It amused me to see a report on the television last week, that much to the annoyance of many secularists in the media, one of the most asked questions on google was “How do I pray?” It might seem a bit strange for people to be turning to the internet for inspiration on how to pray, but if you were to look it up yourself, you would find many thousands of ideas and suggestions. The saying, ‘God works in mysterious ways’ springs to mind, but then again we are sitting right in the middle of a time where the Mass can be found online from a wide range of sources. And when times are tough, prayer can be the comfort and inspiration that keeps many people going.
I see any way that encourages and enables people to engage with their spiritual self, and the recognition that God may be able to play a greater part in their lives, has got to be positive. But I also think that the Holy Spirit isn’t too far away from these people as well.
So is it possible to teach someone how to pray? It is true that we can teach others the words of prayers, but is simply knowing the words and reciting them either out loud, or to myself, praying? For me, praying is part of the manifestation of my ongoing relationship with God. Prayer isn’t simply about saying prescribed words, but rather enables me to spend some time in conversation. At times the set prayers of the church enable me to focus and form a framework for my conversation. And as with every other conversation it is only that, if I do some listening as well. The power of silence is also a good aid to prayer. However the most important part of the puzzle is the realisation that prayer is something that is personal between God and myself. That relationship is unique, like no other, and prayer is a means by which it is deepened.
When the apostles asked Jesus, “teach us how to pray”, His response came in the basis of the prayer we know as the Our Father. Rather than just being a a few words of praise or pleading for help, Jesus gave them the blueprint for daily Christian living. The words of the Our Father are for us an invitation, if you like a starting point, to deepen our relationship with God the Father. They aren’t just words, but an opportunity to reflect on how we live our lives. When did I last take the time to sit in silence and reflect on the words of the Our Father, in the context of my day to day activities?
I recently saw that somebody had tried to create a pie chart diagram that attempted to determine different categories of prayer. By far the biggest slice was titled ‘asking prayers’. They then went on, rather critically, to make the accusation that most people only turn to prayer in times of need or anxiety. When they want to achieve something, or want to control a situation. When God is their last hope.
Some might think this is hypocritical, but I tend to look at it more as being a gateway, an opportunity to let God into their lives. Their own unique relationship with God is expressed and revealed at these times - what is shows us, because we believe He is always listening, is that everyone has the chance to be in their relationship with God. It’s not for me to make judgement about that bond.
Prayer means so many different things to so many different people. When I hear the often used phrase, “Our thoughts and prayers are with ......” I can’t help but sometimes wonder what that means to the person or organisation using it. It would be wrong to judge, but I hope it means that they are commending whoever, to the loving care of God Himself.
So if someone was to ask you, “How do I pray?” What would your response be?
Deacon Ian Black