The only thing that matters is that we begin the conversation... simply saying, “Hey God. What’s up? It’s me. Can we talk?”
This is a weird time, isn’t it? A lot of unknowns are happening, things that are new to us all. The challenge for all of us is to figure out how are we to navigate this new way of life?
It’s in times like these that people look to clergy and spiritual practitioners for guidance. That is a good place to be. However, do you ever wonder where we go to find our help or encouraging words of advice? I go to God. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you. After all I serve this church. But it’s not like I can just hop on a plane and visit God. Instead I have to do what many of you do, I pray.
For me, prayer is a way of having a constant conversation with the one who knows me better than I know myself. It’s also a way for me to find peace when no peace seems to be found.
Prayer has come in handy, especially recently.
To an ancient prophet, God tells Jeremiah, “Call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you” (Jer. 29:12). “Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).
As we celebrate Lent, we are reminded of the words of Jesus, who spent forty days in the wilderness praying. He said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
Of course, prayer is more than making a wish list for God to fulfill. God is not Santa or an ATM machine. God is better than that; calling us into a relationship where our hearts are emptied out only to be filled with more than we ever thought possible.
Every major religion includes prayers as part of their practice. So that tells us it’s an important ritual. I look to Jesus as my example. He certainly prayed a lot. There are six references in the gospels that he spoke in prayer, and one instance where he directly gives us the words to pray. We know he prayed in the morning and at night, and before or after something big happened. It wasn’t unlike him to skip off from the crowds to pray alone.
In prayer Jesus kept a channel open to God. Like the red phone on the presidents desk that whenever you pick it up there is someone waiting on the other end ready to get you your Diet Coke. But like all conversation, prayer is a dialog not a monologue. We might have a lot to say, but we need to keep our spiritual ears and hearts open to hear what God has to say to move our hearts Godward.
People who are new to faith often ask me if there’s a particular way to pray. I tell them it’s no different than having a conversation with someone. Sure there are prayers that walk you through stuff you might be dealing with. I have a stack of books filled with prayers that are offered for birth to praying over the dead to everything in between.
My mom’s the type of person who doesn’t like to read prayers. She hates it when everyone prays the same thing. She says she prays from her heart. That’s not to say other religious people don’t do the same, but I like to remind her about the power that is lifted up with 100,000,000 voices singing the same prayer to God’s ears.
If you ask me, the only thing that matters is that we begin the conversation. This can happen using a rote prayer from a book, or just by simply saying, “Hey God. What’s up? It’s me. Can we talk?” I like the prayer Nadia Bolz-Weber says every morning when she wakes up, “Lord help me not to be an asshole today. Amen.” It’s not your typical prayer, but it’s a prayer that reaches God’s ears.
In Christianity there are different types of prayers. The four most common are confession, contrition, petition, and adoration.
Confession is just that, naming your wrongdoing. Contrition is a prayer that asks God for forgiveness. Petition is asking God for a favor. Adoration is simply praising God, or showing your gratitude. You can pray one or all four or something you want. Meister Ekheart is to have said, “If the only prayer you say is ‘Thank you’ then that would suffice.” It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it as long as the conversation is happening.
When I am called to pray over the sick and dying, I use Psalm 51 as my template because it covers all four types of prayers in one beautiful poem. Let’s read it.
You can feel the pain weighing on the author’s heart as he asks God for mercy and forgiveness. He knows and trusts God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy, so he feels ok to makes his case. We’ve all messed up, and perhaps that’s what’s gotten us where we are today. But the thing is, many of us do not know how vast God’s love is.
You might be carrying the weight of something you’ve done in your past, or something that was done to you. But God wants you, no matter what. This love for you is so great that God is willing to take the pain of sin from you and put it in the expansiveness of God’s heart. The psalmist knows, trusting God’s love is more than enough to make you whole again.
3 For I know my transgressions,
Without naming his sins the author knows he’s guilty and that God is justified to ignore his plea because of it. But that’s not what God wants. God wants you, your heart, your love. And God wants to give you the same. It’s hard to accept all that God has to offer when we’re holding onto the crap from our past. By naming your wrongs they become real to you again. In that reality, God is there to meet you so you can dump them into the expansive heart of God.
Maybe during your home confinement, you can take some time to think about What you need to empty out of your heart so you can have room to take what God wants to give you…unconditional love.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
More than just being made clean, the psalmist has other desires. He wants to understand God better. He wants to be filled with joy and gladness again. And he wants to be remade.
Too often we try to hide our sins, which make us feel guilty to ask God for anything. We don’t feel good enough to deserve to be in the vastness of God’s love.
But as the psalmist knows, we cannot hide from the one who knows our hearts better than we do.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
Today, I challenge you to ask God to clean your heart and give you a new spirit, to have your joy restored and your strength sustained so you can have what you need to get you through difficult times.
Open your heart, open your mind, your hands and your mouth. Pray.
The rest of the psalm is dedicated to adoration – about going out into the world to proclaim God’s glory.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
A new and transformed heart can’t help but sing the praises of God whose only requirement is for you to sacrifice your heart. To give God your love too.
This is exactly what Jesus did, humbling himself for the sake of others; giving his whole heart over to do God’s will. This is the kind of relationship God wants with us, the kind of relationship where our hearts beat as one.
The best way to stay in that place is by staying in constant contact with God. And prayer is an avenue that keeps us moving Godward.
If you have trouble praying, or not sure you know what to say, Psalm 51, and all the psalms, are a wonderful resource and a great place to start.