All week, we've been looking at plurality in our theology, and how one little "s" can dramatically change our understanding of things - church, the Christian life, sin, our global impact. Today, there's one more word to look at (although there are probably actually countless others):
Prayer is one of these tricky words that we add an "s" to, making it "prayers," and then break it down into a thing called a prayer. A though a prayer is any thing at all.
And here's the problem with that, at least as I see it: when a prayer (and subsequently, prayers) becomes a thing that you have, you sort of become attached to it. Think about all the things you've earnestly prayed for in your life. I'm not talking about the kind of silly things we all pray for from time to time, like certain weather or a good sale price or a win for the home team. I'm talking about the big things - the life or health of a loved one, peace in the middle of the storm.
Now, as you think about the situation that's come to mind for you, do you know how many "prayers" you prayed for this thing? Are you, right now, going over those "prayers" again and again and again in your head, almost recalling them word-for-word? Do you remember when they played over and over again in your head on their own, when the questions just kept asking themselves, when your heart just kept making this same silent plea? Most of us would answer yes to these questions. Most of us can easily recall these things. Okay.
Thinking about the same situation, the same set of "prayers," do you recall at all what it felt like to go to God in that moment? Do you remember what it stirred in your heart to be talking to Him at that very moment? Does your heart come to rest, again and again and again, in His presence?
Therein lies the danger of these things called "prayers." See, when our "prayers" become things that we say, prayer becomes less a thing that we do. When our prayers are wrapped up in our words and our manifestations of them, less and less do we manifest God. Prayer is this amazing moment of stillness, coming into the presence of the Father, and that very presence quiets something within us. Yet when most of think of prayer, our waters actually get stirred up because we can't stop repeating the same words again and again and again. Our so-called "prayers."
And it's not wrong to have a specific conversation with God. It's not wrong to want something in particular, to have a certain idea on your heart when you come to Him. It's not wrong to have an idea of how the conversation might go, at least from your end. But when these considerations become primary and the relationship becomes merely a means of expression, you've got prayer backward.
When "a prayer" is the content of your conversation, you've likely lost the idea that "prayer" is the conversation itself. It's the relationship.
I've been having some thoughts about prayer lately, and maybe I'll share some of those later, but what strikes me the most is the shift I'm trying to make between having prayers and truly praying. It changes my experience when prayer becomes about the relational dynamic between me and God, when I feel like I actually come into His presence, when I'm deliberate about making that heart-to-heart contact with Him rather than just spouting words that sound sort of prayer-ful (in that, of course, they are full of my prayers). It's a dramatic change. Indescribable, really.
So I sacrifice my prayers on the altar of prayer. Because there is only one true prayer, and it is not something we have (or say or whatever); it's something we do.