Why are we (including me) still writing and reading about prayer? How much more can be said? What other discoveries do I expect? Christian book stores are full of essays, real life stories, and teachings. Blogs and websites even more so. What does it take to “get it?”
James 5:13-14a, 16b
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them . . . The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
In one of my devotions while praying the hours, I encountered a writing that identified prayer as the most difficult task of a believer. Why is that true? What is it about our understanding of prayer over the ages that makes us disinclined to practice it without a lot of help. Help might come in the form of a prayer book, a rosary, a special “place” (a pew, a designated chair at home, or a particular position); help in prayer may seem to require other people or musical accompaniment.
I think the problem rests with physicalizing a spiritual or non-corporeal process.
I try to master my outer world in order to “make time” and space for prayer when in reality, the mastery is within. The real reason we may be encouraged to speak and sing prayers out loud us that it helps tame the incessant wandering of our minds. We practice corporate prayers in order to focus on a particular set of words and hopefully, join the inner self with the spoken word.
But truthfully, I can read a prayer and plan dinner at the same time. I can sing or pray out loud and review my most recent argument with my husband or children that morning. I can speak the Lord’s prayer and get lost in it much the same as famous singers lose their places singing the National Anthem at football stadiums. I’m not paying attention. My mind is elsewhere. I am not praying. I am going through the motions.
Prayer is about communing with the Holy Spirit. And although it may be easier to communicate within when it’s quiet or when I set aside my regular schedule to meditate or repeat prayers/mantras or execute a plan, the real “work” is in the heart and mind.
In the King James translations of verse 16 in James 5, it is the “fervent” prayer that is effective and powerful. Some people believe fervent to mean emotional or ongoing, long-winded or passionate; some even think of fervent prayer as fiery, vehement, or zealous. I used to think the same way.
Instead, I’m thinking no outward expression of a fervent prayer is going to have any more power or effectiveness than another kind without the interior self in full participation. It is not what I say or how I say it. Just now, I actually found a website blog that states, “Every time we pray, if we do so correctly, God’s mighty power is released . . . ” Is this what it’s come down to? We’re all trying to figure out how to “pray correctly?” That cannot be the solution.
The Holy Spirit is with me whether I am standing, sitting or walking. The Holy Spirit is present in the shower and at the computer. The Holy Spirit hears, sees, comprehends me in a way like no other. Unfortunately, my praxis is shutting out the Spirit from my conscious mind. I tend to relegate the Holy Spirit to role of observer only. That is not how prayer works.
“So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.” [Romans 8:26, Amplified]