This weeks 'thought' is by Philip Yancey, and has to do with prayer, or specifically, how to pray correctly. Actually, it suggests we may need to move beyond even thinking there is a "correct" way to pray which everyone who prays needs to adopt at all times. In fact, he suggests that when we push forth the idea that there is only one correct way to pray, or that we must do it as so-and-so did it, we can actually inhibit a prayerful spirit and authentic praying. It comes from his book, "Grace Notes" - one of the better devotional books I've read lately. Enjoy.
" 'I'll never pray like Martin Luther... I'll never have the spirit of Mother Teresa.' Agreed. We are not called to duplicate someone else on earth but to realize our authentic selves. 'For me to be a saint means for me to be myself,' said Thomas Merton.
I learned long ago that I could never match my wife's instinctive skills as a social worker or hospice chaplain. When I meet with someone in dire straits, I start to interview them. When my wife meets them, she immediately tunes in to their concerns. Our prayer practices reflect another difference: I tend to pray in scheduled, ordered times while she prays in spurts throughout the day.
Apart from the requirement that we be authentic before God, there is no prescribed way to pray. Each of us presents a unique mix of personality, outlook, training, gifts, and weaknesses, as well as a unique history with church and with God. As Roberta Bondi says, 'If you are praying, you are already doing it right.'
Over the years the church has repeatedly shifted its empahsis in prayer. Early Christians prayed for strength and courage. Then the state church composed majestic prayers. The Middle Ages stressed penitence and a plea for mercy. Later, Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux led a rediscovery of the love and mercy of God, and St. Francis called forth a carefree joy. Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and the Quaker George Fox explored the interior, mystical silence of the heart, while Brother Lawrence practiced God's presence while doing mundane work. Luther steered toward practical devotion, even as Calvin emphasized the majesty of God.
The diversity continues today. I have stood in a Russian Orthodox cathedral and watched grandmothers weep though they understood barely a word of the Old Slavonic prayers. I have listened as Korean Presbyterians in Chicago sang hymns and prayed loudly through the night. In some African-American churches, you can barely hear the prayer for all the cries of 'Amen!' and 'Now listen, Lord!' In Japan, during congregational prayer, everyone prays at once, aloud. Members of a Chinese house church in Germany continue the stringent practices of the mother country, sometimes praying three days straight while fasting. In Ukraine worshippers stand to pray, while in Africa they dance."
Prayer does not come natural to us, any more than 'taking every thought and making it obedient to Christ' comes naturally to us (II Cor. 10:5) - which is part of what praying accomplishes. Therefore, some type of instructional training, method or help in developing prayer into a spiritual habit or discipline is helpful - since regular periods of time spent with God are indispensable to the nurture and growth of our relationship with Christ.
Yet what we often fail to see is that prayer can be carried out in many ways - I'm one who believes it should be - if we are to keep it fresh and vibrant and meaningful. Sometimes I feel led to sing hymns to God during my prayer time. Sometimes I read and own and voice back to God prayers which others have written. Sometimes I kneel, and sometimes I lay prostrate on the floor, and sometimes I stand with arms raised. Sometimes I focus on entering God's presence with confidence, and other times I will simply plead, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I have shouted in prayer, though I've never danced (although I'm sure its not wrong)! My preferred demeanor before God is to focus on the divine injunction to, "be still and know that I am God" (Ps.46:10) -- though its never limited to that.
If, as they say, "variety is the spice of life," then it would make sense to avail oneself of the many different methods, and forms, and postures, and mental and emotional focuses of prayer, be it silent or audible, in song or dance, kneeling or standing, joyful or reverent. Yet whatever it is, it should always an honest expression of where we are at on that particular day.
The point after all is to pray, and to pray always, remembering as Roberta Bondi says, 'If you are praying, you are already doing it right.'
With prayers that we would respond more frequently to God's inward calls to prayer,