However you define prayer, whether as talking to God, availing or opening yourself to God, or as a lifestyle or habit, prayer is at its root something personal and unique. And so I’ll just share my own thoughts and opinions about prayer and hope everyone takes away something meaningful!
Finding God in the first place!
I really do wish God had a loud booming voice or an easy way of grabbing our attention. I mean how does the Almighty God remain so subtle? What happened to His magnificence and splendour? Are not the rocks supposed to cry out if we kept silent?
I wish He were as physically real and tangible as the people around, able to talk and gesture and make faces. But nope, God seems to prefer the gentle approach; the light breeze, that soft whisper in your heart.
And so, especially in urban Singapore, with modern technology and man-made wonders, it is easy to ignore God or to even deny His existence completely. Its a real challenge to be amazed in the twenty first century. Just as mankind has established a foothold in every sphere of science, we explain and rationalise and influence the world around us. We become our own Gods. How to pray like that??
I am thankful on a clear night I can still see stars from the comforts of my house. Because whenever I gaze up, and see just how big the whole of creation really is, it helps me to put things into perspective. It reminds of a cosmic creator and designer, it reminds me of God.
How are you reminded of God?
Being in tune with God
Silence is the first language of God – Thomas Keating
There’s no two ways about this, silence is utterly important to prayer. Silence is both a lack of external and internal stimuli.
Bright lights, loud noises, harsh smells, sudden movements and being physically comfortable, hunger, thirst, temperature, sleep.
Anxiety, obsessions, OCD, random thoughts and songworms, songworms are the worse..
Both types of stimuli fight for your attention and makes it hard to focus on God.
For myself the best place so far is in adoration chapels. Controlling external stimulus is very straightforward when compared to controlling internal stimulus, this is where adoration chapels for me trumps all others, no better place where I dare to let go and put everything down and be myself.
Two-way Communication with God
Just like in any other friendship, two way communication is important and healthy. In the silence, in the apparent lack of action, we must leave space for God and leave time to listen. Its all too easy to hog the talking token when talking with God because of his gentle nature. Be intentional about it and pass the talking token over to God and see what happens. I bet you will subconsciously grab it back 3 seconds later.
And yet keep trying and hopefully one day you notice stirrings or sensings or a golden thread in your thoughts. Giving space to God in your prayers takes discipline :x. God may be audibly silent, but He is very much alive and moving and at work, albeit imperceptibly to us so don’t be discouraged or stop trying!
God is also eager to speak to you, to listen and to spend time with you. If you are “humanly” trying to reach God, you will hopefully see that God is also “divinely” reaching out to you. And so really, pray in all seasons and not just when you need God. God meets you at where you are at, so don’t worry too much about being unprepared or having nothing purposeful to say. Be warned though, God has a sense of humour too!
As with all communication or friendships, the three main factors at play is
How you see yourself
How you see God
How you relate to God
And so a willingness to be real to yourself, a healthy image of God and a personal relationship with God is helpful to prayer. I find that as my understanding in all three areas change, my prayer changes as well.
Prayer is not about asking or persuading God
The last time I said this, a group of younger peeps in church gawked at me in shock. And yes it seems counter-intuitive, but it goes to show how the three factors I mentioned earlier affects your prayer.
If you see God as a lofty figure, and yourself a poor sinner, your prayer will naturally be full of justification and persuasion. A bargain plea perhaps of X amount of penance if you grant me this favour.
If you see God as a genie in a lamp or an ATM machine, your prayer will naturally be full of petitions, ask and you shall receive!
If you see God as a means of power, a benign force to be cajoled perhaps, your prayer will naturally be dictatorial and demanding, twisting God’s arm into your favour.
If you see God as all-knowing, all-loving and timeless, if God is your heavenly Father and you are His precious child, if God is the master planner with this grand and perfect plan for you, then your prayer would be very different. Why ask, justify or persuade for my ways when His ways are above and indeed better?
I also hold dear a verse from Isaiah 65.
At the start it speaks of the generosity of the Old testament God, complete with justified wrath and anger. From verse 17 onwards, it speaks of a new Jerusalem, and at verse 24 a promise
“Before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”
And so I started to ask for different things. No longer for what I thought I needed, but for what God was already sending my way. I now pray for sensitivity to His will, sensitivity to His moving hand and for graces to recognise and use the things He is already sending. Because blur me might be looking the wrong way or expecting something different. I pray for the courage to be docile to His plans, because I acknowledge and want to move in tandem in His ways.
Mary @ the Wedding in Cana
There is an excellent example of a good method to pray by Mary at the wedding at Cana.
“When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” “
They.. have.. no.. wine.
Four simple words, and yet behind the simplicity of the request lies a deep and profound method of prayer.
Complete lack of justification and persuasion, I think because of their existing deep relationship and how they related to each other. You could almost say Mary was being rude or really really direct with Jesus.
In leaving the issue at hand open ended, there was a great trust and deference shown to Jesus. In terms of whether the issue should even be addressed, how it should be addressed, timeframe of the matter, all was left to Jesus’ discretion.
To seal the deal, Mary instructed the servers “Do whatever he tells you.”
And so, why is it so hard to pray? It depends on your unique personality and circumstances! Ask around, ask the community, ask me.