What is Prayer?

In our society that has become very spiritual it is easy to mistake warm fuzzy feelings with prayer. Most everyone I know will send up prayers for those in need. We are wired to do this and it is one way to express our emotions regarding the situations and circumstances of others.

Within this I’ve known people who genuinely believe that as they send warm thoughts to another that this will make a difference for the person. That somehow in our warm cozy north american beds that warm thoughts sent out into the universe will put an end to poverty or sexual trafficking or …

This kind of thinking and belief comes across as most ridiculous in the wake of enormous tragedy such as the recent typhoon in the Philippines, the tsunamis in Japan, and earthquakes in India, just to name a few. In the face of photographs that mark unimaginable catastrophe it seems ridiculous to me to read responses such as “I’m sending positive thoughts your way.”

Really?

Now, for myself and in the work that I do I am often telling people in very dire straights that I am praying for them. Sometimes I wonder how lame this must sound and feel. Sometimes, in light of the huge need, it feels that I am no different than these folks who send warm positive thoughts.

And yet I know it is different.

It is different because true prayer is grounded in a person. True prayer reckons on God who is bigger and mightier than us. Prayer that makes a difference acknowledges our own lack and the Lord’s own greatness. My warm fuzzy thoughts will not make a difference for anyone.

Prayer after all is hard work. I’m not so sure that positive thoughts are hard work unless one calls willful denial hard. For prayer doesn’t push away difficulty and pain and loss and grief but instead draws them into the heart and lays them before God.

Prayer isn’t about setting aside all potential negative results from our mind rather it is about entering into and bringing those very things into the throne room of heaven and advocating solutions and peace instead. Prayer is about agreeing with our Lord that the assignments unto death have no power any longer.

Sometimes its about speaking these things out, sometimes its about carrying these things in our being as though birthing a great desire. Prayer is participation in all that has gone wrong and in all that can be made right. Prayer doesn’t deny tragedy and it doesn’t deny goodness, it holds both firmly together and in that dichotomy of all that we know makes a space for God to work.

But unless we have agreed in our own personal lives to life instead of death, to God’s ways instead of Satan’s ways, unless we have come under the covering of the Lord Jesus Christ personally, it is pretty hard to advocate life for another if we’ve not even found it for ourselves.

It’s pretty hard to advocate peace for others until we’ve found it ourselves; pretty hard to declare solutions unless we know the solution maker. For belief isn’t just for belief sake. Belief is grounded in the person of Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the presence of our Holy Spirit.

Prayer here, in this context, is a powerful thing indeed.

It’s so much more than positive (may I say wishful) thinking.

Prayer after all isn’t about us. It’s not about how positive or sympathetic we can be.

Prayers that make a difference do so because they acknowledge the One who can make a difference.

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16b

Leave a Reply