Thursday, February 10, 2011

My History with Prayer

A pastor and parishioner are talking.
The parishioner asks the pastor: “Pastor, may I smoke while praying?”
The pastor replied: “Absolutely not! Prayer is a sacred act.”
Parishioner: “Well, then, may I pray while smoking?”
Pastor: “Of course! Prayer is appropriate at any time, in any place.”
Everyone of us has a unique history with prayer and likely we never give it much thought. Prayer is just something we do as people of faith.
But how did we learn?
Is there a right way and a wrong way to pray and who says?
How much time did your church spend teaching about prayer - other than an occasional sermon from the preacher?
My earliest memories of prayer were of my Nana kneeling by the side of the bed to pray as was her habit every night. As a young child, when I spent the night with my grandparents, I often slept on a pallet on the floor next to her bed and got to witness her evening prayer. Everything but the “amen” was silent, so I don’t know what she said, but I have that visual image stuck with me for life.
In Sunday school we memorized prayers, but I don’t recall many particular lessons about prayer other than that we were expected to do it every night or we were a really bad person. I still have not discovered what was so special about praying at night, but that was the definite time it was supposed to happen.
Later in life, as an adult, the church I was attending had a Discipleship Training class on prayer, but from what I now remember of it, it was a very technical guide to prayer that left one thinking there were definitely right and wrong ways to pray, so for years, I felt guilty about not praying the right way.
As I began reading and preparing for this study, I found more and more that my history was not entirely unique in the extent to which the church often lacks consistent and clear training about prayer while at the same time valuing prayer as one of the essential tools of a healthy spiritual life.  But compared to some others, I was quite unique in that I had attended a church that actually did a study of prayer. Such a lack of direction and implied learning by example offers both positives and negatives to church members. On the positive, the church cannot judge one much on prayer when it has taught so little about it, but it can create a degree of concern for the believer as they seek to pray when they hear examples going in many different directions.
In any congregation, people are going to come from a variety of backgrounds with members like myself who have been regular in attendance since birth to those who came to the church late in life. The more I have studied about prayer, the more I have come to believe that providing meaningful instruction on prayer is a necessary function of the church in developing a spiritually mature membership. While the brief study we had will not complete that task, hopefully it will move the members who participated closer to that goal.
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