THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: In Returning And Rest Shall Ye Be Saved
I have always had the impression that people basically understand prayer.
People know that prayers can be answered just the way we imagined. We know that prayers can be answered in a way we didn’t imagine. We also know that sometimes prayers aren’t answered.
And that confuses us.
There are a lot of possibilities for the silence from God as a response to a prayer.
One is that “no” is the response. That we can’t pray our way out of a certain situation, or pray for someone else in the way we want to. That whatever is real in this case is the way it is going to stay real.
Understanding some of the reasons for “no” takes a lifetime of quiet listening to God. And, yes, sometimes not-so-quiet listening to God.
Understanding God’s “no”s is a confounding study.
Especially when it comes to prayer. We want to be the experts on what needs to be done here on Earth: Aunt Bertha receiving the medical care she so desperately needs; Nephew Matthew finding a job in his field; Sister Sally getting into the school she applied to.
We Know What Should Happen In Life.
And we forget, sometimes, that, actually, we don’t know what should happen in life.
Not even close.
But there are other reasons for a prayer “going bad.”
A prayer is the concurrence or coordination of three things: God, you, and time. To get these three things together at the same time to define the prayer takes commitment, patience, and willingness. And sometimes we just lose one or more of these needs.
Is it time for this to happen? Is this something you REALLY want to happen? And, as above, is this something that God wants to happen?
All three have to come together in complete harmony.
And that’s not easy.
But there are aspects of prayer that we tend to not see for ourselves. Perhaps they are things that we just don’t understand because we are human.
If we were dealing with a living thing, taking care of a child or even a plant, we would understand that that which we are caring for has its own schedule. Books have been written on child care that urge the parent to impose a schedule on a child: the parent tells the child when to eat, when to sleep, when to potty train. That kind of thing.
Doing any of that will result in a lot of noise in that household. And a profoundly confused child.
With the exception of a sleep schedule, that needs to be imposed for the sanity of the family, forcing a child to do anything can be destructive for that child.
Instead, most caring parents find a way to maneuver within the predilections of the child while keeping him on course to grow and develop into a functioning human being.
Don’t want to learn to read this way? Fine, let’s try a different way.
And it’s the same with plants. In some ways we can define a plant’s growth. But we do best when we understand the innate nature of the plant, what it needs and when, in order to produce the best blooms.
Well, in a way, it’s the same with prayer.
I think that when we decide it’s time to pray for something that we ordinarily take an Olympian approach to the task: we are going to get out there and DO OUR BEST!
We will pray day and night. We will ask our friends to pray with us. We will use beads to number our prayers.
We will Keep At It. No matter what.
We want what we want, and we think that turning the prayer into a kind of never-ending chant will assure our success.
Kind of like a two-year old who really, really, really wants a chocolate ice cream cone. NOW!
What people may not realize is that prayers are like everything else on Earth: they need activity. And they need rest.
A prayer is like a seed. It needs to be planted. And it needs to be left alone.
We must be sincere in what we are asking for. But we also must be trustful of ourselves and God to know that a prayer in an interactive device. A weaving together of Heaven and Earth, God and man.
We can’t be wholly in charge.
We can’t be presenting God with an insistence that he act as we demand him to act.
The prayer has to grow. In its own way.
We forget, or we don’t want to admit, that prayers are actually real. They are just as real as anything else on Earth.
We have been given them – God has created them – in order for us to use them.
A tool. Very specific. A bridge between God and us.
But one nature of prayer, as mentioned above, is time. What the right time is for the prayer to come to fruition. How much time we have to go through to even understand the dimensions of the prayer we so quickly assumed. Where is the evil in this situation? What is the safest way to remove that evil? How do we restructure that which lies broken before us? What exactly do WE need to do to bring this about?
And we can admit that like every project we tackle in life, there has to be times of quiet. Times of inactivity.
Times of knowing that I am God.
Not us. Not the ones making the petition.
But the one receiving the petition. The one who is being asked to reorder the world and change what is happening in this case. Here.
I define a miracle as a stepping out of time in order to ensure the outcome.
Making what is happening just between us and God.
Leaving out time.
Being part of a miracle, to my mind, is very hard on the body and should be left as the absolutely last possibility of approaching a problem.
And in truth performing a miracle is an arduous task. Far worse than any prayer has ever been.
So begin your prayer. Get down on your knees. Make the sign of the cross over the stone that is your heart. And formulate the words of your prayer in your mind.
Or sit on a bench in the middle of the forest. Look at the sky above you. And know in your heart what it is that you want God to respond to.
Or take a walk. Watch your dog sniff the bushes. And let your tears be the form of your prayer.
Whichever way you pray, plant the seed of the prayer.
And then find stillness. The time the prayer needs to rest.
The time the prayer needs to grow and become.
The time that you need to go about your day, letting God take the prayer.
Last night when I read your post, I thought of the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) which Jesus used to instruct us ‘to pray always and not lose heart.’
Then this afternoon I read something interesting on another blog that made me think again about your post: “…the words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel (16:17), ‘signs shall follow them that believe’. The order there is crucial. Once you get results-fixated disciples, you end up with neither disciples nor signs. Just anxiety and disappointment, power games, disillusionment and ultimately loss of faith.”
I understand prayer to be daily kneeling/sitting at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes this involves supplication on my part. But a whole lot of the time it is a matter of me pouring out my heart to Him, and He filling up that void with His grace. It is an interchange of Love, a kind of conversation, that it is more than mere conversation and, therefore, difficult to explain. We must be careful not to reduce prayer to making a wish: Maybe it will come true, maybe it won’t, The whole point of prayer (as you so beautifully expressed) is the act of coming before God and giving oneself up to Him–letting go of it all. And letting Him be everything.
The parable of the persistent widow encourages Christians to persevere in this conversation and to hold onto faith against all odds. To keep coming back the next day and the next and the next to kneel at the feet of Jesus *despite* the present circumstances. In other words, in prayer we learn to focus on *What Is* instead of *What Isn’t*.
Thank you for your excellent, encouraging posts.
Peace keep you,