What is Prayer?

Prayer is the purposeful reaching towards another person. This reaching may be intelligible and verbally articulated words, or may be less than verbal. You cannot pray to an impersonal object, but only to a person.

Why is prayer relevant to you?

1 We are commanded to pray by God:
 Jn 14:14; James 1:1-7; 1 Cor 1:2Eph 5:19Acts 8:22.

2 Virtue requires integrity. Integrity is a type of unity of the mind, body and spirit. And though we, in our fallen state, are not capable of perfect unity, we can struggle in activities that focus us on God which unifies us through Christ. Fervent prayer is the unifying reaching to God.

3 Wisdom and reality require mindfulness. Mindfulness requires careful attention. Attending to reality as it is rather than as we want it to be requires artful skills of reasoning and discerning. Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeks and intermeddles with all wisdom. A fool has no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself (Proverbs 18).

Separating yourself through discernment and unifying yourself through prayer are both connected to wisdom. It is very difficult to have a lifelong and healthy prayer-life and remain a fool for long. This is because prayer forces a person to consult his conscience and articulate his needs, problems, struggles, and gratitude.

O creator past all telling,
you have appointed from the treasures of your wisdom
the hierarchies of angels,
disposing them in wondrous order
above the bright heavens,
and have so beautifully set out all parts of the universe.
You we call the true fount of wisdom
and the noble origin of all things.
Be pleased to shed
on the darkness of mind in which I was born,
The twofold beam of your light
and warmth to dispel my ignorance and sin.
You make eloquent the tongues of children.
Then instruct my speech
and touch my lips with graciousness.
Make me keen to understand, quick to learn,
able to remember;
make me delicate to interpret and ready to speak.
 Guide my going in and going forward,lead home my going forth.You are true God and true man, and live for ever and ever.
–St Thomas Aquinas, 1225-74

Popular Non-Sense About Prayer

1 Prayer is locally testable

Nobody can prove that prayer doesn’t work, nor can anyone provide compelling support that prayer works in an empirical sense that conforms to a prediction-manipulation-verification-repetition method i.e. the scientific method. God is not beneath the purview of human manipulation, and therefore is not an object that can be empirically manipulated. This is often misunderstood on both sides of the theological fence. Atheists try to test something that by definition should not be humanly manipulable, and some mistaken Christians argue that prayer is something that we command. We don’t always know, precisely, every reason why we pray, day-to-day. 

2 People who pray to God are weak and superstitious

a Humility is the willingness to occupy a role of low prestige, and as such, the opposite of pride (not to be confused with self-esteem). Humility is a virtue that exemplifies a kind of quiet strength and value that needs no support from others. A humble person is wise enough to know the difference between being right from being popular. 

b Honest prayer requires the strength to wrestle with reality and conscience. A person that is incapable of prayer and reflection is so fundamentally weak, that cowardice prevents them from looking inside. The capacity to habitually pray is the opposite of weakness, but reflects the strength to wrestle with weakness itself.  

3 There is magic system of prayer to leverage God

We are commanded to pray, and God promises us that He hears us, but the results that we ask for are not in any way guaranteed, nor our escape from the immediate suffering at hand. In fact, your suffering may actually be increased when you pray. But suffering, if it is instrumental to your improvement, is a good thing. Don’t think that there is a magic recipe to force God into your service. Prayer is for you, not God, and 99 out of 100 times, there are problems with our mind and heart that need addressing, which have little or nothing to do with external conditions.  

 

Free Resources:

Itunes has a ton of great lectures from Universities and Seminaries. Here are a few that I have checked out already:

Videos

Spurgeon is a classic preacher whose words are powerful, intelligible and incisive. Here is a segment of one of his treatments on prayer:

 

Hauerwas is a Christian philosopher who often discusses suffering with the mentally handicapped. This is useful to open the discussion of prayer, and avoid a lot of nonsense about ‘finding the magic recipe to make God do what you want’. However, Hauerwas doesn’t define prayer.

 

 

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