During Lent I will be exploring six basic practices of the Christian faith. These practices are indeed basic, one might say, fundamental to the Christian life. Lent is a good time to review the basics of Christian living and the whys and the hows of what we do and believe. Today I’ll be looking at prayer.
Prayer is almost a universal language in the human race. Even those who do not profess to believe in any particular religion or spiritual system often pray. Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life because it is in prayer that we are able to develop our relationship with God. Prayer has often been described as conversation between God and humanity (sadly, many of us do most of the talking, giving God no room to say anything!).
Prayer is more than speaking or thinking thoughts directed to God, however. The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer defines prayer in this way, “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” I remember the first time I read this definition I was struck by two things. First, that prayer is always a response to God. We sometimes think we are the ones initiating prayers, starting the conversation, sending the spiritual e-mail if you will, yet, in fact, God is the one who is always trying to get our attention. Our prayers are always a response to something God has done, stirred in us, or gifted us with.
Second, I was struck by the idea that prayer might be offered by deeds and even without words! Choosing to respond to an angry comment with love and patience can be a prayer if we are mindful that we are responding to God’s invitation to “turn the other cheek” and to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Praying without words brings us into the realm of Christian meditation and contemplation. There are ways of praying with images (click here for more info on imagery and prayer), there are also ways of praying without words or active thoughts – simply enjoying the presence of God (click here for more information on Christian contemplation).
Lent is a time to work on our spiritual fitness. There seems to be a general consensus among the great spiritual writers of the Christian tradition – Catholic and Protestant –about what a healthy prayer life should look like. Here it is, in my own short form:
- A growing Christian should pray every day.
2. This daily prayer should have two major expressions.
A. A daily, scheduled private time of prayer with the Lord. This could be five minutes in the morning where you pray over your day, for your loved ones, and read some Scripture to center yourself.
B. Little prayers throughout the day. This would include things like praying grace at meals (silently is ok in public, aloud is important at home with friends or family), but would also include short prayers offered to God in the context of daily life, such as “Lord, the kids are going crazy today. Help me and them to calm down.” “God, Bill seems to be having a tough time at work today. Help him and help me to help him.” “Jesus, help those in that car wreck and the medical personnel who are trying to save their lives.” “Father, what a beautiful day, sunny and mild. Thank you!”etc.
Much more could be said about prayer (see here for example, or here), but the important thing is to be praying on a regular basis. If you aren’t, stretch yourself to pray more. If you are praying regularly, stretch yourself to learn to pray in new ways.
What else would you recommend in terms of developing a stronger prayer life?