How Did I Miss That?
Part 25: Prayer is a Way of Life
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought. Romans 8:26
For most of my life, prayer occurred at a specified time or event, or it was something I carved out a special time for from the rest of my day. It was how I was taught. We prayed before meals – head bowed, hands folded – at bedtime – kneeling at the edge of my bed – and during church. Most prayers were recited by rote, saying the same words each time. It seemed more like a redundant formality than an expression of sincere need or gratitude.
As I got older, my prayers became more conversational. Particularly in my bachelor days when I spent large swaths of time alone, I found myself in conversations with God. Most of the time it was a one-way conversation – I talked and assumed God was listening. There were times, however, I believe God answered. God’s answers did not come as spoken responses, however, nor did they arrive according to my preferred timeline. Rather, they came at unpredictable times as an inspiration or an intuition that helped me see an issue in a new way. Answers came with expansions of my awareness, making me believe the reason I could not hear God earlier was because I prejudged the answer. In other words, if God did not seem to answer, the problem was not because God did not answer, but because God answered in a way I was not ready or capable to accept. Like most stumbling blocks in my life, the problem within myself must first be identified and resolved.
Paul’s exhortation in his first letter to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” seemed ridiculous. How could anyone devote his or her entire life to praying? As long as prayer is an interruption to one’s day, there can be no simultaneous living and praying. A clue to the resolution of this dilemma is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “…we do not know how to pray as we ought.” The challenge is not that we must take more time out of our day to pray; rather, we must find ways to live our days in a more prayerful manner.
For most of my life, I used prayer judiciously. After all, I did not want to draw too much divine attention to some of what I did. When I was in trouble, when I was sad, when I was lost or broken, I would turn to God in prayer. I think it is a safe bet that God does not want to only be our God in our times of difficulty. I believe God experiences creation through us. Assuming that is the case, why would God only want to experience the difficult times? If our good times consist of actions we feel God would not want to experience with us, we need either rethink our actions or rethink our understanding of the nature of God.
As I mentioned some weeks ago, sin is that which separates us from God and others. If God wants to experience life with and through us, our sin keeps that from happening. It is not that sin prevents God from experiencing with and through us, but our sin prevents us from experiencing God experiencing with and through us. In other words, we suffer twice – first from the separation caused by our sin, and second by not being consciously aware of our communion with the accepting, encouraging presence of God. Emmanuel, God with us, is not something that happens when we become holier. Emmanuel has been with us since our birth. Prayer is communion with God. In order to experience God in a conscious way, we must keep ourselves in the ever-flowing rhythm of the divine and, thus, aware of God’s constant presence. In the process, our entire life becomes one unceasing prayer.
Prayer is a way of life. How did I miss that?