Friday, February 22, 2008

Rethinking 'Prayer'

Prayer is one of the essential components of any religion. Though they all do it in different ways, everybody believes in some sort of prayer. I think even atheists believe in prayer. I have heard some say that prayer is nothing but talking to our own heart. When it comes to Christianity, prayer is one of the concepts which has been ruined and tossed back and forth among many denominations. I have seen some extremes in this area such as a short prayer like, “God bless this. In Jesus’ name. Amen” to long lasting prayer chains.

We used to have evening prayer in our family ever since we became believers in Christ. It usually starts with a song and then one of us will pray for everything. I have to say I have prayed genuine prayers in those times , but I have also prayed fake prayers just to get rid of the guilt of not praying. In essence, it became a ritual in no time. It became a burden. There were times we didn’t know which song to sing, so we just sing one of the songs we know the lyrics well for the sake of singing it. There were times when we go back and forth on who should pray. In reality nobody wants to really pray but since we have to do that ritual, so we look at each other with the face, 'it's your turn today'.

I have also prayed to show off my spirituality. One example would be praying before a meal. We used to pray before every meal no matter whether it is at home or at restaurant. Within no time, that too became a ritual. We came to a point where we couldn’t eat without saying a prayer. Sometimes I have no patience to wait for everybody so I pray a silent prayer and start eating.

Prayer became a learned behavior. We thought, as Christians we should pray in certain occasions. I have learned to construct some great statements to insert into my prayer including bible verses. Somebody told us that we have to quote the promises in the bible to God to make the prayer more effective. (As though, we need to remind God about His promises). One great example would be the prayer for healing. People quote lot of promises of healing in the Bible to make God to heal the sick. It is like a bargaining.

Another thing I should mention is the Lord’s Prayer. This is one of the portions of the Bible which has been misinterpreted and misused among a lot of people. Some people recite this prayer 50 or 100 times. I wish they had read the verses prior to that prayer in Mathew 5: And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.. That’s exactly what they do with the Lord’s prayer: babbling like pagans, using many words and meaningless repetition. What a tragedy! I think the reason God gave us one mouth and two ears is to talk less and listen more.

Another thing I myself struggled with even after coming to an understanding of Grace is, if God knows everything why even pray? What's the point?
I think God has revealed something to me in this regard. He gave me a non religious, simple insight into the reason why we should pray. Today, I can say that prayer is nothing but conversing with God. I want to converse with my Father. Why? The same reason I want to converse with my wife. I talk to her because I love her. I talk to my Father because I love Him. He talk to me because He loves me. There is absolutely no other reason to talk to Him. Bible says, ‘pray continually’. Can you imagine inserting some pre-constructed statements, raising our hands and kneeling down before each time we talk to our heavenly Father? It doesn't look like a healthy relationship at all. Healthy relationships do not need formalism. Healthy relationships do not need to schedule time to talk.

Some of the greatest conversations I have had with Father is while driving. There is no one to distract. I don't have to watch my grammar. I don't have to be conscious. It is a free talk.
Prayer is not necessarily filling the air with chatter, the most important part of prayer is listening. We don't have to begin our day with the laundry list. He already knows our needs. He has something to tell us if we are ready to listen. One of the primary ways he talks to us is through His word. The other day while I was reading from Ephesians he spoke to me from a small verse.

the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession

Look at that! We are God's possession! He owns us! If He owns us, how much do we need to remind Him to bless us? How much difference a few mere words from our mouth can make? I can very well say a lot of things using my mouth which are totally contrary to what I have in my heart. So, does He bother for the many words I speak? I have also had situations in my life where I didn't even know what to pray. There were situations where not even a single word came out of my mouth but my heart was heavy and burdened. How am I going to say a nice prayer at that moment?

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)

What a relief! God can hear us without even a single word from our mouth! The Spirit who lives in us intercedes for us. It is a Spirit to Spirit communication. We don't understand all the details. We have no clue how spirit is communicating. But we can trust Him. Or we can act as if we know how to pray 'in the Spirit'. The Spirit who owns us knows what is best for us. Can we trust Him? The more we trust Him the less we need to beg and instruct. The more we trust the more we can enjoy conversing with Him. He has provided us everything we need to enjoy a loving, intimate, trusting relationship with Him. He asked us to call Him "Abba" (Daddy) not 'God of Abraham, Isac and Jacob'. It gives us the confidence to trust Him for the desires of our heart or the burdens of our heart, even the ones which cannot be expressed using words.

