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What Does It Mean To Pray?

What is prayer? When I was a boy I thought I knew what prayer was. Each night as I laid my head down on the pillow I would begin to list all of the people that were closest to me. I would ask the Lord to bless them and then slowly drift off to sleep. I was careful not to miss a night because I was afraid of what would happen to these people if I did not pray for them. I saw to it that they were protected by my prayers and believed that without me these friends and family members would be in a rough place.

Over the years my understanding of prayer has changed. While I still believe in petitioning to the Lord on behalf of family and friends, I have come to adopt a definition of prayer that I first learned from Henry Nouwen: Being with God and God alone. As I have considered a lifestyle of prayer, I have had to honestly ask myself if there was space for that in my life.   After all, this was Jesus’ model of prayer, and if I was seeking to pattern my life after Him, then I had to begin to create space in my life for God to get at me. If Jesus often spent time in solitude, I believe that He is asking us to do that as well.

The most significant thing that we can do in our time with the Lord is listen to His voice. What??? Come on??? What does that even mean, listen to His voice?   Beginning to develop the discipline of listening did not come easy for me. In the early days I would get distracted by a thousand different things. I was annoyed, impatient, and constantly looked at my watch to see when the pain was going to end. Slowly, as I returned to this place of listening I began to hear the voice of the Lord. Sometimes through Scripture or a book I was reading, sometimes through journaling, and sometimes in the still calmness that overcame me in the moment. Somewhere along the way of consistently showing up to listen the Lord over the past fifteen years, He has given me the ability to hear Him. He gives direction for my day, wisdom in decisions, discernment in the moment, and assurance that I am loved by Him.

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