“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.”—St Francis of Assisi
I have been going over some of my earlier writings, which I do from time to time, because I wonder how often I am repeating myself. Maybe I have run out of things to say. It is interesting that for the last two Februarys, I have written that I don’t have anything much to say, but then, I write anyway. I feel a little like that, today. Many times, I write about prayer. Oswald Chambers said, “We think of prayer as a preparation for work, or a calm after having done work, whereas prayer is the essential work. It is the supreme activity of everything that is noblest in our personality.” Prayer is our relationship with God, so there really could not be any greater work for us to do. Prayer comes first.
Many people pray such beautiful prayers, like the prayer of St. Francis above. And not just Saints like he, but saints like you. I would like to pray like that, but it is not my gift. Most times my prayers are short, and I’m not sure I’ve always covered what needs to be said. Many times my prayers are silent and often without words. I visualize those people and situations needing prayer into the light of Jesus and hold them there for a while. He knows what they need better than I. But I still would like to be eloquent.
There is no single right way to pray. There are methods to help increase the likelihood of prayer. We want ways that will help us give up distractions and realize our connection with God. We want ways of praying for each other and for the world in which we live. We want prayers that express our gratitude and praise to God. We each need to find what works for us. When Jesus’ apprentices (disciples) saw John’s disciples at prayer, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray in that way. Jesus gave them the prayer that has come to be called The Lord’s Prayer. A prayer of praise to the father who is in heaven. A prayer for the Kingdom to be realized and God’s will be done on earth as it already is in heaven. A prayer for food for the day, forgiveness, to not be led into temptation, deliverance from evil. Simple. Not terribly eloquent. Powerful. Beautiful.
Spending those ten seconds a day, or several ten seconds a day, totally focused on God is prayer. Spending two, 20-minute periods in silence without words, focused only on God, is prayer. This is the method used by those who do Centering Prayer. Talking and listening to Jesus all day long while you are working, playing, etc., is prayer. A combination of these is prayer. And there’s more.
I like this from the Heidelberg Catechism—”Heavenly Father, when I come to the end of my rope, my strength, myself, I’m finally open to the help you offer. Teach me then, God, the basics of prayer, like ‘help’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’. In the name of Jesus, amen.” This reminds me of a talk given at a gathering I attended by a retired Air Force chaplain. He talked about his tours of duty in war zones with bombs exploding and bullets flying and about those who were seriously injured and/or dying. He said that, usually, in those situations, there was not time for wordy prayer, so his prayers became, “Help me.” “Help them.” More words were not necessary. God knew what was needed.
I could relate to his prayer, not because I am in a War Zone, but because I live in a war-torn zone. We live there. We have only to read the papers or watch the news to discover this. We are in the business of spreading the Kingdom of God already here. There are mop-up operations needed to heal brokenness of all kinds, to bring justice, to give forgiveness, to render mercy, to bless, and to push evil back through the Gates of Hell. We are broken, too, and we get broken in the process. Often, there is no other prayer to pray but, “Help me.” “Help them.” ”Help me, help them.”
I talk a great deal about thanksgiving, so I’ll just say that gratitude and offering thanks to God are essential spiritual disciplines. I’ll write about it again, but not today. I started this article by saying that there is no single right way to pray, but we must pray. We need that contact with God. If you are having trouble with it, find someone who can help guide you. But as Lacy Finn Borgo says, “Talking about prayer is like talking about eating ice cream or riding a roller coaster, words pale in comparison to the real thing.” What we need to do is do it.
“Make our every breath a prayer, O God. Make every breath a song in praise of you alone. Make us living witnesses who proclaim your mercy, love, and forgiveness through our daily words and actions.”—Unknown