Beliefnet
Everyday Faith

This, then, is how you should pray:

“Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, 
your will be done, 
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, 
as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

~Matthew 6:9-13

 

Perhaps the greatest gift of prayer is discovering God’s profound love for us. It is one thing to believe in a higher intelligence or universal mind. I think that is probably the easiest concept for an atheist to begin to accept.

But to imagine a greater entity who actually loves us is staggering. It requires us to believe that this entity must somehow know us as individuals, with all our messes and mistakes, and yet still find us worthy of love . . . A love coming from a source of perfection, that is still willing to love us in all of our imperfection.

God loves us deeply and infinitely more than we could ever imagine, especially when it seems as if we are standing alone and shouting into empty space. As someone who is well acquainted with that position, I will tell you that I cling desperately to my belief in God when I feel most alone and in need of some assurance.

If, like me, you are the risk-taking sort and decide to throw caution to the wind and pray at the mouth of the dark cave, where do you begin? Are there some special words that will guarantee an audience with the Almighty?

The short answer is: no.

The better answer is that prayer is most effective when it is authentic and comes from your heart. I started to write “honest” as well, but I am guessing that sometimes we are inclined to be less than honest in our prayers, just as we lie to ourselves. Since I believe God can see through those moments of self-deception, let’s just say that we should be authentic.

Of course, prayer serves many functions in the course of our spiritual life. Praying together in church is sometimes all we need to feel part of a larger community, one of many voices lifting up praise or beseeching in one corporeal voice. Other times, prayer is a private act of gratitude where we “thank God” for the safe return of a loved one, or go through a daily recitation of all that we are grateful for but which we don’t want to take for granted.

As to the mechanics or setting for our more “serious” prayers, I think the best way to pray is that which works best for you in that moment. I have prayed on my knees. I have prayed by speaking aloud in a one-sided conversation as I walked with Henry, my Newfoundland, through the woods. I have prayed in a letter to God written in my journal. And most recently, I have fallen asleep as I repeated incessantly, “Please God”, in a whispered prayer that expressed so many fears of the future that only those two words were necessary, because God knew the rest.

And then what?

How do we know if God heard our prayers or if He will do anything about them?

That’s where the mystery, or challenge, of faith comes in. I believe that God will answer my prayers, that He does care, and will show his compassion in some tangible way. However, I also feel that part of the strength of prayer is that it allows us a private communion with God that in and of itself is a comfort.

I believe that God loves each of us and that when we go to Him in prayer, He reaches out and communicates that love to us in such a way that it impacts our lives for the better. I believe that we can deepen our relationship with God through prayer. Perhaps that is one of its most important functions. Not asking for this or that but coming closer to our Creator, and through that relationship growing and living better lives than we would have without it or without the experience of God in our lives.

For the coming week, commit to spending a daily time of prayer with God. Try this: spend five minutes speaking with God in the morning, talking about the day ahead and your concerns. In the evening, spend another five minutes talking to God before bedtime about how your day went and thanking Him for being with you every minute of the day. My prayer for you is that after a week of talking with God each day, you will want to make it a habit for the rest of your life.

This essay was originally published in God Loves Your Dream, a book of inspirational essays. Get your copy on Amazon.com.prayer

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus