What Is Prayer?

by Christine Sine
What is prayer?

What is prayer?

As many of you know I am working on a new book on prayer Return to Your Senses: Reimagining How We Pray. I talked about this in a recent post entitled Let God’s Love Soak Into Your Soul. Part of what I am grappling with in the book is the question what is prayer?. For some of us prayer is confined to intercession. For others it focuses on meditation. For some it is always spoken in the mind, for others it must be shouted out loud to be effective. Usually our concepts of prayer revolve around words and responses which I think is part of the challenge we face.

There are probably more books written on prayer than any other Christian topic, yet we still come to Jesus regularly asking: teach us to pray. The problem is that prayer is not about words but about relationship and relationships are constantly growing, changing and requiring new ways of interacting. The speaking of words can become rote and repetitive, even boring at times, the developing of relationship requires flexibility, creativity and constant willingness to change and to grow.

What the disciples saw in Jesus’ prayer life that they craved because it was so different from what they had grown up with, was the deep and personal intimacy with God that was at its heart. I think they also craved a prayer life that did not depend on rituals performed at certain times of the day but rather was based on a whole new way of looking at the world. The disciples longed for a relationship with God that wove through every part of their lives. They wanted to develop the same dynamic, living relationship with God that Jesus had and realized that to acquire it they needed to learn not just new techniques for prayer but a whole new understanding of prayer.

In my previous post I commented on Madame Guyon’s definition of prayer as “an exercise in love”. I am also very drawn to Richard Foster’s concept of prayer as “finding the heart’s true home”. I imagine prayer as any process that draws us back into the garden of God where we walk, and talk and commune with God in a place of abundance and peace and harmony for all. I imagine prayer as a new way of looking and listening and interacting with the world so that we are constantly uncovering the presence of God which shines through every moment and enlivens every creature.

This kind of understanding of prayer is a constant journey of discovery which demands we give God our full attention in each moment. It is not easy. We are so easily distracted by busyness and worry and work. We are so easily waylaid by the needs of the world and our desire to find solutions. We definitely need to come back to Jesus for a new understanding of prayer.

A good place to start is with this quote from Elaine Heath in her helpful book The Mystic Way of Evangelism,: When we come home to the love of God everything changes, beginning with how we pray. Prayer is now at its foundation a contemplative soaking in the infinite love of God. All our intercessions and thanksgivings and wordless cries now issue from the molten core of contemplative prayer. Prayer has become the vital breath, the heartbeat of divine energy without which we cannot live.

So what are your thoughts? What is Prayer

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10 comments

Jim Fisher April 24, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Madame Guyon’s defintion, for me, is dead center, but hard to describe. And Lord knows, I have tried. I pray visually. I am more often “watching the movie” than actually saying or thinking something. It’s a right-brained thing most often.

So what does that look like in practice? When I am guided by the Spirit into intercession, I envision myself (and sometimes even take the physical posture) of standing in the gap between a friend and the evil that that is impinging upon her. What I say (if anything) and do is the result of a back-and-forth conversation with the Spirit. It could never be “scripted”.

Being somewhat A.D.D., contemplative prayer doesn’t always work and more often looks like this: https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/the-corner-table

But there are times when playful contemplation brings healing and peace: https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/the-lap

And others where I am privileged to be guided to the veil that separates my here from a loved-one’s hereafter: https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/happy-birthday-hannah

And what this all comes down to, is resting in the arms of the Lord and allowing the Spirit to transport my soul wherever she wishes. She knows my “to do” list. She knows my list of covenant friends who I have promised to pray for every day for as long as I draw breath. All I ask is for her to show me a face, a voice, an emotion and draw me into wherever She wants me to be.

It’s a conversation. It’s a sacred, intimate, relationship. It really can’t be scripted — neither can what I say to my wife to show my love for her.

And my focus is on what I can do to conform to God’s will, rather than trying to convince God to conform to mine. That, I think, is often the hardest of all.

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Christine Sine April 24, 2012 - 5:42 pm

Jim,
Thank you so much for contributing this. I loved the links that you provided and to be honest my contemplative prayer often looks like this too. My best aids are not candles and incense though I do sometimes use them, but my rock collection, knitting and of course working in my garden. I think that we often misunderstand what contemplative prayer is all about. It is not necessarily about sitting in a quiet place but about finding a quiet presence in the midst of life’s distractions. Cultivating that is often challenging but always very rewarding. Consider Brother Lawrence for example. He entered into the presence of God while washing the dishes – something that I am sure was very noisy with lots of distractions. And I agree that conforming to God’s will is often much more difficult than expecting God to conform to ours.

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Jim Fisher April 24, 2012 - 5:50 pm

“It is not necessarily about sitting in a quiet place but about finding a quiet presence in the midst of life’s distractions.” Perfect! It’s the 20 seconds at the stop light. It’s those rare times when we can carry that quiet presence with us down the grocery aisles and through the checkout line.

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theaspirationalagnostic April 24, 2012 - 6:49 pm

The idea of prayer as being a form of interaction and of love is fascinating. My inadequate and half hearted prayer life needs this kind of perspective.
Eva

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Christine Sine April 25, 2012 - 8:17 am

Thanks Eva, this is an understanding that I am just starting to live into.

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Jim Fisher April 24, 2012 - 7:05 pm

This is a little off topic — more of a “why” than a “what” — but I like it.

“This is what I would like for us to strive for, friends. We should engage in prayer—thirst for it, even—not because it feels good, but because it gives us the strength we need to be of service.”

Teresa of Avila. The Interior Castle (Kindle Locations 2925-2926). Riverhead. Kindle Edition.

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Claire Russell April 25, 2012 - 3:37 am

Yes, prayer becomes something we need, to sustain us… it is about being and presence and knowing… appreciate everyones reflections on this.

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Christine Sine April 25, 2012 - 8:19 am

Beautiful – very much in keeping with Elaine Heath’s quote above “prayer becomes the vital breath we need to sustain us

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deerfeet April 26, 2012 - 4:47 am

I’m always inspired by your blog and the links you put on it. I have nominated you for Versatile Bloggers Award. http://wp.me/p1gPst-dk

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Christine Sine April 26, 2012 - 6:23 am

Thank you that is much appreciated

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