What is prayer?By Christine Sine
As many of you know I am working on a new book, Return to Your Senses: Reimagining How We Pray. Part of what I am grappling with in the book is the question “what is prayer?” For some of us prayer is confined to intercession. For others it focuses on meditation. For some it is always spoken in the mind. For others it must be shouted out loud to be effective. Usually our concepts of prayer revolve around words and responses, which I think is part of the challenge we face.
There are probably more books written on prayer than any other Christian topic, yet we still come to Jesus regularly asking: Teach us to pray. The problem is that prayer is not about words but about relationship, and relationships are constantly growing, changing and requiring new ways of interacting. The speaking of words can become rote and repetitive, even boring at times; the developing of relationship requires flexibility, creativity and constant willingness to change and to grow.
What the disciples saw in Jesus’ prayer life that they craved because it was so different from what they had grown up with was the deep and personal intimacy with God that was at its heart. I think they also craved a prayer life that did not depend on rituals performed at certain times of the day but rather was based on a whole new way of looking at the world. The disciples longed for a relationship with God that wove through every part of their lives. They wanted to develop the same dynamic, living relationship with God that Jesus had and realized that to acquire it they needed to learn not just new techniques for prayer but a whole new understanding of prayer.
Madame Guyon defines prayer as “an exercise in love.” Richard Foster conceptualizes prayer as “finding the heart’s true home.” I imagine prayer as any process that draws us back into the garden of God where we walk and talk and commune with God in a place of abundance and peace and harmony for all. I imagine prayer as a new way of looking and listening and interacting with the world so that we are constantly uncovering the presence of God which shines through every moment and enlivens every creature.
This kind of understanding of prayer is a constant journey of discovery that demands we give God our full attention in each moment. It is not easy. We are so easily distracted by busyness and worry and work. We are so easily waylaid by the needs of the world and our desire to find solutions. We definitely need to come back to Jesus for a new understanding of prayer.
A good place to start is with this quote from Elaine Heath in her helpful book The Mystic Way of Evangelism: “When we come home to the love of God everything changes, beginning with how we pray. Prayer is now at its foundation a contemplative soaking in the infinite love of God. All our intercessions and thanksgivings and wordless cries now issue from the molten core of contemplative prayer. Prayer has become the vital breath, the heartbeat of divine energy without which we cannot live.”
So what are your thoughts? What is prayer?
Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates, a small organization founded by her and her husband, Tom Sine, to assist churches and Christian organizations to engage the challenges of the 21st century. She writes at God Space, where this post originally appeared.
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