Emo was right. Prayer doesn’t work that way. It is not about asking God for things. It is about reminding us of what is most valuable in life. It is about reminding us of the gifts we already have. And it is about aligning ourselves with a power in the universe greater than ourselves.
What Matters in Life
Malcolm Gladwell talked about the way we make decisions in his book Blink. We usually make decisions about people, about purchases or about what to say in the blink of an eye. In other words, we do not think much about it. We act by instinct.
Where do these instincts come from? How are they developed? We develop them through education. We learn them from our parents. And we can hone them in prayer.
How Prayer Works
Prayer hones our values by guidng us to see the forest through the trees. When we say, for example, that God heals the sick, we are not envisioning God as a cosmic physician.
We are reminding ourselves of the sacredness of life and of the relationships that matter most. We are reminding ourselves that we are meant to live, and that our words and actions can help heal others. God heals through us.
The Gifts We Have
One of the core principles of a life of faith is that life is a gift. This truth is embedded in Judaism. The Hebrew word for Judaism is “yehadut,” which shares its linguistic root with “hodaot,” the Hebrew word for “thanksgiving.” In other words, Judaism means thanksgiving. Giving thanks is one of the core ways we express our faith.
Prayer is the primary way we do that. We thank God for our breath, for a functioning body, for life and for teaching us how to live. Among our most religious acts is saying “thank you.”
A Power Greater than Ourselves
The 19th century English poet Matthew Arnold described God as the “power greater than ourselves that makes for righteousness.” By describing God as a “power,” Arnold suggests that God gives direction and energy to human existence.
By seeing that power as “greater than ourselves,” Arnold acknowledges that God is not limited by the natural world. God both exists in the world and transcends it. In other words, we can experience God in our lives, but we can never say precisely what God is.
I love this approach because it forces us to be humble. God cannot be captured by any one creed or set of beliefs. God is too big for that. Yet, God is not so big and mysterious as to be irrelevant. God’s relevance and power are made real by our acts of righteousness.
Does God Hear Our Prayers?
Yes, but only if we hear them too.