I had a very interesting discussion at lunch today about prayer. I was eating with a group of Interfaith Clergywomen and the subject came up in connection to a family health crisis that one of our group members recently experienced. The subject of prayer was discussed from several different faith traditions and it was interesting how we all viewed prayer as essential but also from very different perspectives, in some ways.
I have been on the receiving end of prayer on numerous occasions in my life. I have had people praying for my health, for my job situation, for my family, for my ministry, and for many other reasons and occasions. I felt those prayers each and every time. I felt them profoundly and personally. There were times when I felt totally enveloped by those prayers. The power of those prayers cannot be understated.
And I have prayed for others. I have prayed with families before surgery on a loved one, I have prayed at death beds of church members, I have prayed with several youths about a crisis going on in their lives, I have prayed at civic events and public memorials, and I have prayed at many family meals in gratitude for all of the blessings we have received in our lives. I have prayed for so many people in so many different circumstances that it boggles the mind. I have prayed for God’s presence in their lives, for them to feel God’s embrace, and for God’s will to be done. But I try not to ask for specifics. I have never prayed for a specific job, a specific outcome, or for a new pony, but I know others do and I respect their understanding of prayer. It’s just not mine.
The questions come when one asks – what became of those prayers? Did someone who prayed for me to find a job actually make that happen? Did someone who prayed for my son during his surgery last year make it easier for his recovery to happen? Did my prayer affect the outcome of someone’s medical tests? Or did those prayers simply affect how we felt during those times? Did they cause us to feel more connected to a community of faith and support, thereby feeling less isolated and alone? Did those prayers cause the events to change as they were uttered?
I once heard a friend’s young child pray to God for a baby brother. Her mother asked her, “Do you really think God is going to send you a baby brother? That’s not actually how it works, honey.” The child looked at her and said, “I know, but it can’t hurt to have God on my side.”
I agree. I always want God on my side – and believe God is. But I also believe nothing we say or do in prayer changes how God is with us. God is present with me always -- just as God is always present with others. I pray to feel closer to God, to feel more connected to my community, to release my cares into God’s hands, and to remind myself of how I need to be present for others.
I am not diminishing the power of prayer – I believe it is enormously powerful. But I also do not think prayer is a magic bullet to make things change course simply by our words. I pray because the power of prayer is real.
I pray – often. I pray because I believe it is important. I pray because I believe the power of God in our lives is phenomenal. I pray ... because prayer is part of me. I pray because I believe it makes a difference.
So … I pray.