“I’ll pray for you,” people often say. But what do they mean by that? What is prayer, anyway? Prayer is a common term, but any room even of like-minded folks picture it in scores of different ways. Little children may imagine saying sentences out loud to an Old Man in the sky; older adults may commune with the Divine in silence.
So here’s what I mean by prayer, at least what I can get into words at this moment.
For starters, prayer is not telling God something God doesn’t already know. Instead, it is opening up my relationship with God into all kinds of new possibilities – empathizing with others, getting hidden feelings off my chest with my closest Friend, feeling accountable and asking for forgiveness, healing old wounds, discovering a deeper trust in God, reconciling relationships, knowing God’s palpable presence right here, right now.
More than anything, prayer has to do with God the Holy Spirit. It is inseparable from our thinking and action and from our daily work. Through prayer, the Spirit gathers resources for a renewed encounter between us and God. Pastor/scholar Eugene Peterson says that in prayer the Holy Spirit acts on the details of our daily lives, thereby transforming our actions for God’s purposes in our lives and in the world.^^^
People around the globe know the prayer Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:9-13) as “The Lord’s Prayer,” but I love how Quaker author and theologian Elton Trueblood calls it “The Pattern Prayer.” It’s really the disciples’ prayer, he says, meant to be the foundation for all our praying – not to memorize and race through by rote, but to be the pattern for us to follow as we honor and love God and ask five things:***
+ For reverence for the being and glory of God,
+ For the Kingdom, or Reign, of God, here on Earth,
+ For daily food (and material needs),
+ For forgiveness of what we have done and not done, and
+ For help in the times of testing, that they not overwhelm us.
The Pattern Prayer speaks to the heart of our growth with God. It prepares our souls for whatever may come. Methodist founder John Wesley says, “Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.”
Your partner in ministry,
^^^ – Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers, p. 25.
*** – See Elton Trueblood, The Lord’s Prayers, pp. 44-61.