What is Prayer?
Perhaps you think this question is unnecessary, the answer being so obvious. I think it is worth exploring a bit. Perhaps there are facets of prayer we don’t always consider or utilize.
Certainly, the most obvious form of prayer is that of petition, supplication, aka begging! We ask God for a house, a job, a car, a relationship, health, money, etc. We also ask for intangible support, like guidance, assistance, protection, insights, resolution to problems, and so forth. I imagine even self-proclaimed atheists, in the privacy of their thoughts, ask God for these things when they find themselves in dire circumstances.
As we grow spiritually, our prayers inevitably broaden beyond self-interest to pray for the needs and hopes of our loved ones. Maybe we even expand our scope to the community, our country, the entire world! Still, asking God for something that benefits our self or others is just one way to pray.
Another way to pray, which is also widely known and practiced, is the recitation of scripted prayers from sacred texts such as The Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 in the Holy Bible. I love these prayers. The words are powerful. They contain the accumulated gravitas of thousands of years of human hearts collectively yearning for the Divine. They are succinct in their truth and wisdom. When praying these ancient prayers, I think it is important to fasten one’s heart and mind to the words as though they are being said, heard, and felt deeply for the first time. I suspect they may be of less impact if mechanically uttered by rote.
What has been growing in popularity these days is the practice of gratitude. We are encouraged to count our blessings, to be thankful, to keep a journal documenting all the things we are grateful for. This prayer practice opens our hearts and invites more blessings and abundance to flow into our life. Gratitude instantly engenders positive energy and feelings of joy and comfort.
Practicing gratitude is a conscious choice, and it reminds us that our perspective in life is also a choice! We choose to see the glass half full or half empty, to quote a cliché. We can either focus on our good fortune or tumble into a self-pity pit.
Confession is prayer when we recognize our mistakes and confess them to God with contrition, acknowledging our shortcomings and admitting our failure to do the right thing. If we are honest with ourselves, we know when we have transgressed God’s law. We ask for forgiveness and grace.
No one can avoid committing “sins” in life. We all fall short. There is no shame in that. But, when we admit and take responsibility for these inevitable slip-ups, we enable God to transform them, to lighten the burden we carry, and we receive forgiveness and grace.
Confession cleanses us on the inside. It promotes humility and makes it easier for us to start again, striving to be our best selves. I believe that confession is a private matter between oneself and God and intermediaries are definitely optional!
Praise is prayer, too. Sometimes we are so ecstatic we can’t help but express our reverence for God’s majesty. We bow our knees before God’s awesome might, boundless love and beneficence, and unceasing miracles. When praying this way, we are simply recognizing and sharing our heartfelt adoration for all God’s wondrous works. All we want to do is strive to give back to God some fraction of what has been so generously and freely given to us. Praise acknowledges we are God’s creations and not our own. We recognize a being much greater than ourselves choreographs this spectacular universe.
The most intriguing prayer to me is the prayer of meditation. We bring our hearts and minds to God without an agenda of any kind. We don’t even speak. We merely abide, listen, and remain fully present, creating the space for God’s soft voice to be heard. We are still and mindfully alert. It is wonderful to implement a meditation practice, but we can pray this way anytime, under any circumstance, just by choosing to stop for a moment, be still, pause, and listen.
When all is said and done, prayer doesn’t have to be arduous and time consuming. My favorite shortcut to feeling connected to God and finding peace, acceptance, and restful calm is simply to recite one or both these little prayers:
- Thy Will Be Done
- Be Still and Know That I Am God