This morning I drove Tom to the airport for a trip to Bluffton University. Even though we are both morning people, a 6 am trip is still a struggle, made more acute by the fact that it disrupted my usual morning prayer time. As I drove home I started thinking about the article I hope to get fleshed out today on What Will Shape Our Spiritual Practices In the Next Decade? As I thought about this I found myself meditating on the question What is Prayer? It seems a good question to contemplate as I realize what shapes our spirituality also shapes our prayers – both the way that we pray and what we pray for.
There are a myriad of books that have been written over the centuries about prayer and I am certainly no expert on the subject but I realize that it is easy for us to allow our prayer life to be shaped by influences that are not necessarily healthy, sometimes just because we don’t understand what prayer is all about. Tragically in our busy 24/7 world, prayer is often seen as another form of busyness that we must schedule into our day. The concept of unceasing prayer that Paul talks about is beyond our comprehension.
The situation in Haiti is one of the major influences shaping our prayers at the moment. The prayers I have published here on my blog have been used in a number of church services and small group gatherings over the last week. But many of us still are drowning in the images of the overwhelming devastation and suffering. Relief workers too are finding it difficult to cope with the onslaught. Deprived of sleep, subsisting on an inadequate diet, confronted by unimaginable horrors, some are already requiring trauma counselling and professional help. Ironically some of the Haitians seem to be coping better because they have a deep connection to the God they know has not abandoned them.
Probably one of the most helpful books on prayer I have ever read is Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home The subtitle Finding the Heart’s True Home seems to say it all. Prayer is not primarily about asking God to meet our own needs and the needs of the world. Nor is it primarily about about confessing our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. And it is certainly not about to do lists and scheduled times of intercession, though all of these may be a part of our prayer life.
In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s true Home, Foster talks about three categories of prayer – Inward prayers that move us towards personal transformation, upward prayers that lead us towards deeper intimacy with God, and outward prayers that equip us for ministry into the world. I think that as we prayer for Haiti we need to ensure that our response is at all these levels. If we only focus on outward prayers of intercession we will quickly drain our energy or start trying to manipulate God into what we think would be the appropriate responses. We may even become despondent because we see so little response.
Prayer is the language of love. It is the intimate connection between us and the loving heart of God. It is the place where we learn to listen and respond to the quiet whispers of God’s loving, caring voice. Our prayers for Haiti should begin in this quiet space of upward intimate communion with God, where we touch and feel God’s heart for Haiti and its people.
In the process hopefully our hearts too will be changed as we move from upward to inward prayer, searching our own hearts to seek forgiveness for those things that have made us slow to respond in the past. Perhaps there is unconfessed sin of greed or covetousness that makes us hold onto resources that God intends us to share. Or there may be selfcentredness that makes us blind to needs beyond our own comfort.
So often in crisis situations we move immediately to outward prayers and responses. We jump into action based on the extent of need we are aware of, which often results in a quick but unsustained outpouring of assistance . It is only when our responses come out of our connection to the heart of God who is busy making all things new, that we can be sustained in our outpouring of love, compassion and resources.
In the place of prayer we don’t just pray for the needs of Haiti, we connect to the heart of a God who aches for the pain and suffering of that land. And we connect to the one who calls us to be hands and feet of compassion.