Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thoughts and Prayers

It was years ago, and I had a colleague.  We were trying to rebuild a church.  In order for that endeavor to succeed, there was something specific that had to happen.  And it was out of my hands.  He had to do it.  It was in his power.

But he didn't want to do what needed to be done.  The reasons were manifold.  Though he had many gifts, he didn't yet have the skillset required.  But he was also accustomed to a particular way of doing things, an easy way, a comfortable and familiar way.  That way was also the path to the death of that community, a dark path I saw as clearly as a vision.  And so, as his colleague, I pressed hard to get him to do what needed to get done.  Week after week, I pressed him.  I wasn't in a position to simply order it.

"I'll pray about it," he'd say.  "I'm praying over it," he'd intone earnestly.

After six months, I learned what that meant.  When he said, "I'm praying over it," what he was really saying was, "I'm not going to do a God-damn thing."

Our effort failed, catastrophically, needlessly.

Now, I'm a believer in the power of prayer.  I wrote a little book on it, last year, about the one perfect prayer that always works.  No, really.  It does.  It just doesn't work in the way we think.

Prayer doesn't bring you blessings, because we Jesus people know that God makes it rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike.  Prayer does not mean you will avoid suffering, either.  I mean, dang, those of us who follow Jesus should know that.

Prayer is not magick.  Nor is it science.  It doesn't, in my experience, change the arc of things in predictable ways.  I have prayed earnestly for the healing of people I loved, and it has not come.  Yet I have prayed earnestly for healing of others, and I have seen it occur in ways that felt wildly improbable.

What prayer does, if done deeply and well, is change a soul.  It establishes a basis of connection with the Creator, and shatters the preconceptions and false certainties that imprison us in a destructive pattern of being.  It creates and sustains a foundation of compassion within us.  Prayer opens up new possibilities, and allows us to walk a different path.  Shared prayer can bind souls as one, galvanizing communities to serve and care and find new paths.

Real prayer, prayer grounded in the Logos of God?  It changes you.  That's kind of how you know it's doing something.  If you pray, and are unchanged, then you aren't really praying.  If you pray, and your every prayer reaffirms you in your correctness, then you are not placing yourself in encounter with God.

If you have been individually or collectively blessed with the power to change a situation, prayer turns the will towards a just and loving application of that power.  If you are powerless, prayer grounds you in God, which makes enduring the inescapable more possible.

But if you pray from a position of power, and your prayers are nothing but shallow sentiment and solipsistic self-affirmation that lead to nothing, then you are just mumbling to yourself.

If you pray, and your prayer turns your heart to violence, or affirms your hatred?  Then those words are the dark mutterings of a madman.