We have discussion/practice times on Sunday nights; usually about different spiritual disciplines or practices. Sunday night we talked about prayer. I talked about how our Sunday discussions were usually pretty surface, with a lot of "church" talk, and not a lot of honest, deep conversation.
When it comes to prayer, we usually fall back on the definitions we learned as young Christians; and our practice of prayer often reflects that. It was obvious that most people had a pretty big gap between what they thought prayer should look like in their lives and the reality of it.
I said we were going to learn as beginners; not depend on the easy answers we've always clung to.
I challenged us to be more real and open; starting with our questions. I told everyone we would discuss questions tonight; not answers. That was hard for a lot of us, but really good.
I had people write their thoughts and questions anonymously rather than discuss. I was amazed at the results!
We started by writing out what we thought prayer was, how it works, and why we do it. We got very diverse answers; which told us that we are often on different pages when it comes to language. Even a seemingly obvious word like prayer means so many different things to different people!
Then we looked at Scriptures with the words "pray" or "prayer," to get a sense of how diversely the word is used there. Then we wrote our questions, doubts, confusions about prayer. Here are a few responses:
- Why does God want us to pray? (Amazing how many people said this...I realized that a lot of us pray, and say it's important, but don't really know why)
- Why is it OK to pray for revenge against enemies in the Old Testament yet we are told to pray for enemies in the New Testament?
- Are formulaic prayers acceptable to God?
- Does God change his mind when we pray?
- Why does the OT contain so many answered "I want revenge" prayers? How do we reconcile this in light of "do unto others?"
- "Ask and it shall be given to you" doesn't seem to be completely literal, because I've asked, but it hasn't always been given.
- How long do we pray for the same thing?
This is just a sampling. I was glad that people were so honest; now the challenge is to begin digging into these questions. Several people said they were really excited about the conversation, and where it goes from here.
We spent some time praying; and I said that one of the ways we will learn more about prayer is by actually doing more, both individually and as a community. I felt like the evening was a big step in where we are headed!