sometimes sacrificial kind of give and take, back and forth, sharing and listening, giving and receiving.  this is what works in my relationship with my wife, and it is also what works in a relationship with God.  only with God, we call it prayer.  and when we learn to pray like that - like a conversation - then prayer becomes incredibly powerful.  more powerful than any Holy-Spirit-inducing, loud-mouthed sweaty evangelist promising to heal your afflictions with one push of the forehead.  God does indeed work miracles, and the greatest miracle of all is that God will walk in each moment with me - with me! - in an intimate relationship.  and that, that changes everything.  so prayer really is powerful.  powerful beyond our wildest imagination. 

Comments

Emoly said…
how do you feel about praying at night, and perhaps falling asleep?? The Skit Guys have, well a skit, where they suggest that is not okay. However, given what you just wrote I have to wonder if it is bad? I generally have a very difficult time falling asleep. Am I wrong in thinking that I have a good enough relationship with God that I feel most comfortable while praying to him and that it is the one thing that soothes me and helps me to fall asleep? Now, don't get me wrong, if there's something specific I will pray for it before I fall asleep. Or if I realize I fell asleep without even praying for specific prayers, I say them in the morning...

And by the specific prayers I want to clarify that I have learned to "be careful what you ask for". Prayer is powerful. I have one good example (if this post isn't too long...) We had a church member who had become quite ill. He wasn't expected to live for much longer (he is in his 50's so he still had a long time to live). I prayed that he be freed from his pain and that his family would be able to let him go and that his doctors and nurses would make him comfortable. I prayed that prayer for weeks. It was at the end of the week and I was saying this prayer and God told me to cut to the chase and ask for Steve to be healed. I laughed to myself and said, "okay God. Heal Steve then." That Sunday at church they announced that he was not only doing better but that they were sending him home. It was a miracle. Praying is powerful and I know it was God that healed him, not my prayers, but I also know that God wanted me to pray for that specifically. Maybe so I could share how amazing prayer can be...

(sorry, Greg. I didn't mean to take over your comment page) :)
greg. said…
emily,

thanks for the thoughtful comment! i appreciate it.

as far as praying at night as you fall asleep, i don't see anything sinful about it. on the contrary, i think it can be a beautiful symbol of the love you share with God. however, if that is the only communication you have with God, it could be a problem. if you only waited to talk to Bill until you were half asleep, and then fell asleep mid-conversation with him, it wouldn't bode well for your marriage, right? same applies with God.

and i hope you didn't hear me saying that prayer (specific or otherwise) isn't powerful, because i believe it is. but i think particularly so because of the context of relationship within which it is set.
Emoly said…
very true, and I try to have a lot of communication with God through out the day. I like your analogy. However, Bill would LOVE for me to fall asleep while talking to him. Really. He wouldn't mind it one bit (as witnessed by my comment yesterday, I'm a little talkative...) And no. I was not hearing you say that at all, it was the opposite which is why I felt compelled to share just how powerful prayer can be.
RedBank Billy said…
Bill likes this :)
Charles said…
I found this blog post from a google alert for prayer. I appreciate your candid comments. I often think about prayer as I seek to enrich and deepen my prayer life. I believe that prayer is at the center of our relationship with God and can take the form of a conversation with give and take or the composing and sending of a letter which would have a delayed response and of course there could be forms of prayer of which I can not conceive at my current stage of spiritual maturity. It is good to see that others are engaged in prayer practices which are dynamic and evolving. It is providential that I was drawn to your post and Emoly's comments today.
Thanks and Blessings,
Charles
greg. said…
emily,

just to clarify....i think God really likes it when you fall asleep talking to God, too! (just like Bill would). i was only saying it would get a bit annoying/tedious for both Bill and God if that was your ONLY method of communication.
Emoly said…
yes. I concur. :)
Jeanie Rose said…
Greg, I have found there are a lot of approaches to prayer. What you are describing is the most personal. It is a description of what occurs as you abide in the Secret Place of the Most High (Psalm 91). This type of relationship is the prime requirement for experiencing the promises of protection that this Psalm is famous for. Such prayer does leave you transformed and profoundly more peaceful...easier to sleep, Emoly.
Love your self intro at the top of the page, Greg. Just wish you lived in our neighborhood.

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