Prayer is one of the most enigmatic subjects to consider. Everyone talks about it. When something bad happens or anxieties arise, we often say, “keep me in your prayers.” When a public official speaks after or during a tragedy, there is always an encouragement to keep those that have been affected in our prayers. They don’t necessarily mention whom we should pray to…but just to pray however we pray to whomever we pray on behalf of these individuals.
Obviously, as a species, we have been “hard-wired” to pray (at least that’s my take). The debate or argument has always been about the identity of the One being addressed in our prayers. As a species, we pray continually, whether we realize it or not. We are always hoping and wishing…asking God or the universe or anything in between to intervene on behalf of our plea.
The great irony is that within the Christian framework we constantly beat ourselves up over this subject. When speaking about it to others we always…ALWAYS…say that our prayer life is “lacking,” or that we should spend more time praying. However…recently, it occurred to me that the frequency, volume, or quantity of our prayers is not the issue. I believe that most humans pray more often than we can even estimate.
We’ve all heard the expression that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Of course, this is a reference to being in the midst of a combat zone with bullets and mortars flying all around…the idea being that even an atheist would take a moment to ask whatever god there may be to get them out of this mess alive.
I find myself in the midst of a revelation relating to prayer. The problem with our prayers is not that we don’t do it enough. With all the tensions in the world and the worries that surround us every day, most of us find ourselves constantly in a place of begging God (in our heads and hearts if not consciously or audibly) to step in and change the possible or inevitable outcome.
The quantity of our prayers is not really at issue. We pray all the time, no matter who or what we believe in. We ask God or the universe to help us with all kinds of things. We pray for rain, income, health, relationships, jobs, success…etc. We pray for our favorite team to win the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, or the World Series. We pray that the highway patrolman that’s coming up in our rear-view mirror isn’t coming for us because we realize we have been speeding or texting while driving. We pray for our lottery numbers to be picked. We pray, pray, pray. Oh, sure…we may not be leading off every prayer with “Dear Father in Heaven,” or something like that. We may never be leading off that way. But, nonetheless, we are asking for intervention from somewhere. The things of our concern are beyond our ability or strength to affect or control, so we ask for help from someone or something that is more powerful to enter in and fix things.
This leads to the main point here: The problem with our “prayer life” has been misdiagnosed as one of frequency or quantity. We read books about people that have spent hours every day for years in prayer and conclude that our problem is that we don’t do that. However, the problem is much more obvious…especially in light of the spirit of what Scripture says.
We are spending all of our time and energy praying for things that directly concern or affect us. We are rarely truly burdened for others when the outcome has nothing to do with us.
I’ve pondered this a lot lately. I’ve realized that I spend a lot of my energy in prayer asking God to bless me with finances, health, and overall well-being. I don’t feel guilty about asking for those things. I really don’t feel guilty at all. But I have found that even though I don’t feel guilty, I often feel empty. I feel empty because when I spend most or all of my energy focused on myself, I get no joy from doing whatever I can to help others. I feel empty because that’s what self-centeredness feels like. On the flip side, when I focus my strength on caring for others and truly being concerned for them, I feel very fulfilled.
Our problem is not how often we pray. Our problem is that we focus most of our energy on ourselves…our wants…our desires. What would happen if we spent all of that time and effort focused on those around us? What would happen if we prayed with truly concerned hearts for our family members, neighbors, co-workers, or even those that hate us?
There’s a passage in Scripture that says to primarily pursue the “Kingdom of God” and then everything that is necessary for our lives will be added to us. This is not a formula, but a principle. The Kingdom of God refers to Him ruling our hearts. If that happens, our focus will divert from ourselves…and perhaps our concerns will be met.
Caring about others is what God wants us to do. He wants us to love Him and love others. A huge step in that direction is the type of prayers we pray.
*Image taken from: http://rediscoveringthebible.com/Prayer.html