Prayer fascinates me. This supernatural experience is a one of the most common actions within not only Christianity, but with the majority of faith traditions who share in our similar needs and rituals to communicate with who we believe to be holy and divine. However, even amongst Christians, there is a diverse understanding of how and why we are to pray.
Our Book of Common Prayer teaches us that prayer is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit that facilitates a direct relationship between God and humanity. We engage in prayer as individuals and groups to establish a nearness with God, through words, acts, or silence. The principal kinds of prayer include adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.
On a technical perspective, the action and productivity of prayer (and its relative, meditation) does not make much sense. Our science and technology do not have the capabilities of understanding or proving the effectiveness of prayer, so many disregard prayer as a form of hocus pocus or a cause for a placebo effect.
Prayer serves as a direct line of communication with God. To me, prayer, especially group prayer, is effective and productive because it is focused energy directed towards a specific object, situation, or need. This energy has to go somewhere, right? Physics teaches us that that energy must be transferred. We have little understanding of the realities outside of our observed physical world so the possibility of the energy serving its prayerful intention warrants consideration and faith in the unseen. Of course, this is just theory, but that is how my brain comprehends the productivity of prayer.
Our faith is rooted in the individual and group spiritual discipline of prayer. Today, James and Luke teach of how a person’s and community’s commitment to prayer is one of the core foundations in how we are called to live out as the Body of Christ in the world. They both call for considerable agency and discernment in our choices for prayer and our expectation from our relationship with the Holy. Our scriptures assure us that our intimate relationship with God, that is facilitated by prayer, enables us to see the Holy in the midst of suffering or even in our daily life.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
These scriptures challenged me. The theology of prayer, especially with prayers of petition and intercession, can be destructive or life giving. I actually cringed with an initial response to these promises of answered prayers with “and that isn’t how our life and faith works.” Difficult texts about relationships with the Divine such as these, have the potential to turn people away from God because a superficial understanding of these texts could lead many to call the author’s bluff. The notion of a God that rewards the “highly favored” over others due to prayers of petitions is dangerous because it implies that our creator is open to extortion.
What if we considered that maybe miracles happen because of the focused energy from collective prayer rather than a God practicing favoritism? Or maybe these miracles are simply flukes of nature or a glitch in the matrix? Who, knows? It is all about perspective and subjective. To engage in prayer with God and others is an act of faith.
As someone whose life experience has always included chronic illness and has grieved the deaths of numerous loved ones due to health issues and tragedy, I have spent a considerable amount of time either in prayer or discerning what it means to engage in a relationship with God; a God who created a world, and our lives, to endure this suffering.
As a child I wondered why it seemed God would answer prayers and heal some people, but me and my loved ones were still sick. People around me talked about the need to be “blessed by God with Divine healing” confused me and distorted my and many other’s understanding of beloved-ness.
How many of us have been told that our circumstances or illnesses are the results of our sins and lack of faith or prayer? Or that “everything happens for a reason?”
These dangerous theologies permeate our faiths. As Christians and as faith leaders, we are called to rectify this obstacle towards healing and an opportunity to experience the love of Jesus Christ. I’m often asked of how I can believe in a God who would allow such suffering or play supposed favoritism? My response is that those are not characteristics of the relationship I have with the Divine and understand through the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes tragedy happens; people get sick, are killed, natural disasters strike, and evil occurs. And our gracious God is mourning with us, yearning a close relationship with us so that they may provide strength, peace, and hope in what is a greater reality beyond our circumstance and comprehension. God is navigating this life with us and for that, scripture teaches us to offer thanksgiving through the valleys and in the celebrations of life.
Our Holy Scriptures promise healing, forgiveness, and a renewal of life from a God who responds to our prayers with mercy, grace, and devotion. So, what do these prayers entail when they are to a Creator who does not practice favoritism and allows suffering to happen due to the nature of human sin and free will?
James states that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.”
Will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.
I can tell you that although I have not, and most likely will not, experience total healing, my life has been saved by living in the Body of Christ and according to Jesus’ teachings. I have experienced and witnessed Divine healing in numerous circumstances throughout this life and they most often occur in the darkest of nights.
That I have encountered serenity in the Divine when I dive deep in prayerful meditation to cope with the realities of chronic illness and pain. That I know I have survived events in my life all thanks to being raised up by the strength, wisdom, and increased resiliency that I have gained from the faith communities that have supported me, my family, and my medical teams in prayer. That supporting others in their journeys in Christ has enabled me to understand how participating in the healing of others, often includes more healing for ourselves.
We are assured that “If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
This healing from our sinful natures and pasts happens in relationship with each other. When we confess our sins, weaknesses, and failures, and leave the judgement of others to God, then we are offered the opportunity to give and receive accountability and support to change our circumstances through a new life in the teachings of Jesus Christ. This new life that is rooted in the assurance that we are all beloved children of God, made in God’s image. This new life that is free from the burdens of guilt because we have sought reconciliation and reparation. There is a reason why making amends is part of most recovery programs.
I witnessed this CDSP community modeled Christ in supporting me and Jason while I was on leave the past semester and enabled me the opportunity to seek and experience healing so that I may continue to answer my Call to serve. Thank you.
When our lives are connected to the Divine through personal prayer and human connection, and we are living according to Jesus’ teachings, then we may be confident in the reflection of God that is being enacted out into the world.
I adore the hymns with lyrics devoted to Luke’s Gospel. I’ve realized that it is because of the reminder that when I ask and seek and knock, God is engaging with me with holy wisdom and support. Sometimes, that holiness is experienced through healing, or death, a life-giving hug, trusting our intuition that is graciously offered by the Holy Spirit, or even a text “checking in”; but God is eagerly there and wanting to navigate this life with us.
My favorite part of the song are the verses of praise singing, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia”.
Giving thanks and praise to our Holy Trinity and for our holy communities. Giving thanks all the time because our relationships with the Holy, when rooted in our spiritual connections through prayer, assure us in our confidence that we are beloved and part of a reality beyond this life that is greater than our comprehension. That we are healed through the life of Jesus Christ as we live out his teachings.
Alleluia. Alleluia, Alleluia!