Monday, December 5, 2011

What is Prayer?

If I were a poet, I would come up with something like Bob Dylan’s “The answer is blowing in the wind”.  But alas, I am not a poet.

If I were a wordsmith, I would stitch together a mosaic of multi-syllable words that would paint a rather elaborate picture of prayer.  But again, I am not a wordsmith.

And if I were a biblical scholar, I could quote you verse after verse of scripture to illustrate what prayer is.  Sorrowfully, I am not even a good Biblical student much less a scholar.   How can I possibly answer the question?  I have no means with which to adequately describe prayer.

Or do I?  Does the ordinary Christian have the tools to answer the question?  It’s complicated, but after examining the question, I believe that I have the ability to answer the question: What is Prayer?  And you do too.  The real problem with the question though, is that there are many answers to the question.  In the light of your personal relationship with Jesus, you know what prayer means to you.  Like fingerprints, no two Christians have the same prayer life. 

So if the question is multiple choice, and I answer “a” and you answer “b” and your friend answers “c”, we are all right.  As I explore the answer, I find that the best type of prayer for me is a prayer of searching.  Searching for the “next right thing” to do that would please God.  When I pray for others, it’s to find peace in their relationship with God.   

Most people have close ties to their biological families.  Most families have ties with denomination families.  That is only natural. On one hand you have the Catholic faith that requires great study just to become a Catholic.  Catholics are not encouraged to marry outside the denomination.  Why?  I can only guess that they want to keep the Catholic faith true to its roots.  I see practicing Catholics as living a very structured life.  Sunday services consist of rituals and liturgies that are strictly adhered to.  And Catholics aren’t the only denomination that has these types of services.  Baptists publish “What we believe” on our web page and in our Sunday morning handout.  If you agree with us, then we are quite happy to dunk you and put you in a pew.  Which side is right?  You have to answer that question for yourself.

But I think it is quite rare for people to change denominations.  And if they do, it is most likely to a non-denominational church. The best answer for you is the best answer for you.  Ha, that was a copout.  But it’s true, only you can decide how to find your own personal relationship with Jesus. 

Now I want to explore the biggest stumbling block for most Christian and non-Christians.  We can’t seem to adequately answer the question: “Why does bad things happen to good people and what we perceive to be wicked people get a free pass”.  If I had the answer to that question, I could fill all the churches in the United States.  They would be jam packed every Sunday.  If you go to church at all, you have heard many sermons on this subject.  While I was in alcohol recovery, the biggest challenge for most people in rehab was turning their lives over to a “Higher Power”.  And this “Higher Power” could be anything that kept you from drinking.  It’s evident to me that the underlying personal struggles of alcoholics point back to a real problem in believing in anything.  While they don’t want to relinquish control of their lives to a Higher Power, they fail to recognize that in fact they have done just that.  Only their “Higher Power” is alcohol or the drug of their choice. 

I want to quote you a passage from a book that I have been reading.  “Trembling at the Threshold of a Biblical Text, by James L. Crenshaw.

“Small wonder that the prophet wanted to understand why God strengthens such cruel people.  So we hear a second prayerful complaint from his trembling lips: “Why do you allow relatively good people to fall at the hands of those who are wicked than they?”  The prophet knows that his own people are far from perfect, but he also knows that some of them try to practice common decency.  Why, then must they die when their murderers are totally devoid of goodness?  This, too, is the universal cry when innocents perish and worthless people thrive.  Is there one among us who has not uttered this cry at some time or other?  It is a protest against wasted lives, the early death of a loved one who might have brought so much happiness to others, now forced to endure great loss for no apparent reason.  At is very heart this is a question about the way God runs the world.  From our perspective, God is not doing a very good job”.

People don’t understand the way of God.  And they get angry when there is no good reason to give them for a tragedy other than “God needed another angel”.  The truest fact is that we are all going to die.  I have wrestled with that wondering why I was even born if I have to die.  It wasn’t until I found strength in Jesus that I could be unafraid.  Yet, when a loved one dies, we are afraid.  We are afraid for ourselves and for our loved one.  We are afraid that we can’t live without that loved one.  We are afraid for our loved one too.  Why?  It’s because of that story about the mustard seed in the Bible.  We profess faith, but yet many times our faith is no larger than that small mustard seed.  We can be ashamed of our lack of faith, but we all struggle at times with it.  Even Jesus was tempted.  So we must just pray. 

Finally, the last question.  Can someone teach you how to pray?  My personal feelings are it’s a very personal thing.  But, that being said, I really like a prayer group.  A small group of people that you can share with and pray with.  I try to attend a men’s prayer group on Friday mornings at my church.  I find a lot of strength there.  Men praying to God.  It don’t get much better. 
Here's Bob Dylan singing "Blowing in the Wind".

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