Why we pray

Sometimes it seems as though the world is so saturated with pain and heartache and disease and fear that it might burst.  

It’s in those moments that we put our hands together, we bow our heads, we bend our knees.  If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we do it less out of faith and more out of desperation and perhaps a little bit out of habit.  We go to God to find solace from the scary world, to test that God is still there, to cry out to someone who we want so boldly to trust, cares.

If you’re like me, you may have circles of friends who aren’t people of faith.  Do you pray for them, too?  Do you tell them?

The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Despite my shoddy track record as an evangelist, I almost always do.  I almost always tell them that I’m thinking of them, that I’m praying for them, and of course, being a former seminarian, I’ve wondered a bit about the theology in all that.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t.  When we’re on our knees and lifting our friends in prayer, it isn’t theology that grounds us, but the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit doesn’t merely speak the language of Christianity or faith, but the language of the heart.  So the language of the heart tumbles out of us, knowing no boundaries, no colors, no sects, no creeds.

When I’ve told my friends who aren’t people of faith that I’m praying for them, I think they’ve found it meaningful, perhaps even more meaningful than those in the church.  They don’t have to be Christian to know that interceding for someone is the work of desperation, habit, and perhaps a little bit of faith.  They do it, too, in their own ways.

As I read this little book by Anne Lamott on prayer these days, I am reminded how simply prayer is about communion with God.  I like how she believes that honesty before God, all of our anger, frustration, and fear, can actually lead us toward, rather than away from God.

Hong Kong

And I wonder if we in the Christian community have spoken too often about what prayer isn’t, so that we’re hardly left with anything that prayer is.  The funny thing is, my non-Christian friends want to pray, too.  They sit there before a meal, waiting on me to bless it.  They ask me when and why I pray.  In fact, they’re not nearly as skittish about prayer as we Christians are sometimes.

And what if I leveled with them?  What if I told them that I don’t pray because I have great faith, I pray because I need great faith?  What if I told them, I pray to hear my own voice saying that God is there, because sometimes I myself have a hard time believing it?  What if I told them that I pray because I simply wish I could feel God a bit nearer all the time?

When it comes down to it, I do believe that God meets us in prayer.  But I also believe God intercedes when we don’t have the words, that God hears the prayers that ruminate in our minds whether we choose to speak them or not, so that prayer is not so much about what God is or isn’t doing, but our need for God.

A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.
A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.

But when the doors to the church are shut so tight, I’m pretty sure those outside can’t see that we’re actually just a bunch of needy people, people just like them.  So this morning, I’m praying for friends, Christian and non-Christian alike, and I’m praying for God to shine brightly through my cracks, my weaknesses, and my neediness.  May it truly be God who is glorified, praised, and honored…in prayer, in life, inside the church and out.

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