Posted by: Postordinandy | November 19, 2012

On Prayer

I have found myself praying a lot lately.

This is not something I have done with consistency over the years, It’s one of those things that I know* I should* do, but – to be honest – I’ve not felt like I was any good* at.

(* all of these highlighted words, and no doubt many others below, have so many levels of intended and received meaning it’s not even funny).

There are certain factors I have become aware of over the years that encourage me to pray, or otherwise – I seem to prefer being with others, in an informal setting; for some reason I feel like I’m praying more authentically if I am standing rather than kneeling, moving rather than static; prayers said out loud (even when on my own), rather than in my head…

I pray sometimes in what I hope is tongues – unintelligible babble to most, even me, but trusting somehow that God can decipher the heart of it. (And, on occasion, someone else has felt they have some kind of interpretation – most memorably one time when someone who didn’t believe in ‘that sort of thing’ heard in English what others had only heard as apparent gobbledegook). I find tongues helpful when I want to pray but am too tired, emotional or confused to know what it is I want to pray about.

Like most people I know who pray even on occasion, my instincts to pray are strongest when I have a personal need I want God to meet, or have been moved by someone else’s painful experience. ‘Shopping list prayers’ some call them – each submitted in faith for the provision of perceived need.

I try to remember to pray other types of prayer – thanking God for who He is and what He has done; taking time to reflect on the ways I have failed to be who I think I should be, who I feel God has made me to be; saying sorry as needed. But, usually sooner rather than later, the shopping list comes out again.

It is no coincidence that I am praying more these days. For the past 6 months in particular, life has been – as the theologians say – pretty shit. I have been to some dark places, places where even the idea of God seemed wilfully absent, places where sleep without end not only seemed attractive but the only viable option. Even when times have been comparatively lighter, much of my time has been a kind of drifted existence – all of the definitions of who I thought I was have been stripped away or significantly altered, and my mind remains spinning.

I have ranted and screamed at God, I have cried in His arms, I have rudely gestured, blasphemed, stomped around like an especially moody and indignant 5 year old.

I have been surprised by peace during chaos, love in the midst of abandonment, acceptance in the face of rejection.

My prayers started to have consistency, at least in terms of some semblance of regularity, when I became so exhausted that I could do nothing else. For at least a month, my prayer life pretty much consisted of a mumbled “Today is another day then God, what are you going to do about that” in the morning, and something like “my healing is yours, x&y situations are yours, your will be done” muttered as I drifted off to another night of restless sleep.

I went through a significant phase of trying to micro-manage God – anyone who prays falls into this trap, you know how it goes “Your will, O Lord, be done – and if that could just be the following 6 things…”

The problem of praying for the will of God to be done is that we assume we know what it is. This leads us into dangerous theological and philosophical places: what happens when what happens is not what we wanted or expected, or is impossible to align with our understanding of God’s nature? I personally that think one of the reasons the phrase “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” is in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is simply that God’s will is often not done on earth – people get in the way. In addition to this is the fact that we don’t see things as God sees them – what is incredibly important to us right now may not be in 2 weeks time; what we want and what we need may be worlds apart. And, of course, it gets complicated when prayers are set on collision course: Person A is praying for a job to be given to them, so is person B – who ‘wins’, who does God ‘favour’ more? Any apparent answer to my prayer for increased wealth may come at another’s own financial cost.

Now, I find myself mostly praying that God will bless people. And trying to leave it up to him how he does that. I am as sure as I can be that God wants to bless people.

One advantage of this is that I can say the same prayer for those I love as for those I struggle with, and the same for my most loved friends as for those who feel like enemies. This is sometimes scary too – there are times when I feel God is asking me to be the conduit of that blessing.

Prayer is sometimes easy but, in my experience at least, often incredibly difficult. There are formal and informal tools and methods to help you – God loves the bespoke stuff just as much as the ‘factory produced en mass’. Prayer is simply to acknowledge the presence of God, and to allow yourself to be drawn towards… it can change and challenge you, but sometimes it doesn’t.

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