19 Jul 2010

Thoughts About Prayer

Submitted by Stephen Winters

Summary: Prayer is not about telling God what to do do, or giving Him advice. Prayer is not about trying to get God to act and do something. Rather, prayer is about changing us, helping us to change our old self-centered thinking patterns so that we think and act with love and compassion, that learn to act responsibly and obediently, preparing us to be ready for His service,


This article is not intended to try to convince anyone else of the "truth", but rather this is written with two objectives in mind. 1. To clarify my own thinking on the subject of prayer, and 2.) to explain to others what my thoughts are about prayer and about why I think that way.

For most of the early years of my life I had a very immature attitude about prayer. It was basically, "God, please give me this" and "God, do that over there." My  whole thought and focus of prayer was trying to get God to do something for me or give me something OR trying to tell God what to do. It was treating God like a vending machine: make a request and get something back.I've seen much of this same type of prayer in modern-day Christianity (i.e. "Pray of my Uncle John that he might be healed", "Let's have everyone pray on the National Day of Prayer" and many other similar thoughts.) This view of prayer is almost saying that God isn't listening, or doesn't know what is going on unless we tell him, or that he will only act if we pray hard enough or long enough, or God won't act unless there are enough people praying at one time.

In recent years, after going through some intense trials, where my concepts of prayer just didn't work, my whole idea and thoughts about prayer have changed drastically. God is our Father and he will provide for our needs. A human child of good parents doesn't have to beg and plead with his parents to give him food, clothing, and a place to sleep. His parents will provide for his needs just because he is their child. And that is what good parents do, they provide for their children. In the same way we don't have to beg and plead with God to provide for our necesities. God is faithful, he will provide for us without us having to continually ask. God also loves and cares for every human on this earth. We don't have to tell God to take care of someone. God is fully in charge. He fully knows the situation of every human on earth and He knows what every human needs. We don't have to ask God to take care of people. God has it fully under control.

Setting Our Minds

Now that brings us to a new awareness. If we aren't to tell God what to do, then what are we to pray for? How are we to pray? What are we to even think or say in our prayers.

Here is a new concept that I live by in recent years.

"Pray = set your mind". What does this mean? Prayer is directing the course of our thoughts and minds. Prayer is preparing our minds for action.

"Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed." 1 Peter 1:13

Let's take a look at how this applies to life. Let's look at this verse.

 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48

Here Jesus is talking about our attitude and our behavior. This is all about how we are to think about and treat our enemies. We are to pray (set our minds) [my words] to love our enemies.

Another part of the equation. We are told to love our enemies. What does that mean?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

To  say it bluntly, we are to love our enemies (treat them kindly, not be rude to them, not be angry with them, not keep a record of wrongs done by them to us.) This way of thinking and behaving is not natural to us. To accomplish this we are to pray (set our minds) on showing them love. Prayer is a first step to living out the love that we are to show our enemies.

Prayer is much more than about loving our enemies. It is also about loving and caring for our own families, even when we feel ambivalent about the whole thing. Prayer is "setting our minds" for action. As we pray, we are telling our minds and ourselves how we will think and behave. We are setting the course of our actions as we face the challenges of each day.

Practically, how does that work? Whatever we do repeatedly or think about repeatedly becomes a habit, which becomes a part of who we are. For example, if I have an enemy in my life that I hate and he hates me, then it's easy to think mean thoughts about him. My hatred for him, and my bad attitude towards him becomes a part of who I am. I take on hatred and a bad attitude. However, once I realize that when I view someone as an enemy and am treating him badly, then I'm at fault because I'm behaving incorrectly. Once I realize that I'm suppose to love my enemies, then I begin to pray ("set my mind" on wanting good things for him). I think good thoughts toward him, and start behaving in a kind and friendly manner towards him. I am to do this "without ceasing". These new thought patterns and behaviors are not dependent on whether or not my "enemy" responds or changes in some positive way. Therefore they become a part of who I am. As a result my new attitude towards my enemy first change me. It can't help but have an affect upon him.

Prayer is mainly about changing our thinking and our behavior. When we begin to make these positive changes in us, we begin to change the world around us.

Similarly Mahatma Gandhi said: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

"Pray without ceasing." How long are we to pray ("set our thinking") in this new way. "Without Ceasing". We are to continue in this new way to the very end of our lives. When we realize that we have to change the way that we think and behave "forever" (without ceasing), then our whole life changes, as well as many of those around us. We have to change first before we can expect anyone or anything else to change.

Guidance

Another aspect of prayer is praying for guidance. There many difficult decisions and many tough choices that come to us. Which is the "correct" one? I think that part of our fear is that we want to make a good choice (that will have no bad consequences that come upon us or others). Another way of saying it would be, "God help me to not make a mistake." Is this even reasonable. Many times we seemingly make bad choices causing (what we think are) all sorts of things to go wrong, but in the end it turned out to be the best choice. It was the path that we were supposed to take. Those challenges were all part of the path that God had for us.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life." When we make a decision, we should tell the truth in all the small and large details. When making a decision it is so easy to want to "fudge the details" OR to tell "only that which will make it happen the way that we want it to happen." In plain English, this would be lieing.

Whenever we have a decision to make, we do have some instructions. Always tell the truth. A good barameter is, "Right to know, Need to know." We don't always have to tell everyone everything. But we do have a responsibililty to tell the full truth to anyone who has a right to know or who has a need to know. We need to tell as much to each person as they need to know to make a wise decision on our behalf. In addition, if their are others involved who have a right to know anything, then we need to tell them anything that they have a right to know.

When we are fully truthful and honest we "loose control" of the outcome of the decision. This "loosing control" is the process of "turning it over to God." This is the scarey part. How do we know what is going to happen? We don't.

So, it boils down to this. We can pray for guidance; but we've already been given the directions. Be truthful, honest, compassionate, and responsible in all that we do. Don't let any deceitfulness come into the picture. When we are fully honest in all that we do, we do as much as we can by those guidelines, we are, in reality, turning the outcome over to God.

Does that mean that we will never make a "mistake"? There are times that we have to make a decision, and none of the outcomes seem desirable. If we choose poorly, bad consequences can seem to come upon us. "God, help me to make the right choice." But it seems that God doesn't answer. Or has he already answered? We don't want to make a mistake, and yet God seems to allow us to make what we think to be mistakes. Experiencing the consequences of our mistakes is all part of the maturing process as we grow into the likeness of the Son of God. As long as we make each decision based upon His truth and principles, then God goes with us through each decision no matter what the outcome. It may not be what we want or what we expected, but the outcome is from God.

Always make a decision based upon truth and love, both to ourselves and to the others that are involved. When we hold fast to God's principles (putting them into practice), then we can be sure that the outcome is from God.

When we have a decision to make, get all the facts, tell everyone who needs to know or who has a right to know the full truth about everything that applies to them.

Prayer = Focused Intention

This article is really for me and my family. (Perhaps it can be of some help to others as well.) We were in the middle of having to make some major decisions in our life. We didn't know what to do. This article came to me in stages; in the evening before I went to bed, and in the middle of the night, during the day as I was working..

The Law Of Averages

When I was of the old mindset about prayer it was easy to think that when something happened that I prayed about, that my prayer caused the event to happen. In recent times I've had a new thought about that. The law of averages says that if you bet on enough horse races, you'll will a few of them. If you make enough prophecies, some of them will come true. If a fortune teller will predict enough events some of them will come true. (i.e. let's say a fortune teller will predict the outcome of 100 events, the law of averages says that at least a few of them will happen. Then she can look at the few that she correctly guess about and proclaim her powers of predicting the future.) In much the same way, if someone prays for enough different things, some of them are bound to come true. As humans, we also tend to see what we want to see. Then, if we see that some of our prayers have seemingly been answered (even though it is just the law of averages) it's easy to think that our prayers caused the desired thing to happen. But what about all the things that we have prayed about that never happened? It's so easy to brush them into the closet and forget about them. It's so much more builds our ego to think that our prayers made things happen.

I believe that a large part of people believing in the power of prayer is that of "people  see what they want to see." When a person believes in the "power of prayer" then he only sees the things that fit into his belief system and he discounts anything that doesn't fit into his paradyme.

Over my 60 plus years I have in the midst of many people praying. I have also watched may prayers that were prayed with "great power" (of strong emotion). No matter how the prayer was said, not matter how great of "power" was put into the prayers, I have seen nothing more than what could be attributed to the law of averages. Some people will get well, some will not, according to the law of averages.

Confirmation Bias

Another consideration is the tendency for the human mind to want to prove what it already believes to be right. For many people, it really doesn't matter what is true, they want to believe what they already believe and will go to great lengths to keep ahold of their beliefs.

"If one were to attempt to identify a single problematic aspect of human reasoning that deserves attention above all others, the confirmation bias we be among the candidates for consideration. Many have written about this bias, and it appears to be sufficiently strong and pervasive that one is led to wonder whether the bias, by itself, might account for a significant faction of the disputes, altercations, and misunderstandings that occur among individcuals, groups, and nations."1

 

The Power of Prayer

Anything that we do repeatedly will have an affect. If we say or think something over and over again, the repetition builds pathways in our brain in those areas. It doesn't matter whether those thoughts are true or not. The repetition can make it seem true to us. In much the same way, if we prayer repeatedly it will have an affect upon us. This can go in several different directions.
1.) If we pray repeatedly that our eyes will be opened to the needs of others or of a specific person, then that builds an awareness within in our minds to begin looking for the people who are in need.
2.) If we pray repeatedly that God will work in specific ways, the repetition of those prays builds within us thoughts that we can cause things to happen. We don't see all the things that happen contrary to our prayers.

The continued repetition can be extremely beneficial in helping us to become persistent, or to build positive thoughts in our life. Conversely, it can also be very harmful if it makes us believe things that just aren't true.

In prayer, if we think something might be true (whether or not is actually true) the continued repetition can convince us without a doubt that something is true. The continued repetition builds those thoughts and ideas deep down inside of us. So the message is, "Be careful what you pray" because the message will be planted deep inside of you.

Additional Notes: 

There are many challenging situations in this life that really stretch us, that push us to the limit, the  tear at our emotions. Prayer is a practice of controlling our mind and our emotions, of calming us down.

 

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