Have you considered that prayer is about connection? Maybe this is obvious, but sometimes we miss the obvious. In prayer we connect with God, we connect with each other and with all those who pray. In prayer we also find connection with the people of God who came before us. For example, when I pray the Daily Office or the cycle of praying the Psalms I am in contact with the ancient church, with saints and martyrs, apostles and deacons, desert monastics and lay people, who also prayed in this way and who over the course of history wrote the prayers and developed the cycle of readings and prayer we find in our Prayer Book. Prayer IS connection.
We have people in our midst who are desperate for connection. They are hurting. They are worried about a friend or loved one who needs help. When they ask the church to pray for them it is a cry for connection with God and with their community. Their request is a message to God and to us that they need something that can only be found with God's help.
In the past I struggled with prayer. I wondered if God is all knowing, why does God need a reminder from me about people and problems that need attention? If God is all loving why does God need me to plead for hurting friends or family? Does God wait for me to ask?
Eventually, I discovered I was thinking about prayer in the wrong way. I thought God demanded my prayers like an ancient Greek god demanded sacrifice. I was thinking of God as a genie whose purpose was to fulfill my wishes. In short, I was confusing prayer with magic. God is not a tool to use for my own agenda. God is not waiting for me to get the words or inflection just right, or for me to be passionate enough.
I discovered the fault in my thinking when I realized that although God loves to hear from us, prayer was for my benefit not God's. God desires our prayer in the same way a parent desires good things for their child. I need prayer in the same way that I need food, clothing and shelter to survive. I need prayer (or connection with God) in the same way I need community, hope and education to thrive. If God is the source and giver of life then connection to that source can only be a good thing.
God is good. Even apart from prayer God tries to give us the good things we find in prayer. Even when we don’t spare a thought for God, even the shallowest and closed off among us still sometimes find themselves in awe of the wind in the trees, beautiful skies, fresh water and growing things. Even the most unlovable find themselves loved by a dog whose affection they cannot break. We all find some of the good things God desires for us in nature, in community, in good food and drink, in sitting on a beach listening to the ocean.
The problem is that we are distracted. Apart from the discipline we find in prayer it gets more and more difficult to be truly present in each moment. It becomes difficult to see the goodness behind creation and all the good things it brings. Apart from God and connection to God we lose the ability to see and hear, to touch and taste and discover the truth that, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)
Prayer is connection to God; the source of life through which we find strength, peace, courage, and hope. When I was questioning prayer, it was really because I misunderstood God. Over time the discipline of praying the Daily Office led me to understand prayer - and God - in a new way.
If you don't pray, an easy way to start might be to try a simple daily prayer of thanksgiving. Through the daily verbal expression of gratitude God slowly changes our hearts. As we pray the Spirit of God teaches us focus. We find our minds dwelling on what we have and finding gratitude, rather than focusing on what we do not have and finding bitterness. Try this simple prayer when you wake and before you go to sleep. “God, this morning (or tonight) I thank you for all you have given to me. For, …” and then go on to name what comes to mind. Every time I pray this way I find my heart refreshed.
See you in church!
Fr. Tom +