There’s a lot of talk about prayer these days. A lot of folk seem to be confusing prayer with meditation, even mystical meditation. See for example : http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/2007/02/jim-wallis-revolutionary-prayer.html where the author says:
But, at least for me, prayer is more often becoming a time of listening than talking. There is so much noise in our world and our lives (much of our own making); prayer becomes a quiet space enabling us to stop talking long enough to see what God might be trying to say to us. The disciplines of prayer, silence, and contemplation practices by the monastics and mystics are precisely that – stopping the noise, slowing down, and becoming still, so that God can break through all our activity and noise in order to speak to us. Prayer serves to put all the parts of our lives in God’s presence, reminding us of how holy our humanity really is. [?!!?]
Others say that prayer should be specific, concrete, detailed, out loud, and with confidence. (As if God needs to be told how to carry out His business, never mind that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways not our ways.) Others say it is most effective when done by groups of people gathered in the same place at the same time in synergy. (As if God is a politician and pays more attention to bigger numbers of lobbyists.)
But what does the Bible say? In order to start to answer that question I did a search of the New Testament on words prays, prayer, pray, praying. (This could be expanded by also looking at words like ask, request, etc). You can do it yourself using a good concordance, or a computer Bible. I kind of organized the results according to the following topics:
When and where did people pray?
What did people pray for?
How are we to pray?
Are there postures?
What are the results of prayer?
My preliminary results (I won’t include my list or analysis because you really ought to try this yourself!) are as follows:
When and where did people pray? There are no specific commands as to time of day, location, what direction to face, or what constitutes a quorum. People prayed in prison, in the temple, in their houses, by themselves, in groups, on the rooftops, in an inner room, in the wilderness, on mountains, on the beach, and apparently just anywhere. They were told to pray when they are sick or suffering, to sing when cheerful. Pray all the time, at midnight, night and day.
What did people pray for? Surprisingly, not as many specific concrete things as you might think. Sinners prayed for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus prayed that the cup [of His imminent suffering] might pass – yet surely He knew it wouldn’t? He more than once told His followers to pray that they would not fall into temptation, that they would have strength to escape all the [bad] things that are about to take place. People prayed for those imprisoned for their faith. They prayed for the salvation of others. Speakers in tongues should pray that they can interpret. Paul prayed glorious prayers for people’s spiritual growth: that they do no wrong, be made complete, be given wisdom and understanding, knowledge of God’s will, strength, that their love might abound, that they would be sincere and blameless and thankful, that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, that the name of the Lord would be glorified in them and they in Him. For himself Paul often asked that a door would be opened up for the word to spread, that he would be bold in speaking it. He asked prayer for protection from evil men, and that he would be released from prison, and that he could visit again for the purpose of ministering to them. We are also told to pray for rulers and authorities so that we can lead a tranquil and quiet life. We are told to pray for each other, for spiritual leaders, evangelists, and for those who mistreat us. (Anybody else out there starting to feel like your prayer life has been missing the mark???)
How are we to pray? Jesus of course gave us a model: praise, request for daily food, forgivenss for sins, help in forgiving others, that we not be tempted but rather be delivered from evil. We should devote ourselves to prayer, pray in the Spirit (after all, He intercedes for us), but also pray with our minds. We are to be on the alert (not zoned out), persevering (not losing heart, nor a once for all time prayer). Prayer is also described as supplication, petitions, requests, thanksgivings, entreaties. (Doesn’t sound much like quiet meditation, does it?) Jesus is said to have offered up prayer with loud crying and tears, the Holy Spirit also groans, so prayer doesn’t have to be silent. We are to pray in faith, to pray without ceasing. We are to pray earnestly, one guy, Epaphras, was said to labor in prayer. We are to pray without wrath and dissention – and not treating your wife right can mean that your prayers won’t be answered! We must also forgive others when we pray – or we won’t be forgiven.
Are there postures? Doesn’t seem to be. Some people stood, some knelt, some threw themselves on the ground. No mention of prayer rugs. Some lifted holy hands. No particular posture required, nor are any forbidden.
Procedures? Do not use meaningless repetition. (If it bores us, how much more must it bore God?) Other procedures are mentioned such as wearing headcoverings for women and NOT wearing head coverings for men was discussed in 1 Cor (though it’s not clear if this was for public worship or for everywhere, for leaders of public worship or everybody, whether hair is enough, etc.) Anointing the sick with oil in James. Praying for others sometimes involved putting hands on them. Other than that, nada, zip.
Attitudes? First and formost believe. Have faith. Not doubting. Yet also with humility, “not my will but Yours”. Do not lose heart. Prayer with thanksgiving is mentioned often. Rejoice. Be of sober spirit and sound judgement, alert. Be anxious for nothing. Avoid long prayers for appearance sake. In fact, in one place we are advised to go into our inner rooms and pray to our heavenly Father in secret.
What are the results of prayer? Results in peace that passes all comprehension. Sinners are justified. People regained sight, were restored from their sicknesses, released from prison, delivered from peril, food is sanctified, it rained, it stopped raining, helps other people, prayers ascend as a memorial to God, and are incense on the altar in heaven whose fragrance goes up before God. God hears the prayer of the righteous.
So, I am encouraged to pray more. I don’t need to do washings and change clothes and face east at certain times of the day. I don’t need to wait until I find a group or a prayer partner. I don’t need to wait until I am in a church or on a mountain. Even if I am somewhere where I can’t stand or can’t kneel, I can still pray. Even if I don’t know the details of what someone is going through at the moment, I can pray that “they would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith; and that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Wow! Wouldn’t you like people to pray that for you?