If you are a person of faith, what is prayer for you? You’d be surprised how many answers there are to that question… everything from meditation to requests for miraculous intervention. For non-believers, the definition would probably be “waste of time.”
Before I tell you what prayer is for me, let me tell you the one unfortunate reality of what prayer is unwittingly for some… an excuse. Don’t blow your top yet… Let me explain what I mean then you can get mad at me.
How often have you been in a scenario like this: Someone shares a need they have – something big, like say – losing their house because they are so far behind on their mortgage… or they have been diagnosed with cancer and we say, “I’ll be praying for you.” I mean… what else are we supposed to say, right? “Wow, that’s too bad! Where should we go for lunch?” Telling someone you will pray for them when they are facing big challenges is a good thing to say right? Pause for a second – because I AM NOT SAYING we shouldn’t pray for people! Don’t you dare say that’s what I said. What I am saying – is that often times, I think we know that in addition to praying, there is probably something else we could do as well… We could get messy and get involved. We could walk with the person in need and be a difference maker for them. We can be people of action who also pray.
Does that make sense? Prayer is an awesome thing to do for someone… but it also needs to be accompanied by action. Maybe for the friend who is losing their home… the prayer is “God rescue…” as well as, “God help me to help them…” and we invite them to stay with us or we use our savings account to pay their past due bills or we help them find a better job or we rally friends and family to all jump in and help… Maybe for the friend who has cancer… the prayer is “God heal…” as well as, “God break my heart for what breaks yours…” and we sit with them through chemo treatments and we research alongside them additional treatments, additional therapies and we encourage them everyday as long as it’s called today and we clean their house and help care for their children and fix meals… and all along, yes, we continue to pray, in all things, for healing, for comfort, for mercy, for grace, for unending love and for peace that surpasses understanding.
Now, let me tell you what prayer is to me. Prayer is a direct conduit between us and God. It’s not a one way conversation… it’s our ability to communicate with Him and be communicated with; it’s our opportunity to share what’s on our hearts with Him and seek His guidance and direction; it’s our opportunity to ask God for our daily needs, to ask for our wounded-ness and broken-ness to be healed, to experience healing in our hearts, minds and souls.
What prayer is not… Prayer is not an obligation. I used to see it that way. It was the stuff you said out loud and tried to be eloquent and say the right things when there was nothing else that could be done. Prayer was before a meal. Prayer was at bedtime. Prayer was when someone else needed to hear “God Words.” It’s also not a magic lamp moment… it’s not a “Hey God… show up and fix this… I’ll be hiding under my bed while you take care of stuff.”
Back at the beginning when I said non-believers would define prayer as a waste of time you probably assumed I said that because of course if they think we are talking to an imaginary friend, then of course they believe we are wasting our time. That’s part of it… but it’s also because of how Jesus described the way many of us pray… He said in Matthew 6:7 that we shouldn’t “heap up empty phrases,” … in other words, when your prayers don’t match your lifestyle, you are wasting your time. A great number of people who don’t believe, don’t believe because they have seen nothing in us to give them reason to believe… our words appear to be empty and meaningless because our actions don’t match them.
When you tell someone you will be praying for them… You are literally saying, “I talk to God.” Which means you are a believer in God. You are a follower of God. You are a representative of God. And you better show it in more than just your words. Let your actions – all of them – be based in love and your prayers be accompaniments to the love you show everyone.
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.