Over the last few weeks, I (better known as Pastor Kara) have been preparing a study on prayer. But since I am a fan of technology, I am choosing to make some of the topics and discussion questions available to all who read this blog. Of course, one of the biggest gifts of gathering to study and reflect is that we sit around and talk about points of interest, ask questions as they arrive, and always learn more together. But this online posting (the first of a few) will strive to give you, the reader, at least a starting point for your personal reflection.
We start with the question “What is Prayer?”
The definition that can be found with a quick online search:
Prayer (noun) =
1. a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.
2. an earnest hope or wish.
3. an act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity, an object of worship, or a spiritual entity through deliberate communication
Prayer is, quite simply, talking to/with God. We talk to God. We share our cares, our concerns, our thoughts. But we ideally talk with God. This means that not only do we talk, but we also leave space for a response.
There are no right or wrong words to speak when we pray. In fact, some of the best prayers are those times when we lack words. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that the Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words to express (8:26).
Think of your reaction when you see something spectacular (like a fireworks display – whether man-made or God’s lightning). What is it that you say?
Or how about when you see someone hurting? How do you react?
What noise do you make when you are frustrated? Angry? Annoyed?
Every reaction, every sigh conveys emotions and experiences that are part of our conversation with ourselves, with our neighbors and with God. Being in communication is more than the words we speak; we also include the unspoken and nonverbal.
And since is prayer is by definition communicating with God, even our gasps of awe, groans of pain and sighs of frustration are prayers.
Next we ask, “Why do we pray? For what/whom do we pray?”
Draw a picture of your prayer(s). Stick figures are perfectly acceptable. In fact, if your work of art looks like it belongs on the fridge, you’ve done well!
Here are some common types of prayer:
– Petition = we seek out and ask for what we need
– Thanksgiving = we share our gratitude for gifts and blessings that have been provided
– Worship/praise = we glorify God by stating what good things God has done and will do in our lives
The Book of Psalms is one of the best resources for prayers in the Bible. The 150 psalms each have their own special message to be shared. These are both prayers and songs. Many hymns sung in church are based on the psalms, but you can also pray them silently or spoken aloud.
Read the Psalms 4, 88 and 145 SLOWLY. As you read the psalms, pay attention to words and phrases that stick out to you. What rings true? Also, pay attention to your emotions as you read. Do you feel mad, sad or glad? Do the words lift you up or pull you down?
Here are some reflections:
– Psalm 4 – This is a prayer asking God to provide one of the most essential needs: protection. Note how the psalm begins: “Answer me, O God.” This is not a nice “Oh, when you get the chance…” This is a bold statement and (dare I say it) demand for God to take care of his child. The psalmist cannot even go to sleep without trusting that God will provide safety through the night.
– Psalm 88 – This is the most despairing of all the psalms. Most psalms end with some form of blessing or praise to God. This one does not. This psalm remains “depressing” and very realistic about the pain the writer is feeling. One of the biggest gifts of this psalm (and others similar to it) is that we are given words to express our pain. We do not always have to be bubbling over with joy, especially when life is not joyful.
– Psalm 145 – This is one of many “praise” psalms. Notice how this psalm talks about God and what God is capable of doing. But also, this is a psalm that invites the reader (and consequently speaker) to also declare what God has done and who God is.
The next question we consider: How do we pray?
One of the parts of prayer that we often overlook is what our bodies are doing as we pray. Think about your favorite prayer position. Are you standing, sitting, kneeling, laying down, walking around? What are you doing with your hands and arms? Are your eyes open or closed?
Just remember, there is no right or wrong way to pray. But paying attention to how we pray can help us focus on our prayer.
Try sitting still with your hands folded, head bowed, and eyes closed. How do you feel?
Try standing up with your arms outstretched, hands open and eyes looking outward. How do you feel now?
Try kneeling with your palms up. Or laying face-down on the floor. How do you feel?
So many times we were taught that the “best” way to pray is to remain still and bow our heads. That is a position to focus us as we pray, and it can work for some.
But it can also close us off.
Sometimes we need to have our bodies open so that we ourselves are open for God’s message. This is why so many people feel closest to God while wandering out in nature, not closed up in a room with head bowed down.
Recently, I learned a random fact: most of our brains are capable of doing 1.5 things at once.
This means that as we talk with someone, our brain is a) listening to what is being spoken, b) helping us to think a reply, and c) doing something else (whether compiling a to-do list in your mind or showing as a physical movement).
I think of this in regards to my “fidgety” fingers. While in the midst of a conversation (listening to words and thinking my response), my fingers are often busy playing around with whatever finds its way into my hands (jewelry, cell phone, pens, etc). I have also experienced shifting weight while standing, shaking my legs, doodling on paper, or tapping out rhythms.
While many of us can find such motions distracting, for the person involved, such movement may be necessary in order to focus on the conversation.
In regards to prayer, this means that we strive to use our bodies and our movements carefully and intentionally. This is why some people pray best while swaying. Others pray best while knitting or crocheting. Others paint, walk, or bake in order to focus while praying.
Prayer is not just a formula of words to be spoken: “Dear God, I need ___. Thank you for ___. You rock!”
Prayer involves all that we are (thoughts, speech, actions).
There is no right or wrong when praying. The most important thing is that we pray.
I hope that this helps you to think about prayer a little more than you might have before. If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation.