|Over the last couple of weeks, the news of tragic events has been constant. People’s responses have been made public in news reports, social media platforms and in private conversations. Over time, the words we use in response to tragedy has varied. I can remember a time when the phrase “I’m holding you in my prayers” was used with great regularity. I can remember the expansion of that statement to “I’m holding you in my thoughts and prayers” to be more inclusive of those who might not have a practice of prayer. And now we come to a time, when the entire phrase “thoughts and prayers” seems for some, even many, to evoke feelings of anger and pain.
A common misconception of prayer is that God receives our words as votes for a particular outcome. This is dangerous in that when tragedies occur or when outcomes don’t match our wishes and expectations, we decide that God doesn’t love us or even worse, that God doesn’t exist at all.
Another common misconception of prayer is that IT IS ENOUGH. Prayer can be understood as the spiritual fuel needed for our journeys in this life. We can have the shiniest, most comfortable vehicle that money can buy, but without fuel and appropriate fuel, where can it take us and for how long?
Private prayer offers me the opportunity to be totally authentic with God, a time in which I can name every single concern. Prayer can be an ongoing conversation, not limited to any certain time period. Corporate prayer, which we practice during the Lord’s Prayer and Prayer of Confession, reminds me that, in my prayers and community, I am not alone in my petitions and praises.
In a meeting this week with one of our members, I learned that one of my own practices might be of interest to those of you who participate in the lighting of candles during our Sunday worship service. At the conclusion of each service, one of our ushers carefully extinguishes the candles at each prayer station. What has become a regular practice for me is to remove each candle from the sand which holds it, and as I break off the melted wax from its edges, to imagine the hands of the person choosing, holding and lighting the candle. I then add my own blessing to the request made by each of you.
I want to leave you with two thoughts on prayer:
Luke 11:1 tells us that we can be taught how to pray. I often hear myself uttering the words, God, give me the words that need to be shared, to be lifted up, in this time of prayer.
As to the purpose for prayer, consider these words: “Prayer might not change the outcome of every situation, but will always impact our ability to handle the outcome of any situation.”
It is my hope that whatever your practice, you will always feel heard by those in your midst and by the spirit of God.