I used to think that there was no ‘wrong’ way to pray – that any conversation with God was good and appropriate.
I was wrong.
In light of recent events, I think people are misunderstanding what prayer actually is. Prayer is that deeply spiritual conversation between ourselves and God; a communication between Creator and creature. While there is a variety in the traditional forms of prayer (thanksgiving, petition, penitence, oblation, intercession, praise, adoration), there are limits to what these prayers are intended to accomplish.
Prayer is not about wish fulfillment – we can express our desires to God (for someone’s health, for example), but always acknowledging that the human condition is temporary, and beyond our control. We also submit to God’s will in these circumstances – “thy will be done” – and are not meant to consider a prayer to have been denied or ignored if the outcome is not what we wished for. Prayer is not about directing God to give us what we want, it’s asking for direction as we try to align our earthly journey with our spiritual journey towards the Kingdom. Or, as Søren Kierkegaard more eloquently stated, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Prayer is also NOT about political agendas. It is not intended to be used to rally up a crowd to one way of thinking, to denigrate individuals or entire communities, or to demand God’s favour over another of God’s children. To fall into these forms of ‘prayer’ is in fact politicking, not praying. While I firmly believe that prayer has a place in politics, it’s function needs to remain authentic and not be used manipulatively – the Bible repeatedly suggests that God is not a fan of us humans thinking we know God better than God does.
Prayer is essential to us all, as we grow in the kingdom of God. But it’s important that we take prayer seriously, and make our prayers carefully, and use that time of communication to truly connect with our God in humble, honest, healthy ways.
Thus my prayer today echoes Mother Teresa, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His [sic] disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
May all our prayers reflect this.