Okay, I'm a few hours early with this post. It's for tomorrow, Friday. But hey, early is sometimes good and, in this case, better than late.
One of the most intimate of personal faith experiences is that of prayer. It is in prayer that we are strolling, if you will, with God; strolling along, talking with each other as we go.
Presbyterians — indeed, all Christians — are people of prayer, born in it, nurtured by it. I am very much the product of the prayers of my parents. Yet, prayer is one of those things we often find most difficult.
When we read in the gospels of our Lord engaging in those long sessions of prayer and contemplation, our reaction very often is, "Heck, I couldn't do that. I don't have the dedication, nor the inclination. I'm more apt to do like the disciples and fade off to sleep. Besides, who has time, what with the responsibilities of work and family?"
The great Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote that prayer is a "strong wall and fortress of the church." It is that for the individual Christian, too. He also said, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."
Can you, can I, survive on breathing only once a week? Even once a day?
Jesus, we read in the Gospel of St. Luke, 18:1, "...told his disciples a parable [the persistent widow] to show them that they should always be praying and not give up." Consistent, continual prayer is the kind of prayer where we are keenly aware of God's gracious presence in our lives, no matter what posture our bodies happen to be in.
Through Paul's instructions to the Thessalonian Christians, we are encouraged to "pray without ceasing."
When we boil it all down, prayer is simply an awareness of God's presence in our lives and our response to that presence. Far too often we think of it as providing God with a shopping list. But think for a minute of the most significant person in your life, a wife or husband or life partner, perhaps a parent or child — what would your relationship be like if it consisted solely in asking each other to do something? Wouldn't be much of a relationship, I'd venture to guess.
No, a loving, intimate relationship involves much more; it involves, at times, simply being in each others' presence; it involves the sharing of deep intimacies; it involves communicating with each other, expressing the core of that relationship — love — in a myriad of ways.
We can think of prayer like that. Sometimes our prayer experience might simply be a sense of being the loving presence of God and responding to that loving presence with our own expression of love. Sometimes our prayer might be sharing with God those things we dare not or can not or will not share with any other. That's prayer.
As an aside, consider this: the key to a successful church is not huge crowds, nor is it a vital and lively youth or missions program; it is not an exciting praise band or a charismatic leader/preacher. No, it is simply this: that we pray; that we, in the worlds of Luther, breathe — individually and as a congregation.