By Halley Low
Many years ago, it was my habit to take a monthly day of prayer at the Cenacle Retreat House in Lake Ronkonkoma. This lovely retreat house is a spiritual oasis hidden within the noise and hubbub of suburban Long Island. The house is grand in size but modest in appearance and décor. Hanging on the wall in the little elevator of this four-story sanctuary was a little framed line drawing. At the bottom of the drawing was a written message – “Prayer is animated conversation with God”. The drawing is no longer in the elevator, yet the message has stayed with me through these long years. I believe the message was ingrained in my mind because within this simple phrase I found what is the essence of prayer.
Webster defines the word animated as “having life”, and likewise defines conversation as “an informal talk together”. This short and simple message taught me that prayer is a living informal talk between myself and God, an on-going conversation because it involves both talking and listening. Living because it flows unendingly back and forth between my living soul and the living God. It is informal because my relationship with God is the most intimate relationship I will ever have and in that intimacy, with One who knows me better than I know myself, I speak and listen with my heart not my head.
Jesus taught that prayer is not a magic formula in which one hopes to win favor by the sheer repetition of words. I have heard many people talk about the “power of prayer”, but I do not believe that prayer, in and of itself, has any power - prayer is not magic. One can pray for health or riches or transformation, but it is not prayer itself that will manifest those needs or desires. It is by the power of the living God, in loving response to prayer, that needs are met and desires attained in accordance with His will.
When Jesus was asked how to pray He said to pray in this manner – “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is Your Name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” When Jesus said “this is how you should pray”, I do not believe He meant for these words to become a fixed and formal prayer, (though I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with reciting His words as recorded in the gospels), yet I believe He meant these words to serve as an example of the way to pray, and wants us to conform our prayer to the spirit and not the formulation.
The spirit of prayer brings acknowledgment of our intimate relationship with our Creator - a deeply connected sense of parent and child, giving God honor and respect, while recognizing the immediate presence of God. The spirit of prayer calls us to give our life to His kingdom, and to surrender our will so that His will may be fulfilled through us in our world now. Jesus said that God’s will is – “to love one another as I have loved you” and “to do unto others as you would have them do onto you, this is the law and the prophets”. In surrendering our will to His we accept the commission to be a loving people whose strength is in God and not ourselves. The spirit of prayer reminds us that God provides for all our needs, and what we need most is His love, which is from everlasting to everlasting. The spirit of prayer teaches that God is our rock in Whom we are to place our full trust, both in our days of ease and our times of trouble, for God is in control.
Paul writes that we should “pray unceasingly”, and I think this is what he means, having that continuous living flow between the heart and the heart of God. I have found that in those moments when I am in deepest prayer, when I am fully aware of the intimate nature of my relationship with God, somehow words become hollow. All the praises, petitions, thanksgivings, all of which He knows before I speak, just fade away into holy silence, and there in that place of quiet stillness my heart and His heart enjoy the animated conversation that is beyond human expression.
© 2005 Halley Low
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