Why Pray?

Why Pray? November 16, 2011
Noah prays, from the catacombs in Rome (WikiCommons)

Today, I’m starting a new book.  It’s tentatively titled, Why Pray?, and it’s going to be my attempt answer this question for myself.  It’s a question that, quite honestly, I don’t have an answer for.  I hope that by the end of writing the book, I will.

If you pray, you’ve probably got an answer.  I’d like to hear it.  You can comment here, or in subsequent posts.  You can answer my questions on Facebook.  You can tweet me an answer using the hashtag #whypray.  You can also join and follow the story I’m building using Storify.

Truly, I’d love your help. Thanks.

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  • Best form of communication with God… I find it relaxing and good for the soul too. Nothing like a bit of time talking to God alone. 🙂

  • Prayer is the one place where utility isn’t an issue. That is so important in a society that is obsessed with the utility of everything. Prayer just is. It is a chance to be present to yourself and to God with no sense that anything has to (or even should) happen.

    Yet, at the same time, prayer is the place, and this is the mystery of it, where often so much does happen. That is the cruciform aspect of prayer – it is not strength or great actions that prayer requires, rather, it is willingness to join with God (and by extension the world) in suffering, groaning and longing. Prayer is of the weak things of the world, it is counter-intuitive, yet in it we join in God’s redemptive work. Prayer, despite its ineffectiveness becomes profoundly effective as it takes form in our lives.

    In my courses on spirituality I teach that spiritual acts, like prayer, are meaning forming activities. But these acts do not overtly function as a meaning forming activities. In fact when we make that their utility they cease to function. It seems to me that we can’t force meaning in ourselves, but we always form meaning within ourselves. In the Vineyard we talk about things that are caught, not taught. I think this is an apt way to describe prayer.

    I’ve always prayed, even when I was far from God (God, it seems, has never been far from me). I’m certain that prayer is why I am the person I am today. Maybe I’m biased because I cannot imagine not praying.

    Another thing, I am as guilty as the next person of conflating petition with prayer – however, the only reason I feel any confidence to ask anything of God is because I pray. If we are not willing to pray when we ask how will we ever know if we are to be the answer to our own petitions?

    Can you tell I’ve been reading Sobrino recently?

  • Charles

    Prayer seems to be the topic of the day on a number of sites today. On Mere C. S. Lewis this quote on prayer was posted today –

    “Prayer: experiencing the three-personal God
    What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God—that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying — the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on — the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kinds of life — what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.”

    Quotes from Mere Christianity, Part 63
    C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 163.

    ” … pulled into God, by God …” gives me something to think about today.

    {ubi caritas}

  • Traci Smith

    I pray because sometimes (not all the time, sometimes) I can hear the voice of God when I’m praying. Sounds corny, perhaps. But true.

  • Scott

    Truthfully, I’m pleasantly surprised that you will write on this subject. Having attended S.P. over the last few weeks, the most striking thing about the services is that utter absence of prayer. Might have been a fluke, but glad to see that you are addressing the issue.

    • Yeah, Scott, we don’t pray that much in the worship gatherings at SP. Or, I should say, we don’t pray *explicitly.* Doug and I would argue that our songs are prayers, as are our sermons, announcements, and creeds.

      • Scott

        Why don’t you pray *explicitly*?

        • Scott

          How we worship explicitly reveals our theology.

      • Carla

        I disagree with Tony. I absolutely see how it seems as though we don’t pray at S.P. but we do begin every gathering with an explicit communal prayer that God will be revealed in our time together and that we will move out of that time as a benefit and blessing to all the world. Last week we prayed over baby Henry and most weeks we send someone off with prayer or pray for a guest’s ministry. We end communion with a reading from Jude that serves as a prayer for our life together. And yes, our songs are very much prayers of longing, of hope, of pain. We don’t necessarily label all of these as prayer, but I think of them as prayer just the same.

        I don’t mean to sound defensive Scott and you’re not the first person to wonder when we pray. It’s an area of growth for us and it matters a lot to many people in the community. This summer there was a group meeting to explore ways we could better incorporate prayer into our gatherings and life as a community. I don’t know if they’re still meeting, but if there are it might be of interest to you.

        • You do sound defensive, Carla.

          My point is that we don’t often pray in the conventional sense that most people expect. I am in full agreement with you that our entire gathering is prayer.

          • Carla

            I’m not being defensive, you’re being defensive 🙂

            See, I don’t think the whole thing is prayer. I think we have very specific, intentional, explicit times of prayer–the invocation being the most obvious–that we don’t label prayer so they get missed. Like so much else we do, it’s up to people to figure out what’s what.

            But really, that’s kind of the beauty of prayer, isn’t it? What feels like prayer for you doesn’t necessarily feel like prayer for me and vice versa. We both find places of connection with God over the course of the gathering–sometimes they’re the same, but most of the time I would guess they aren’t. I think it would be weird if we all had the same experiences at the same time for the same reasons.

            • I agree with paragraph two, Carla, but not paragraph one. The explicit times of prayer are, IMHO, infrequent and not that explicit. I’m NOT saying that we should change that — I personally think that we pray just enough. I just think that you and I, as leaders in the community, can admit that the lack of what I’m calling “explicit prayer” is surely offputting to some visitors.

  • Simon

    They “why” of prayer is a lot simpler that the “what is prayer?” question, or “what does prayer do…”

    This syllogism works for me:

    We are Christians
    Chritians pray
    Therefore we pray

    Putting the question into the realm of prayer as a spiritual praxis of those on the Way of Jesus can be a unifying theme between Christian’s of many stripe. As Pete Rollins says – who cares what you think you think – what matters is what you do. And prayer is something that the followers of Jesus have always done and will always do.

    Bit like breaking bread, peacemaking and giving to the poor then – the why is less important that the fact of doing it.

  • Pingback: Carl Gregg » #WhyPray?()

  • Carla

    Yes–I agree with you there.

  • Tony, I can’t get this out of my head — asking me why I pray is like asking me why I talk with my wife. As an Incarnational Christian, why wouldn’t I carry on an ongoing pray-without-ceasing conversation with the One who I have invited into the dream house of my soul that He created? He created me with the full intention of moving in. We live together. Of course we talk to each other. Am I missing something here?

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