“It has come these days with a new light and power, that the first thing we have to see to, as we draw nearer to God day by day, is that ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.’ If we can listen in stillness, till our hearts begin to vibrate to the thing that He is thinking and feeling about the matter in question, whether it concerns ourselves or others, we can from that moment begin praying downwards from His throne, instead of praying upwards towards Him.” 20 March 1926
Why pray? This week I have prayed about all manner of things. I’ve prayed sitting down, standing up, and moving forward in a car. I’ve prayed in faith and I’ve prayed in doubt. I’ve prayed for the relatively trivial: my computer – that the “attachment” to my email would work (still doesn’t) and that the pop-up blocking function would disappear (it did – after 5 days!). I’ve prayed for the urgent: a health concern for my husband resulting in a night journey to the hospital by ambulance (he’s fine) and for my friend’s ailing grandson (he’s not fine). I’ve prayed down the list of friends and family; I’ve prayed for the ten’s of thousands of the suffering in the Philippines. I’ve even thrown in a few te deums – prayers of thanksgiving – for good measure: a sky awash with color. . . a dance of butterflies over spray of Lantana. . . a passion flower in full and magnificent bloom. . . .
Why pray? Does it make any difference? Were my “answers” to prayer really answers or the random working out of circumstances? And what about the “prayers” that seemed not to be answered? The problem of prayer – or rather the efficy of prayer – is one that has dogged saints and sinners, alike, down through the ages.
The Bible is choke full of prayers (see the Psalms). Jesus Himself prayed for His Creatures and even gave a model for praying (see the Lord’s Prayer/Matthew 6:9-13). From Augustine to the present day, books continue to be published exploring the mystery of prayer (see Philip Yancy’s Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? – high on my list of a full and balanced treatment of the subject).
Still the question continues to taunt both the trusting and the disappointed: Why pray? Does prayer really make a difference? Does God take into consideration my “requests” for myself, for others? Does He delight in my praise, infrequent as it may be?
A pre-schooler in the institute of prayer, I make my disclaimer: I don’t have a thing to add to what has already been written nor can I say it as well. But I continue to wrestle with the question. And I look to others farther along in the understanding and practice of prayer.
I have been privileged to have witnessed, up close and personal, two veterans in prayer: my mother and her mother, my Grandma Bricker. I have a mental image of Mother seated in her bedroom chair by the drumtable, Bible open, praying quietly yet always available to the needs/wants of her family. I’m not sure where Grandma Bricker prayed, but I knew that if ever there was a need I could appeal to both “prayer warriors” and know that they would lift their hearts and prayers to God at the very moment of the need in question.
A favorite account, now family legend, occurred when I was in Junior High, vacationing at a lake house with my cousin. A mouse scurried across the room and under the bed. Silly girls, we hopped up on the bed and screamed for help. Grandma responded. (Where were the others?!) Soon Grandma reappeared, this time with a wastebasket in one hand and a broom in the other. Moving across the room, with her brisk, stiff-legged walk, she murmured all the while: “Lord we have a mouse to kill. Lord we have a mouse to kill.” We’ll never know whether the demise of the mouse was attributable to her prayers. But this we do know: she was walking each arthritic step with Jesus!
Lilias journals would make a wonderful study of a life of prayer. Reading chronologically, one observes her exploration of different kinds of prayers for specific situations. There were incidents of her throwing herself on God’s mercy for direction. . . of putting God to the test for a “proving of His power”. . . for bombarding the very heavens with the collective strength of many. . . for “going it alone – with God” for want of the presence of others. . . .
There was also a definite shift in her approach to God as indicated in her journal entry, March 20, 1926: “It has come these days with a new light and power, that the first thing we have to see to as we draw near to God day by day, is that ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.'” If we can listen in stillness, till our hearts begin to vibrate to the thing that He is thinking and feeling about the matter in question, whether it concerns ourselves or others, we can from that moment begin praying downwards from His throne, instead of praying upwards towards Him”
She is suggesting, in essence, that if we develop the habit of listening to God, we can actually begin to pray His thoughts! His thoughts will vibrate with our thoughts making clear His will and, in turn, we can pray with confidence that those prayers will be answered being, after all, God’s thoughts.
It is interesting to note, that another person of prayer, C. S. Lewis, observed that some saints with special gifts and unusual closeness to the Lord supernaturally discerned that they are to ask God for what He purposed concluding that such prayers are “for very advanced pupils indeed” admitting that he did not consider himself one of those “advanced pupils.”
It comforts me that the likes of Lewis, who I consider a “post-doctoral student” of prayer, admits his “limitations” – and that Lilias herself continued to be a “student of prayer” to the end of her life, delighting in and giving out E. Herman’s Creative Prayer, (reprinted by Kissinger Publishing) for its insights into the mysteries of prayer.
Why pray? I’ve raised the question and now I will suggest, in brief, several elementary reasons to pray:
1. Obedience. We are commanded to pray. This reoccurring theme runs through the Old and the New Testaments. Over and over, God’s creatures – His creation – are commanded to pray and instructed in how to pray.
2. Because Jesus prayed. Repeatedly we see in the gospels Jesus seeking out time to be with His Heavenly Father. The Gospel records over a dozen specific prayers by Jesus, along with several parables and teachings on the subject. I have to ask myself, if Jesus, who was at once, human and divine, felt it a necessity to draw apart from the crowds and His closest friends to spend time alone with His Father to recharge, to find the nourishment and strength to carry out His partnership with God on earth, who do I think I am to believe I can survive without fellowship with the Father?!
3. Because we really, at the end of the day, just can’t help it. People from all time who did not even recognize deity turned to God in times of need or created their own gods to satisfy that appetite. “The need to pray is primitive and fundamental.” (Emilie Griffin)
What happens when we pray is the stuff of yet another conversation. But for now, I conclude my musings with words from two well-known sources. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Pray when you don’t feel like praying. Pray till you do feel like praying.” Or, in the words of Nike: “Just do it!”
Painting: Pocket Sketchbook 1878