Making meaning of prayer


The Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christian community in Thessalonica the following words.

“We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure no one repays one evil with another. Always seek what is good for each other, and for all the people. Rejoice always and pray constantly and give thanks in all circumstances…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

We have a need to pray.  Paul says – “Pray constantly.” I tried to “pray constantly” and frankly it was daunting.   I thought my best praying happened on retreats or those days that I managed to spend hours praying, isolated with God reading singing and praying.  Today, I understand the reason why we pray differently.

How should we make meaning of prayer? I believe Jesus showed us by modeling for us our interconnectedness, as individuals in relationship with God, other and creation. We best understand the role prayer plays in a community of caring.  Not long ago I talked about Facebook as a community of caring where it has become common place to ask or to offer prayer.   I am convinced a face to face community of caring, a healthy church, allows people to engage in ways that Facebook falls short.  In the prayer Jesus taught us he says,” Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  When one thinks of heaven, one would describe it as a place where there is no more pain or tears, everyone knows love and peace and experiences a deep sense of belonging minus hunger, dis-ease, oppression and injustice.  To pray, we are inviting God’s will in heaven to become goodness experiences here on earth.  In its purest form, prayer opens our hearts to God’s eternal presence which interconnects all living things in a spirit of oneness.

John Shelby Spong’s 2001 book, A New Christianity for a New World he writes:

He said: “My actions, my engagement with people, the facing of concrete issues – these became for me the real time of prayer. Prayer came to be identified with my living, my loving, my being, my meeting, my confronting, my struggles for justice, my desire to be an agent of transformation…If prayer is the act of engaging God and if God is the source of life, then my prayer time became my time of engaging life.”

Now here is Spong’s definition of prayer which I now claim for myself.  “Prayer is the way I live, love, struggle and dare to be.” I would add, “We pray for ourselves and each other because of our deep sense of belonging to God and others beckons us.”

Prayer invites us to be awake and aware within and without. The act of prayer is how we become agents of transformation of life, love and being.  Spong says, “For the God I see in Jesus of Nazareth, is revealed in the personhood of everyone. This God is present in the love of everyone. This God is encountered in the being of everyone…This God calls me constantly to be the incarnation of God’s love. I do this…to free the life present in every person, to increase the love available to every person, and to celebrate the being of every person. It is in those actions that I discern the very presence of divine footprints and know that God has been in this place before me and sometimes because of me.”

Prayer then is much more asking and answers.  When we pray we engage in “LOVE” who is God! Rumi said, “We must get out of the circle of time into the circle of LOVE.”  Prayer does just that!  Out of love comes compassion, empathy, a need for justice and peace which opens doors for action. It is written in Scripture: “let us not love in words and speech but in deeds and truth. (1 john: 3:18) The truest form of prayer then is in our actions not just the words that we speak.   In many cases praying is the only way we can respond to life and being.  Prayer is our ability to respond which reveals itself as our “response-ability”.

We make our whole life a prayer when greeting the day awake and aware that “God has been in this place before me and sometimes because of me.” This new understanding allows us to be alert and responsive.  We matter in the big scheme of our interconnectedness with people moving through their day. Prayer allows us to engage in the chaos and creativity of life. Whether encountering  disease, oppression and injustice or the beauty found at the birth of a child, the blooming of a rose, a rainbow after a storm,  all things  help us experience life providing  opportunities to rejoice, pray and give thanks.


prayer wall

As I was looking over my Facebook posts for some reason there were a lot of people asking for prayer today either for themselves or a loved one.  Three years ago I had a day like this and decided to be intentional about praying for people.   I created a prayer wall where I would take post-it notes, write down the persons request and put it on my newly formed sacred space.  Over time, it became thickly layered with multi colored notes.  Most nights before I went to bed I would lift up the names and situations to God.   At one point I realized I was thanking God more than praying because prayers had indeed been answered in the affirmative. This wall turned into a prayer and praise wall.  

When I moved to Haverhill, I did not put those post-it notes in the trash. I put them in a special box because they bear witness to God’s presence.  They also remind me of the power of prayer.  One night I realized that asking for and offering prayer evokes the best part of who we are and how interconnected we truly are with one another.  

Last year I made a private family page so that my family around the country could pray for my Dad who was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and a few months earlier a pastor friend of mine was given a devastating diagnosis on Good Friday that she had Stage 4 Cancer and preached her last sermon on Easter Sunday.  She unabashedly shared her journey and asked for prayer and was offered prayer often today, both are still here.    My Dad got a great last report and my friend has been an inspiration as she continues to battle and live each day to the fullest with Cancer. She has even managed to write a book!   Another friend is using Facebook as a journal as she goes through chemo. A mother with a child who has a severe chronic illness uses her Facebook page as a support. She celebrates milestones and her sorrows as only a mother can who loves their children.  A few weeks ago a friend from High School asked for prayer for a very serious surgery she was going to have to undergo. She shared her fears leading up to the day and she shared the angst of the physical suffering afterwards and the hope as she began to experience healing.

  In all these stories there is an asking for prayer and an offering to pray.  Today someone asked for prayer for a missing loved one.  Over the past year Facebook friends have lost parents and spouses.   They posted regularly as they stood vigil asking for prayer. When it was over they posted the moment of loss and then pictures and memories and their Facebook friends compassionately responded. Just yesterday a dear friend said good bye to their husband of 31 years as he passed on at 12:23 PM. Their prayer requests came through private message.  The announcement on their page created a huge response of love and compassion.  

 I find it amazing but I am not surprised that so many ask friends to pray in deep times of need.  I believe when we ask people to pray for them or their loved ones, the asking is an act of faith.  The response is also an act of faith, if one really stops and actually says a prayer and not just lip service.  

Sometimes we hear our neighbor ask for prayer and it causes us to life our eyes towards God maybe for the first time.  Unfortunately, many doubt God even hears them because they do things that they shouldn’t do and don’t do things that they should do.  They may think maybe God would hear someone else instead of them, so they ask.

Now I know that it seems God does not answer all prayers.   God is eternal and we are temporal.  God’s answers or apparent silence may not make sense to us, so we come away angry.  Why do we get angry?    If we are really honest with ourselves this relationship is often on sided.  I sincerely believe God desires for all of us to come into the deepest understanding of our belonging to God and to each other. So to all my Face Book Friends and theirs, keep praying it has power to reveal God’s presence in our world.  It helps us realize our need for God and each other. Finally, it brings out the best in us.  I have started a new wall.  So if you have a prayer request let me know.  It would be an honor to pray for you.