For many people of faith, living a daily life devoted to prayer is an important spiritual discipline. For others it is hard to understand why God's people pray, when they see the evidence of prayers going unanswered in the world around them. And for some, prayer is left as the last resort, when all of our own efforts have failed to change our circumstances. How then, do we understand prayer, this great gift and mystery of faith?
It's not possible to offer a quick and satisfying answer to that question, because the entire process of prayer defies easy description. Yet through scripture, we are led to understand that prayer is a fundamental part of living faithfully, and St. Paul exhorts us to persevere in prayer, and pray incessantly despite the world's messages that prayer is a futile exercise and time simply wasted in the outcome.
One way we can understand prayer is as an extension of Christ's command that we love each other, our neighbors and our enemies. It might be easy for us to offer prayer for our neighbors or those who we love, but why pray for those who antagonize, vex, anger and perhaps even hate us? Because, when we pray for those who trouble us, we can find prayer to be most valuable to our own souls. Prayer is the first act of love toward another person because it works to heal any resentments we might have and points us to God's preference for reconciliation in all relationships.
German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer considered prayer for others to be the sign of life or death in a faith community, and referred to prayer for others as "the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day". It is a sure sign of love if you are praying for someone, because you cannot hate the one for whom you are praying. Who can invoke the name of Jesus in a prayer, and not see the face of Jesus in the one for whom prayers are offered?
Seen in this way, prayer becomes more than a process of asking for things to happen and waiting in hope that the answer will come. Prayer is a call to loving action for the sake of others, and for the sake of ourselves. Thinking of it that way, prayer becomes an attitude, a tilt toward generosity in all relationships, a built-up resistance toward thinking the worst about someone, and a depressing of our human need to get something in return. That purifying bath that Bonhoeffer wrote about is a remembrance of our baptisms and the promise that God has made to us - to love us persistently and without ceasing.
Prayer is a lifestyle - no, correct that - Prayer is life! So, never stop praying. Never stop loving. Never stop living.
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About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.