People pray, or don’t pray, in many different ways. Some people pray all the time, some wait until they are in a plane crash. Some use words. Some pray without them. Some people ask God for personal favors, like, "Let my team win the game!" Others merely seek to know their place in the divine scheme.
Prayer can be the same as, or similar to, meditation, but it is usually more of a conversation than meditation is. When we meditate, there is no need to think that someone else is listening. Prayer suggests that we are in dialogue with a spiritual being.
Some people have trouble talking to somebody they can’t see and aren’t even sure exists. It’s understandable. The telephone would be a much less popular device if you couldn’t tell if anybody answered the other end of the line. Prayer requires an expression of faith that somebody is listening. The trick though is that it is much harder to know someone is listening if you don’t try to pray.
There may be some benefit in mindlessly vocalizing prepackaged prayers, but to get full benefit from prayer, one had best pray in a focussed and receptive frame of mind. You will only recognize an answer if you are tuned in. It is pretty rare for God to speak to us in a thunderous voice and a flash of light. More likely, we’ll hear God’s voice as a quiet inner knowing that develops in a peaceful heart.
One objection people have to praying is that they tried it and it didn’t work. Let’s say you ask for something, for instance, that something "good" will happen to you. Then that thing doesn’t happen. How disappointing. You then think that your prayer was not answered. But then again, maybe it was, and you didn’t recognize it. Here’s a thought: Maybe God doesn’t pander to our ego satisfaction, because our ego is not the important part of who we are. Maybe God doesn’t serve up the answers to our desires, because our desires are an impediment to knowing our true nature. Sometimes our pain is not relieved, because the pain is the lesson we need.
When we recognize that our true nature is not separate from God, prayer becomes not only a logical activity, but an essential one. To make life work right, to experience joy in the midst of life’s turmoil, we need to be attuned to the way life works. Some might call it God’s plan. Whether it is a plan or not is debatable, but it is a perceptible pattern or scheme of things, one might even say a rhythm. If you go deep sea fishing the boat goes up and it goes down. It rocks and rolls. If you are not used to it, you might get very seasick. If you stay out long enough you will get over the seasickness, as your body and senses become attuned to the movement of the boat. Life will make you uncomfortable if you aren’t attuned to its movements too. Once you get the hang of it though, it’s not so bad, and you might even catch something. Prayer and meditation help us to perceive the movement, to attune to the flow. If God is taking you up and you want to go down, good luck. If you can recognize when you are being taken somewhere and you can flow with that, you’ll get along much better.
Reflect on your prayer habits.
Do you pray? How often?
If not, what are your objections?
How do you resist praying?
Toward whom do you direct your prayers?
Do you ask for things?
Do you give thanks?
How do you listen in prayer?
Pray often. All the time would be best, but make it a habit to touch base with the divine frequently through the day.
Center yourself as you begin to pray. Take a breath and release it. Remind yourself to let go of your tension. Get a sense of how you are feeling. Let go of your immediate thoughts and the concerns you’ve been carrying with you, so that you make a space for the spirit.
Make it a practice to give thanks for the many blessings you have in your life.
Turn over your worry and guilt to God. Empty yourself of the negative emotions that create barriers between you and the divine.
Let God fill your heart with Love. Open up to the flow of divine compassion that is always there for you.
Listen. Invite God to communicate with you. You might imagine a conversation with God, or you might merely wait silently or some thought, feeling, or event that signifies God’s presence.
Some earlier thoughts about God
The Interlude Prayer Page
© 1999 Tom Barrett