Jesus was praying in a certain place and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples. (Luke 11:1)
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving; let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
According to Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn once explored the effectiveness of prayer, but found that it came up lacking. Huck says:
Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whenever I asked for I would get. But it wasn’t so. I tried it. Once I got as fishline, but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me but she said I was a fool. She never told me why and I couldn’t make it out no way. I set down one tine back in the woods and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it.”
I wonder how many people have come to the same conclusion about prayer as Huck Finn. “There ain’t nothing in it. But the problem Huck had, and I suspect the problem many people have today, is that the thing they have rejected is not prayer at all but that their prayer didn’t give the answer they wanted. Maybe, like Huck, we’re praying for the wrong thing.
It may not always be easy to know what prayer is, but I can talk about some of the things that prayer is not.
Prayer is not magic. I have seen David Copperfield and I am amazed at his abilities. I saw where he floated with seemingly no wires or ropes holding him. He even passed a hoop over himself to prove that to the audience. I have no idea how he can do this. Many people think that prayer is magic. That all we need to say is “Lord, I need and want” and like magic it is done. But even in my worse moments, I know that prayer is not magic.
Prayer is not a childhood ritual. Some people still repeat the prayers of childhood and though I believe any kind of prayer is better than none at all, I find that it is much more difficult to do. If for no other reason than getting up and down from that kneeling position is not so easy anymore. Probably not as graceful either.
Prayer is not a transaction. God is not an ATM. Some of us would like to go there and put our card in and push the button for forgiveness or the one for salvation or the next one for faithfulness, you get the picture. Just like Huck, I can truly say there ain’t nothing in that! Prayer is not a transaction.
Prayer is not a spiritual luxury. It is essential for growth. Prayer is vital to our spiritual health, just like breathing is to our physical health.
One of the more interesting funnies that I received on the computer read as follows: “Please God. If you can’t make me think, could you make my friends FAT!” And if that is what I pray, I might too believe like Huck Finn, that there ain’t nothing in it.
Prayer is universal. It knows no geographical, racial or ethnic lines. Prayer is heard from every person by God. Prayer is an activity that can be done anywhere anytime. God will meet you and me wherever we find ourselves.
Too many of our prayers are all about us and that can be hurtful to our ministry because the greater part of our ministry for others is done while praying. As simple as it is, we sometimes feel that prayer is something that takes place in a certain setting or in a certain way. I believe the most holy words are sometimes be heard only by the one making the noise!
Luke says for the sake of appearance they say long prayers. We seldom ever do that, right? Sometimes we get so involved in our own voices, we forget for whom or what we are praying. It doesn’t matter how flowery our words are or even what our words may say. I believe in prayer as in life, it matters little what is in front of us or behind us, but what is within us.
Prayer makes a difference and it is a privilege. Prayer is an honest conversation with God and we know that honest conversation is one of the most useful tools in our relationship with God and with others.
So often I feel I pray the “gimme prayer.” We should know what that is. You know the words: “Lord give me this or that.” We may use more appropriate words like, life if it be thy will, could you help me with a new house or the lottery or a new car. You know that prayer.
We often forget our prayers should be giving thanks for our health, our family, or church and even for our difficulties because without them we do not grow.
Paul wrote in Colossians, Chapter 4, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.” Paul was a servant of prayer. He developed spiritually through prayer and Paul prescribes it for all people.
Jesus’ genuine humanity is emphasized by the act of praying. In Mark 6 it says “After saying farewell to his disciples, he went to the mountain to pray.” Jesus was a master of the art of prayer. Jesus did not teach the disciples how to preach but how to pray. Power through prayer is the first thing Jesus taught.
When we pray, Jesus can enter our life and relationship with each other and with God in very special ways. And while it is a blessing to us it is a joy to God.
Think of prayer as the keys on a piano. There is no right or wrong key. Every single key is right at one time or another. Prayer is not any one set of words; it is all words at different times. Just like the keys of the piano are correct at some time.
Why pray? Prayer makes a difference. I can’t tell you how it works but unlike Huck Finn, I know it works. I know that circumstances change when people pray. The circumstances change, hearts are softened and needs are met. I know that when I pray for others, it helps then. But I also know that when I pray, I am changed.
Why pray? So that we know that God’s love is new each day. We pray because it is the most amazing way for us to bring God’s love to us all.
Ordained in August 2006, Rev. Suzie Chamness served as Senior Pastor of Spirit of Life MCC of New Port Richey, Fla., beginning in 2009, having served as volunteer clergy for the congregational care ministry at King of Peace MCC and as chaplain at Bon Secours Maria Manor senior care facility, both in St. Petersburg, Fla. In June 2006 she earned a masters of divinity degree from the Florida Center for Theological Studies in Miami, followed by a doctorate in ministry from Andersonville Theological Seminary.