Prayer has been defined in several ways – desire, communication, intercession, travail, pleading, groaning in the spirit, a longing to be better and holier, and so on. Generally, in the religious sense, (as opposed to the legal sense of ‘praying the court’), praying involves communing with God or the Supreme Being, in some way. But why do we pray? And how does prayer benefit others and us?
We may pray for divine intervention in a human situation, such as relationships, employment, finance, illness and so on. Sometimes, we pray to express gratitude for some successful outcome. In some cases, we pray to inform or remind God about a problem. Then, there is pleading for forgiveness; asking Christ Jesus to come and dwell in the heart and so on. While there is no formula for praying aright, James 4:3 in the Bible enjoins us not to ask amiss.
As Christians, we can gain good guidance by following Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6: 6, which reveals that prayer involves being still mentally – listening for God’s direction, being aware of His ever-present power and unconditional love.
Mary Baker Eddy was a Christian healer, who wrote a lot about prayer, especially in the first chapter of her book Science and Health with key to the Scriptures. Some of her ideas are worth considering. She writes that prayer cannot inform an omniscient God of something He does not already fully comprehend. Prayer does not spur God to act, as if He needs motivation to perform a forgotten or unwelcome task. Eddy warns against using prayer as a confessional, reminding that transformation and regeneration of character are what really prove the sincerity of a confession. Moreover, as Christ Jesus, and later Paul said, a desire to impress an audience with oratorical eloquence, praying for the downfall of another, or self- justification for a wrong deed, are not the ways of praying aright. Eddy also insists that such prayer cannot be beneficial.
Heavenly mercy, to borrow Shakespeare’s term in The merchant of Venice, blesses all, including those who do not pray; yet, praying is important, because it aligns us with the good, which God already has in place for us. This is why St. Paul admonishes praying without ceasing (I Thes.5: 17). We should remember that God sees beyond speech, to the heart – or motive – of prayer, and Christ Jesus assures that it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32).
Becoming aware that we and others dwell in God’s presence, forming the habit of humbly listening for His direction – for big decisions, as well as, for the decisions involving the minutiae of daily living – we bring more of God’s goodness into our experience. This spiritual activity blesses us, and also all who are included in our prayers.
Eddy writes: ‘Prayer begets an awakened desire to be and do good… It shows us more clearly than we saw before, what we already have and are; and most of all, it shows us what God is.’
This is a really good reason to pray.
Originally published in The Guardian Nigeria, @GuardianNigeria