12 comments:

Walking Church said...

Great Post Bino...I hve been wrestling with this one for a year or so. You have gone down many of the channels of query I have asked.

yes - I have been guilty of praying for the benefit of being heard a perceievd as 'sprititual'.

I think you are right - prayer is simply talking to Abba through out the day and it need not be wordy.

One side of me is torn...we have everything in Christ...what else is there to ask...versus...the prompt to come to Him boldly in all matters..nothing is too insignificant. I will ask for needs, but there are times I thank Him for being faithful in all my needs.

Lately, I find I am more thankful in my prayers...especially having a new understanding of Who I am in Christ.

I find my best time to pray is when I am driving but also when I am walking...on the beach or on a hiking trail.

I have been a huge advocate to all my buds lately. For almost a year, I think, I have been praying with my family in the morning just as I am heading out the door. It never seeks to negotiate a change in our circumstances...but rather thanking Him for it and for His faithfulness, past present and future. I petition that we might see Him work in our lives this day. Reveal more of himself. There seems to have been a huge blessing in my house by simply holding hands and recognizing God has provided for this day. My house is a much happier place...and I was blessed yesterday when my teenage daughter..jumped up and said she wanted to pray...talk about tears whelming. I am blessed. It also makes me humble before God, because there are times my behaviour is less than Christ like and your family knows you well..very well...good times and the ugly.

By the way they look forward to this 'ritual' daily...it is not a forced activity...but a very loving genuine experience.

So Bino...I continue to advocate to all...especially men - to humble themselves and pray over their family before they head out into the marketplaces of our lives.

If this was my last day on earth, I would pray that my family would remember that we prayed together in His Unity.

Aida said...

Great blog, Bino. I was going to comment here but it kept getting longer and longer so I decided to post it on my blog instead.

Aida

Nicole's Godblog said...

Bino!

Wow. Good thoughts man! I have always tried to have an organic conversational life with Father in my life personally. I have been in places though that doesn't allow prayer to come out naturally, but forced. The pressure builds up. For instance, I have been put on the spot to talk to God in a group and the pressure of having to pray is hard to deal with. While others are praying, I was always stuck thinking about what I was going to pray about, so initially I wasn't paying attention to the other prayers but thinking about how my prayer was going to sound. That isn't really a conversation with God, but reminds me of a planned out interview of responses to what should be said. Having to pray aloud in groups always made me uncomfortable, and never seemed to come naturally. However, I like what walking church said, "prayer is simply talking to Abba through out of the day and it need not be wordy." I agree with that, for when I am communicating with Father I don't speak, for I think through things and God is always popping in my thoughts, so I think that is how I really relate my life to Father. I even think sometimes we have 'thought conversations'. Always trying to figure out who is saying what, but Father is hardly and rarely misunderstood.

In Freedom, Nicole!

Joel Brueseke said...

I agree with everyone... another great post, Bino! I've also had (and still have) many of the same thoughts and questions that you've posed here.

Paul does remind us, "pray without ceasing," which to me means to carry on the conversation of life with God all throughout each day, and as you say it can mean speaking words, it can mean groaning, it can mean being silent, and I think so much of our communion with God simply happens in our thought life, in our thinking.

One of the things that gets me in group prayers are people who seem to have to keep saying "Lord" or "Father" or whatever, such as this:

"Dear Lord, we thank you Lord, for giving us life, Lord. Lord, you are so wonderful to us, and we bring our requests to you Lord. Lord, would you, Lord, give us..."

:)

Can you imagine having that type of conversation with ANYONE? Never mind the God who knows the heart so much better than we understand what we are saying!

Oh yeah, the Romans 8:26 prayer. I call that one "praying in groans." :)

Aida said...

Joel, I can sure relate. It annoys me to hear people saying Lord, God or Father after very two or three words. It's so unnatural. When I talk to people, I only mention that person's name when I want to get their attention. After that, I don't say it again.

