As a kid who grew up heavily embedded in southern Christian culture, the concept of prayer has been in my life as long as I can remember. Growing up in a big family and going to a Christian school, I know that if you want people to stop talking you start praying. Because all kids know that when someone starts praying, you better not be talking, or else you will be in big trouble. (I still appreciate that this works at youth group and Sunday school.) So I guess I had some sort of reverence for prayer, but have always found it hard to grasp and put into practice.
When I was a child and my mom would tuck me and my sister in at night, she would pray scripture over us. Passages like Numbers 6:24-26 “May the Lord bless you and keep you…” are ingrained in my heart. Thanks to my mom’s prayers, I have a small taste of Psalm 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” That’s another one she taught me. So while prayer has been a part of my life, I still find that it can feel difficult.
A few years ago my mentor Angela Liner recommended I read “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller. If prayer feels confusing or unnatural to you in any way, I highly recommend this book!
In it, Miller explains how we feel like our prayers don’t meet some standard, and prayer becomes something like a production and a problem. We can even treat prayer almost like a good luck charm. Life is full of to-do lists, anxieties, distractions, pleasures, and pressures, but prayer is meant to meet God in the here and now. There is so much noise in our lives. Last week at roundtable we talked about social media and the Internet, and how to live with these forms of constant connection. So in a world where we are constantly distracted, comparing, and moving, how do we create space for the counter-cultural act of prayer?
Miller compares prayer to an intimate dinner with the people you’re closest to. Think about how that feels: conversation flows, any topic can be discussed, and the mood can change from light-hearted to serious, but it’s all enveloped in love. And you’re so drawn into the present that you don’t even think about checking your phone! That is what prayer is meant to be like!
Often we see prayer as “a mountain to climb” when it’s really a “valley to fall into.”
A few years ago my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was very open about her illness and had many friends and family who supported her and constantly prayed for healing. People would ask her if she had fear or anxiety, and she realized that she really didn’t. All the people praying for her may have felt the fear of what could happen, but my mom said she felt secure and confident. She realized the power of “bearing each other’s burdens” because the people praying for her were doing just that! We don’t realize how powerful our prayers for each other are.
One of the ways the this year with the Nashville Fellows has transformed me is through our prayers. We pray with each other whenever it comes to mind, whether that’s on Monday nights or throughout the week. When we come to each other we share our souls and we carry each other’s burdens. We pray for healing from depression, for sick family members, for surgeries, for job anxiety. When I pray for my friends I deepen my relationship with them. The gift of having 15 other people constantly caring for me opens me up to live more freely. Prayer can feel vulnerable, but that’s where we begin to truly see each other.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer paints a beautiful portrait of the transforming power of praying for others in his book Life Together: “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face… is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side is concerned.” Praying for others enables me to see the grace of Jesus in them!
Prayer is for us to better understand God, and for us to develop relationship with him. God knows our every need, and prayer is our chance to reach out to the Father and interconnect with him in every aspect of life.
The inspiration for this post came from the Charles Spurgeon devotional I’ve been reading. He writes about the power of praying for others and for our world. I love this encouragement written in a profoundly poetic way.
“Let not your prayers be all concerning your own sins, your own wants, your own imperfections, your own trials, but let them climb the starry ladder, and get up to Christ himself, and then, as you draw nigh to the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, offer this prayer continually, ‘Lord, extend the kingdom of thy dear Son.’ Such a petition, fervently presented, will elevate the spirit of all your devotions.”
Amen to that. Let’s climb the starry ladder together.