Being a pastor and a military chaplain, I have run across an incredible diversity of religious belief in our nation. Through my readings in seminary and beyond I have been introduced to a wide variety of belief systems in our world. The way we approach scripture (even what we identify as scripture) and our fundamental beliefs about God differs. We also surely have no uniformity over what our calling is as human beings and how we are to interact with people within and beyond our faith traditions. But, the one thing that we all seem to do universally (if one believes in any type of Deity or deities) is pray.
Prayer is more than meditation. Prayer is more than organizing your thoughts. Prayer is much more than talking to yourself. Prayer is opening ourselves to a conversation beyond ourselves. And when we pray we join in with many people past and present who found the experience to be elemental and essential to finding solace when troubled, direction when unsure, a venue to express joy, and an avenue for healing. Moses prayed for the people and went up a mountain to converse with God. Job went to God when life seemed unfair. Miriam turned to God to express joy in their deliverance. The disciples seemed to lose track of Jesus at times because he frequently went off to pray. Paul simply told us to pray constantly.
Does prayer change the world around us? Yes, sometimes I think it does. I cannot explain why and when prayers are answered just as people have asked but I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of others. At other times, I see God answering indirectly. Sometimes what we want does not coincide with what God is doing in this world. I know God does not want to treat prayer as a magic genie. God doesn’t appear to say, “Oh sesame….what do you desire next?” That is not who God is. Yet, in conversation, I think God sometimes gives us what we ask. Sometimes God gives us something better. Oftentimes we are called for patience as our timeframe and God’s are usually not one and the same. And sometimes we are not asking for the right thing and God helps us to see that in time.
Most of all though, I see prayer as a tuning system. My mother gave up being a concert pianist when she agreed to marry a young med student back in 1945. After my father achieved some success, he bought my mother a grand piano. She practiced it regularly and played it for us. About once a year, she would have a professional come out and tune the piano. I would watch with interest but honestly could not tell the difference as he adjusted each key. Nevertheless, when he was finished, my mother would show us just how a tuned piano could sound and it was incredible.
I believe prayer tunes us to God’s Spirit, to God’s way, and to what is lasting. It changes us, which in turn, changes the world around us. If but for a moment, it gives us a tiny glimpse of what eternity is all about. And best of all, it does not have to be scripted. We can pray set prayers if that brings us solace. But like a poet just sitting down to write or a jazz pianist improvising, God is ready to engage us where we are and make music with our lives.
I hope you are taking the time to pray. It is where we hear that still small voice most often. I also hope you take time to pray with others. Just as the best music is often made in concert, the same is true in prayer.
What do you think?
Until next time,