Have you given much thought to prayer, pray tell?

An act of goodness surpasses a thousand prayers (Sa’di)

Have you given much thought to prayer, pray tell? Someone once said, “Prayer provides power, poise, peace, and purpose.” And American college administrator, William Arthur Ward (1921 ~ 1994), has said, “Prayer is the prelude to peace, the prologue to power, the preface to purpose, and the pathway to perfection.” If that is true, I suppose we can also say, “Seven days without prayer makes one weak”

Yes, prayer can and does make a difference. Not in the life of God, for He is complete and perfect, and, therefore, has no needs. But we have a need to transcend ourselves, to stand in awe before a mighty power. We have a need to recognize that there is something greater than ourselves, something to which we can aspire.

God is changeless; so, our prayers have no effect on Him. So, why prayer? Because our prayers have an effect on us. Each time we prayer, it reminds us that we live in a loving universe, and that a Divine Spark glows within our soul. Saying a prayer can be like picking up the telephone and communicating with God; it can be like plugging into infinite wisdom. It can be a source of strength, comfort, and inspiration.

Why do I say prayer CAN be helpful rather than saying prayer IS helpful? Well, communication among a married couple CAN be a source of love, but often, instead of words of understanding, criticism is offered; instead of words of kindness, bickering takes place, and instead of words of encouragement, words of scorn are spewed on one’s partner. So, communication can be helpful or hurtful, effective or ineffective. Our communication with God is no different.

The type of prayer most commonly used is the prayer of petition. I call it the ‘gim’me prayer.’ You know what I mean, “Lord, I’m lonely, gim’me a nice partner; gim’me obedient children, gim’me a well-paying job, gim’me good health and keep me free from pain, and while You’re at it, gim’me a nice house I can call my own.” Gim’me, gim’me, gim’me. Such prayers are not about elevating ourselves, but about reducing God to the level of Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.

When we resort to the ‘gim’me prayer,’ we are effectively saying, “Lord, thank you for the gift of life, BUT I’m afraid it isn’t good enough for me. You see, I need more to be happy, so gim’me this and gim’me that, please.” Why is it that the people who look down on beggars in the street, don’t hesitate to become beggars before God? To them, prayer is not about talking something over with God, but about talking God out of something.

The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart (1260 ~ 1327) said, “When I prayer for something, I do not prayer; when I prayer for nothing, I really prayer.” In other words, when I prayer for something, I am not praying; I’m complaining. And when I prayer for nothing it is because I’m perfectly content with what God has given me. So, to prayer for nothing is really a prayer of thanksgiving, gratitude, and appreciation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 ~ 1968) had this to say, “Prayer is a marvelous and necessary supplement of our feeble efforts, but it is a dangerous substitute.” You see, some would rather depend on the ‘gim’me prayer’ than on self-reliance. Rather than ask God to bless their work, they ask Him to do it for them. If we absolutely must petition God, let’s follow the example of St. Thomas More (1478 ~ 1535), who, while in prison, wrote, “The things, good Lord, that I pray for give me thy grace to labor for.”

What about prayers of adoration (“I love you, God!”)? Surely, they are the highest form of prayer, aren’t they? Well, I wonder. Among spouses, some endlessly repeat, almost like a mantra, “I love you! I love you!” Perhaps it is because saying, “I love you,” is easier than mowing the lawn! In spite of this, however, others prefer to express their love by deeds, not words. Our relationship with God is no different. Rather than repeating over and over how great He is, we can act as though we believe it by following His will. Which is the greater prayer, telling God how great He is, or dropping a few coins in the palm of a homeless person?

The value of prayer is unquestionable, but if we spent less time speaking to God and more time listening to what He has to say, I think we would be better off. Writing along similar lines, William McGill wrote in “Living Church,” September 28, 1986, “The value of persistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will finally hear Him

Instead of saying a prayer, shouldn’t we become one? Let’s sing hymns of praise, not with our lips, but by our actions. Isn’t that the highest form of prayer? Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Herman, c.1605 ~ 1691) describes how work and prayer is the same to him, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Let’s be ever mindful of what the Sufi mystic Sa’di (1213? ~ 1292) taught, “An act of goodness surpasses a thousand prayers.” This being so, let our actions serve as our prayers. Praying by offering someone a helping hand is far better than praying on bended knee. Look at the many opportunities for prayer we have. We can live a life of prayer by being patient, tolerant, compassionate, generous, kind, gentle, encouraging, accepting, forgiving, consoling, and supportive.

Our actions, then, are either prayers or acts of blasphemy. If we are to avoid the latter, we must be aware of our actions and mindful of the many opportunities to serve. And the greatest prayer we can offer is to lead a life of love, for as Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 ~ 1834) wrote, “He prayeth best that loveth best / All things both great and small; / For the dear God who loveth us, / He made and loveth all.”

What better way to end than with a prayer? What follows is The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (1181 ~ 1226).

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”