Thank you so much for this, Matthew. I don’t know how it all works on this level, anymore. However, I do know several things…or maybe I think that I know:
First, I’m aware at times that prayer somehow brings me into the presence of God in a more telling way than when I’m not praying. I become more aware of and in tune with a power outside of myself. I sense a peace and encouragement, or even a sense of direction, no matter what may be happening circumstantially or externally. It may not change things one iota, but it changes me, for want of a better expression.
And, I’m sometimes reminded that this power seems to know me…personally. Knows my weaknesses, my continual struggles, my fears, my makeup. And, communicates with me regarding them. Often, the scriptures come into play during these times, speaking to me along these lines. Some may call this a self projection. Maybe, somewhat? But, I’ve never experienced this before coming to faith in God, and don’t apart from prayer.
I also see that when Jesus himself was asked by his own closest followers about how to pray, he didn’t say anything about petitioning God for direct healing, or specific answers to problems. The first half of the Lord’s prayer is about coming into God’s presence, acknowledging our mutual belonging to him, and asking for his rule to come to bear on earth, as it is in heaven. That would seem to not only have as its purpose a request for God’s ultimate intervention, but to align us and our thinking, doing, and being with God’s overall purposes in the world. That we become his delivery system to bring compassion, justice, shalom, to one another, on earth as it is in heaven. IOW, we become the answer to our prayers, and those of others, even in the face of continual problems and evil circumstances.
The second half addresses asking for daily needs. Maybe this also reminds us that we are not only directly dependent upon God, but that God has made us dependent upon one another for our daily bread. Those who had in the early church provided for those who didn’t, so that no one lacked. Jesus also pointed to our need of forgiveness, and the idea that the way and the degree to which we forgive others is the measure of our own reception of forgiveness.
All of this seems to put the nature and purpose of our praying into a different place than how we usually perceive it, and engage in it. In Jesus’s teaching, prayer becomes a spiritual practice that aligns us with God and his ways, rather than an exercise of making requests and hoping for our desired answers…even though the latter is still somehow part of the picture in approaching God.
Finally, I also like the balance of the Serenity Prayer…“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That is a very realistic way to pray…to me.