I suppose that might be due to the fact that they are really praying for the benefit of the audience and not so much to their Father. It's hard to know but it definitely is a religious habit that people have developed.

I'm finding that there are many ways that we pray, or at least I do, for the audience. Another is the "in Jesus name" good luck charm. I still haven't found another way to end my praying time in group prayers. Why do I still say it? Because I can't figure out a way to let the others know that I'm finished and it's now their turn.

Since I can't seem to get past some of these areas of show, I avoid prayer groups. Maybe the problem is with me but, right now, I want to learn how to be real with my Daddy and group praying doesn't seem to promote that.

A little venting here but that's where I am at this time.

Aida

Walking Church said...

Prayer: Maybe we try too hard pray in OUR abilities and not HIS.

Prayer: Listening and heartfelt speaking. Probably more the former then engage in the latter. Whose ears are we trying to tickle anyways?

Are we perhaps getting into the 'church quagmire' (seen on Joel's blog)...form over substance?

I believe if we ask Him how to pray He will show us. You can bet the guy with asbestos underwear won't like that much either.

Dunno. I know He knows my heart.

Joel Brueseke said...

Aida... This past summer the small group that I was a part of (I haven't been joining them this year, for various reasons, but my wife and kids still are with them) had a weekend camp out at local park. During the first evening, we had a nice fire going and someone spoke up and suggested that we pray together, as we do in our regular meetings. We all thought it was a great idea, and we all "took turns" praying. After people had prayed, but before anyone said "Amen," I spoke what was on my heart. I suggested that we just simply sit there in quiet and enjoy the Lord and just kind of "listen."

I could tell a few people were becoming a little uncomfortable after about only 2 or 3 minutes of silence. We're just so used to "prayer time" being when we speak and God listens.

I so wanted this time to continue, and just see what would happen (or not happen), and perhaps just keep on enjoying the 'white noise' of the outdoors, enjoying the presence of God in our little gathering. But I don't think people could stand one more "uncomfortable" minute, and suddenly someone quickly blurted out, almost in one syllable, "In Jesus Name Amen."

And that was that. :(

That said, I have to admit that I'm not without guilt in all this. Plenty of times I've been distracted from one-on-one fellowship with my Daddy by something else that caught my eye or ear or mind or whatever. So I can't put anyone down. And I don't want to. I really want to keep this type of conversation going (in life in general) so that we as the body of Christ really grow to know our Daddy and don't feel uncomfortable in communicating with Him in any way.

Aida said...

Joel, apparently we're not alone. I think you might find this article on Lark News interesting.

http://larknews.com/august15_2003/secondary.php?page=5

Aida

Joel Brueseke said...

Wow... who knew something like this would make the news?! That's funny. :)

Bino B. Manjasseril said...

Great comments all of you!

I have learned a lot more and gained many different perspectives by reading these comments. The news link Aida posted was funny. I can surely relate to what it says.
One thing I forgot to mention in the post was about the so called 'prayer warriors'. Based on some of my observances in the past, people are eager to use these 'prayer warriors' to pray for their specific issues. Evidently, people tend to think that these prayer warriors have a special hot line with God. I personally have approached some of them to pray for certain things while I was in the church.

Bino B. Manjasseril said...

(Sorry I wasn't done with my comments.)

Anyways, I think all the children of God have special hot lines with God and I don't think God has partiality in answering His children's prayers.
We certainly pray for each other, which is part of any healthy fellowship of believers but elevating few people to the level of a 'special child' is inappropriate. Bible says,
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. -1 Peter 2:9

I think this is about ALL born again believers. We are all chosen people, royal priesthood, and people belonging to God, members of the same body working together for a common good.

Aida said...

Titles among God's children really turns me off and I can't stand the term prayer warrior. People like to call me an "intercessor" because I can pray the pretty prayers but that's just another man made title.

All titles do is set up two classes of believers - the "have's" and the "don't haves". This causes a lot of insecurity among the "don't have" group because it appears as though Father loves others more than them.

The truth is there is no "don't have" group. He loves us all equally and as Bino said there's no partiality. Until we understand and believe this, we'll continue to feel like we have to approach him through a human mediator when the truth is there is only one mediator and his name is Jesus. Through him, we all have immediate access to our Daddy who eagerly listens when any of his children speak to him.

Aida