Prayer is just talking with God
Recently I came back from a training in the States. I was sitting in the Newark airport waiting for my connecting flight from Pittsburgh back to Bermuda. I looked up to the television monitor, and CNN told me that Joan Rivers had died. I didn't know what to do with that. She was 81, but her daughter loved her, and it was a loss. I thought of the losses others have recently suffered — the deaths as Russia invades Ukraine, the beheading of people by ISIS.
Recently here in Bermuda a tragic death of a young man took place. We've had them before. Does that make the next one any the less tragic or sad? Of course not.
In the face of all these things I need to lighten up a bit. I need to remind myself of the good people and the beautiful things that exist in this world. I need to set my mind on such things.
“… Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Basically what this says to me is that it's a good idea to run one's thoughts, whatever they might be, past God.
The word “prayer” has such religious connotations that people get hung up on the right way to do it. Does one have to kneel? Does one have to read to God the set prayers of others (those written by esteemed saints; are they more powerful and effective?)?
Does one have to use particular words or a special format?
Prayer is just talking with God. When I was ten-years-old, before I had what I now regard to be a knowledge of God, I used to sit under the big fruit tree in our pasture, watch the clouds drift across the sky of the central valley of California, and talk with God.
What does a ten-year-old know about the right way to do such things? I didn't even know that people thought there WAS a right way to pray. I just talked with God. I just prayed.
Prayer is the currency of a conversational relationship with God. First of all, one has to believe there is a God, or else why talk to Him. Some people talk to the universe. The universe is their concept of God. How a person conceives of God probably has an effect on how that person tries to relate to God, which then, of course, affects how that person talks to God.
In Glendon Moriarty and Louis Hoffman's book, God Image Handbook for Spiritual Counseling and Psychotherapy: Research, Theory, and Practice, these authors help clinicians sort through the issues related to the imaginations people have about God. Amazon describes their book as follows:
“Each person has two ideas of God — the God concept and the God image. The God concept is intellectual in nature, while the God image is the subjective emotional experience of God that is shaped by a person's family history.
“Those who struggle with mental health issues often have a God image that is distant, critical, and judgmental because they had parents who behaved that way. God Image Handbook for Spiritual Counseling and Psychotherapy: Research, Theory, and Practice provides therapists with the tools to effectively treat clients who harbour God image issues. This unique manual builds upon strong philosophical and research foundations to offer seven practical clinical approaches to working with the God image in psychotherapy. Leading clinicians and researchers from various disciplines offer expert insight and analysis to provide therapists with in-depth understanding of the God image.”
So, that book was written for clinicians, but it lends itself to anyone interested in the issues about which it speaks.
One clinician who bought the book for a graduate class, then sold it away to someone else when the class was over.
However, he found that his clients so frequently asked questions and dealt with issues covered in the book that he had to purchase another copy to have around for reference.
Anyway, my concept of God matches my God image. I believe He is loving, kind, wise, and patient — all those things that I experience Him to be and that are described in the classic description of love:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
“If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails …”
Of the many things claimed about God, one is that God IS love.
Such a Being is accessible to me. He is present with me to listen. I know that He discerns my thoughts from afar, meaning that he can read my mind and hear my internal dialogue, but I often find it helpful to speak my mind out loud in talking with Him.
So, on days when the world seems too much — too chaotic, too debauched, too cruel, too lost, too deceptive and malevolent — I turn my thoughts to what is good and beautiful, and that is the person of God.
It was also a theme that was sung at Whitney Houston's funeral:
“Winter storms have come
And darkened my sun.
After all that I've been through
Who on earth can I turn to?
I look to you.
I look to you.
After all my strength is gone,
In you I can be strong
I look to you.”
— R Kelly