Prayer: A gift. A blessing. The essential practice that is often squeezed out by our individual and corporate sense of priorities. (Although I encounter it less frequently than in the past, I still witness some church committees or boards that resist devotional time because they are there to "get things done"). I won't go into all of the obstacles that folks present when talking about their prayer life. I will simply make this statement:
We are called to pray although we cannot fully understand its power.
We are called to pray in all circumstances. We pray for others or about situations, and we pray for our "selves" as we walk in time and space. Without prayer we are doomed to relying upon our own understanding of matters - such folly!
Still, as I sit across the table from others and we wonder about what God is doing, (the focus of a spiritual direction session) there simply seems to be no infallible way to pin down the way that prayer functions. Prayer is one of the deepest and broadest of mysteries. It is the venue of conversation between creator and the created. It is a blessing given by God, that we are to accept even though we can't fully understand how it works. And it is so much more than something we "do". It is a way of being!
As we reflect upon our prayer life questions may arise about God's involvement in human matters. We look at what seems to be going on, wondering about what is REALLY going on. Our most well laid plans can be shaped differently (and mysteriously) as we look deeply at what is happening (looking deeply is prayer!)
Joy erupts even when happiness is not present. Dreams come true that were previously sketchy hopes. We tell stories of redemption...health restored... or renewed relationships. And then there are other experiences that stimulate our prayer that have been horrible...nightmarish...painful...tragic.
As we pray about those situations we vacillate between gratitude for unimaginable blessings and a sort of confused wonderment about why unexpected and seemingly unprecedented burdens come our way. Together our hearts and voices wonder why this happens now, or how long it will go on before peace and wholeness will return.
When something good happens that seems to defy all odds, we lift our hearts and praise God. We recognize an inbreaking of God's grace. We know deliverance has occurred. We say to ourselves, to each another, and to God: "It's a miracle! How amazing! This is truly a God-send." Our reality in this case seems far better than our reason could have predicted.
But when things go suddenly go wrong, or when painful challenges go on, and on, with no relief or resolution in sight, we ask ourselves, one another and God: "Where is God in this? Why isn't God intervening?" Our reality has no alignment with what our hearts and minds might hope for, plan for, pray for (and perhaps even expect.)
A young woman suffers from untreatable brain cancer. A major highway bridge in collapses during rush hour. A crazed gunman unleashes fire on a college campus. A toddler disappears. A person who has always lived an incredibly good, selfless life is faced with a lingering disease that ravages the body without the quick relief of death.
It is understandable that the child of God would ask: where are you? How long will this go on? We want the questions to be answered so we can return to life of harmony between our reality and the deepest desire of our heart.
So we pray. And there is power. How does that work? What changes when we pray?
Here's one way: Prayer transforms our focus as we move (ever so gradually) from listing the gravity and intensity of our various pains to an awareness of God's mysterious presence. We move from telling God how large our petitions or concerns are to telling our burdened hearts and souls how vast and how deep God's love is.
Prayer translates human experiences of glorious joy or wrenching pain into something that our minds may never understand. But our heart, the space each of us recognizes as that which swells with joy or breaks with sorrow, KNOWS when we have moved from the limits of human perception to the mysterious realm of faith. Our heart recognizes extraordinary miracles. Our heart recognizes reassurance that confronts fear, exhaustion, confusion, grief, exhaustion -- any burden cast upon the human condition.
Prayer is the gift given to each of us by God, revealed to us through so many of the words spoken by Jesus, that opens the portal of human awareness to God's presence and involvement with our day, whether it is a day of joy or of sorrow.
I doubt that our prayer makes God become MORE involved -- I KNOW that our prayer is the way WE become more keenly aware of God's involvement in all times, all places and all situations.