Figuring out prayer

By  Faith Goldy, Youth Speak News
  • February 8, 2010
I desire it. I fear it. I use it. I misuse it. I love it. I neglect it. I change it. I am changed by it. What is it? Prayer: the lifting of the created creature’s mind and heart to its Creator.

Want a less whimsical definition? Don’t try a dictionary — I already did. It used words like “solemn request,” “plea” and “appeal.” While reading the definitions, I thought to myself, “This can’t be it! Where’s God in all this? These words make prayerful people look like sorrowful solicitors.”

Then I turned to the Bible for a more accurate definition of what prayer is and what it ought to be. The definition of prayer was manifested on every page I turned to. Scripture is a record of men and women who prayed, and did it well.

What’s the key to proper prayer, you ask? Prayer is to be treated as a conversation, a dialogue, between God and you. God used all the biblical figures to convey His message and purpose for humanity. All these men and women had to do was talk to Him… and take the time to listen.

More importantly though, how should we pray? Some recite so-called repetitive prayers, such as the Holy Rosary and Divine Chaplet. Others use spontaneous prayers, short or long impulses of our hearts’ desires and praises. But is either more right than the other?

Jesus taught us the value of repetitive prayer when He taught His apostles how to pray the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Perhaps the greatest value in repetitive prayer is that it demands a profound focus on who you are praying to. Although the Lord’s Prayer includes seven petitions, Jesus deliberately began the prayer with “Our Father.” One could spend a lifetime meditating on those two words alone: who is that Father, as revealed to us in the Bible? What does He ask of us?

Some object to repetitive prayer, using Matthew 6:7: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” I don’t buy this as an objection to repetitive prayer — only to repetitive prayer in vain; prayer made in a proud spirit, one overly concerned with keeping up appearances before God.

So, what of spontaneous prayer? Jesus taught us the value in spontaneous prayer. The leper in Matthew 8:2 said only 10 words to his healer, but included two hints as to the way we ought to approach spontaneous prayer. He began with “Lord, if you are willing,” teaching us to put the Lord’s Will before our own in spontaneous prayers. Second, he said, “you can make me clean,” teaching us to have patient faith in Christ while we are praying to Him — faith in His presence, His answer and His ability.

So it’s clear that Scripture teaches us to have a healthy balance of the two forms of prayer.

Instead of getting hung up on how to pray, remember why we pray. As our bodies are fed with food, so too, our souls are nourished with prayer. Without prayer we cease our conversation with our Lord, who has cautioned us in John 15:15, “Without me you can do nothing.”

(Goldy, 20, is a political science and history student at the University of Toronto.)

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