Since no one has seen God's face, people who pray inevitably draw on their own imaginations and experiences in trying to understand how to reach out to Him. However, it would seem that their internal representation of God may change throughout their life's cycle, in response to being touched by significant people and events. For example, finding a loving spouse, or holding a newborn baby, my alter an earlier, more distant representation of God.
Most people pray to God at moments of crisis ---- when a child is ill, or when death approaches. But those desperate folks who pray only at such moments usually experience great difficulty figuring out what they are supposed to say, or whom they are addressing. Sometimes dying men and women try to bargain with God. They say, "I'll live my life in a righteous way God, if you will have mercy on me." They struggle with their preconceived notions of God. Sometimes they are afraid to lay themselves out to God. While prayer is no insurance policy against adversity, some of us do pray for forgiveness, for strength, for contact with the Father, for assurance that we are not alone.
Many of us live such active lives that we never seem to have uninterrupted moments to deeply ponder questions about our relationships with others, or important aspects of our own particular lives. Some would call such contemplative opportunities "meditation" or "reflection."
Often such times are focused only on ourselves. When we ask ourselves questions, sometimes an answer just pops into our head. But, for many of us, moments of reflection or meditation can grow into something different. All it takes is re-directing the conversation to God, and not just to ourselves. We call such conversations "prayer."
The inclination to do this successfully is rarely spontaneous. It needs to be developed and given thoughtful attention over time, perhaps many years, and likely begins with simple words, inward sighs and unvoiced yearnings. Talking about God, which is what theologians do, is not the same as learning to talk to God. There are many ways of talking to God. Prayers learned in childhood or read from a book, are often used to break the conversational "ice" with God. However, perhaps this is the best advice: that the most important aspect of personal prayer is to "shut up and listen."
Therefore, it seems that a prayer-filled life can be made available to each one of us, provided we personally nurture it. It seems to me that we are the stumbling block, not God. God desires our prayers and has placed no restrictions, pre-requisites or "quality control" measures on how we are to engage him in prayer. Every prayer that we lift up to God matters. Not because they were answered, but because they were uttered.
But, we cannot just pray, and do nothing else. We must also act. Our actions may be better ordered and in line with God's wishes, if we pray before, during and after we act. Prayer puts us in our place, after all. Prayer reminds us of our created-ness and our limitations. Praying reveals relationship with God and with each other. A posture of prayer engenders humility, connection and hope.
The challenge seems to be to move from trying to control God, to letting God direct us.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage your pursuit of personal spiritual growth this winter at CPC.