Pray!

by K.W. Leslie, 26 April

Prayer is talking with God. No more; no less; that’s all.

Yeah, you’d be surprised how many people, including us Christians, claim it’s way more, and way more complicated, than that. To them, prayer is a profound mystical and spiritual undertaking. It’s a connection with God which links our entire being to him. Done right, we don’t just communicate with him, but commune with him; we become one with him. It must only be done thoughtfully, seriously, soberly, and ritually. Only then will it work.

Thing is, when you’re just talking with anyone, like your parents, kids, spouse, best friend, whomever: Sometimes these conversations can likewise feel like a profound thing. Sometimes you feel so connected with them, you feel like you’ve connected on multiple deep levels; you might even feel like you’re one with them. These conversations work. That’s why we can say the very same things about praying to God—because it is the very same thing.

These folks simply have an over-romanticized, over-spiritualized idea of what prayer is. Which is why they’re so loath to give up the idea and admit we’re just talking.

Our English word “pray” used to mean “beg,” as in the King James Version’s many uses of “I pray thee.” Ge 18.3 KJV, etc. Most instances of “pray” in the Old Testament have to do with begging God—same as a lot of instances nowadays. Most prayers are requests. Nothing wrong with that, but this idea of begging is pretty deeply embedded in our ideas about prayer. Begging is why humans have all these rituals and postures involved with praying: It’s what humans demand of the people who came to them with requests. They want us to humiliate ourselves and suck up to them. So we basically teach our fellow Christians we oughta approach God the very same way.

And we don’t need to. God is not a dick!

Hebrews 4.15 KJV
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Y’know what “coming boldly unto the throne” means? It’s not like serfs approaching their feudal lord, with bows and curtseys and facing the ground lest they make eye contact. It’s like when the lord’s 5-year-old daughter comes into the room, climbs into his lap, and hugs him while he’s trying to be all lordly—and he lets her ’cause he loves her. We don’t have to be formal and ritualistic with God when we pray: He’s our dad. Acting like he’s not—like he’s that feudal lord whom we have to appease before we can get anything out of him—means we don’t really know him at all.

And not all prayer consists of begging God for stuff. Sometimes we’re thanking him. Sometimes it’s praise. Sometimes apologies: We screwed up, and we’re acknowledging this. Sometimes we’re sharing with him what we’re going through, or venting our frustrations or outrage. Sometimes we have questions and know God has answers.

Basically all the same reasons we humans talk to one another, we talk with God.

Yeah, sometimes prayer even consists of lying and gossip. Shouldn’t, but we don’t always realize what we should and shouldn’t tell him. But even so: Prayer is just talking.

Talking with God. Not just at him.

I describe prayer as talking with God, because prayer is conversation. It’s meant to be, anyway.

Too many Christians treat prayer as if it’s one-way: We talk to God, and we says… nothing. Absolutely nothing. May as well be talking to a stone. Like one of those idols which don’t do anything because that god’s not real.

Ancient pagans had that problem (and today’s pagans still do), so they had to invent “omens” which meant their gods (or for pagans today, “the universe”) were talking with them. Some of that mindset has leaked into Christianity. Hence there are Christians that’ll no-fooling tell you God only communicates nowadays through signs. Never speech. He did speech back in bible times, but not anymore. All that prophecy stuff stopped as soon as Revelation got written.

This thinking is not only wrong, it’s dangerously wrong. Assuming God never talks back means we’re gonna reach a point—everyone does—where we wanna hear from him so bad, we start interpreting a lot of meaningless coincidences as if they’re meaningful messages from him. “Look, a white cat just crossed my path! This means something!… Um… God must want me to murder a white man?” No. Bad Christian. Stop that.

God doesn’t play charades. Yet pagans and Christians alike claim he does. Which makes them very susceptible to any con artist or devil to take advantage of them, and lead ’em even more astray than they’re already leading themselves. Don’t go there with them. It’s a game you’ll always lose. Listen for God. He’ll answer.

When I tell people we can hear God, often they mockingly reply, “You mean he speaks to you in an audible voice?” Um… okay, sure. In an audible voice. In perfect King James Version style English. In a rich baritone. Sounds like Morgan Freeman.

Nah, but seriously. God does speak back, and how he does it most of the time is through your spirit.

You have a spirit. So do I. So does every human. If you’re new to this Christianity stuff, you may not know anything about it or how it works. That’s okay. You’ll learn. Practice makes better.

God is spirit. Jn 4.24 Spirit isn’t physical: It’s not made of atoms and molecules. I won’t presume to guess what it is made of, for God hasn’t said. (Although some Christians claim he told them—and no he didn’t, ’cause their explanations are too stupid to have come from God.) Best not to speculate, and get the wrong idea. Just remember: Spirit isn’t physical. Hence an audible voice, which is physical (two physical objects smack together and make a soundwave) isn’t God’s usual means of communication. He can talk that way, just like I could communicate through an airhorn in Morse code if I really had to. But more often he just speaks to us spiritually, in a way our spirits can pick up.

Listening to your spirit is tricky, and will take a series of articles to expound upon. I’ll just say this for now: It doesn’t mean interpreting your feelings or emotions. It doesn’t mean every clever idea which pops into your mind is God talking to you. It doesn’t mean God grants you the ability to recognize what’s an omen and what’s not. And it’s way easier to do when you learn what sort of things God has said, in the past, in the bible. So read your bible. Look for direct quotes from the LORD, or Jesus. Get familiar with what he sounds like. Makes him all the easier to recognize when he is speaking.

Wait, you haven’t told us how to pray! Or when! Or how often! Or…

Oh, relax. That’ll come in other articles.

For how to pray, read the Sermon on the Mount. Study the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave instructions!

For when: Pray whenever you like. There’s no ideal time of day. Morning people will insist the very best time is first thing in the morning. This may be true for them, but for night owls like me, morning is the time to feed over-chipper morning people into, ironically, a chipper. Praying when I can barely put two thoughts together is dumb. If you aren’t up for talking to your best friend at that time of day, don’t inflict your incoherent mindset on God. Pray once you can focus. (Unless it’s an emergency. Or unless you’re never focused: You gotta pray sometime!)

For how often: Pray at least once a day. More often if you wanna pray more often. Less often if you’re rambling. Mt 6.7-8 God wants us to get to the point, and we needn’t pray any longer than that. If that means it’s a 45-second prayer, so be it.

And for what: You know what you need from God. Pray for that.