Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why We Shouldn't Pray

Why We Shouldn’t Pray

            There are many books on prayer.  A book search on prayer on Amazon brings up a large number of them, from how to books to the value of prayer.  They range from intercessory prayer for others to the more personal aspect of how prayer affects us.  Some speak of prayer as a power source, others focus on piety.  It seems that whatever aspect anyone desires to seek about prayer, it is available.  They all seem to focus on prayer as something we do.  But I wonder if this current emphasis on prayer may not be detrimental to our spiritual lives, for it suggests that prayer is something that is outside of ourselves.
            Many people find prayer intimidating, especially public prayer.  As a young man, I felt very inadequate praying in prayer meetings, especially if the person who prayed before me delivered a very eloquent prayer.  He knew how to pray and I didn’t   Unfortunately, in such situations prayer can become a kind of showmanship – who is the better prayer.  We can become more concerned with how our prayers measure up than in being in touch with God. In so doing, we lose the essence of what prayer is – an intimate personal relationship with the living God.
In an interview reproduced in his book Subversive Spirituality Eugene Peterson has an interesting comment on prayer.  As a young teenager, he asked an elderly missionary who was staying with his family while on sabbatical how he prayed.  The elderly man told him “I haven’t prayed in forty years!”  Holding this missionary in high esteem, Peterson was quite confused.  He said it took him several years to understand the wisdom of what had been told him. He concluded “You see, anything he had told me I would have imitated.  I would have done what he said he did and thought that what’s prayer is.  He risked something to teach me what prayer was, and I’m glad he did..  Prayer wasn’t something he did – it was something he was.  He lived a life of prayer.”  Peterson came to realize that there was more to prayer than technique.  It is not something we do from time to time.  It is who we are.  It is part of our spiritual DNA. 
Looking at prayer in this light helps us understand St Paul’s statement that we are to pray without ceasing, and the Psalmist’s that we are to meditate day and night.  Neither is suggesting that we stop all other activities to live a kind of “holier than thou” life of prayer.  Both view prayer as part of ordinary living that is carried on throughout the day.  Whether we are at church or at home, at work or at play, prayer should be a part of our life, for it is through prayer that we are in constant communion with God.
Behind the viewpoint that prayer is something we do is the assumption that these are the times we are in touch with God and that there are other times when we are not.  When not at prayer we are living on our own, as though our spiritual cell phone has no signal.  Living out of touch with God leads to many of the condemnations of the church as being hypocritical.
God desires that we be in constant communion with him.  An attitude of prayer should pervade our lives.  Prayer should define who we are. It should be part of the essence of our being.   It is worthwhile examining our thoughts on prayer. Are we too concerned with technique?   Is it something we do or something we are living?  

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