Two kinds of prayers

Praying hands
Praying hands

I remember the moment in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship when I had invited my friends to the meeting on campus, and asked my friend Jim, from Taiwan, to pray. He said he didn’t know how, and didn’t know what to say. I was kind of surprised.

If you’re like most people, you were raised Catholic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But here’s the deal. By the time you were in high school, you had been to umpteen Masses, and said the same words over and over and over again, like clockwork, every Sunday morning.

Now I want you to think about this: imagine if you and your dad had breakfast everyday, together, for 10 years. You’re a little kid when this starts, and he’s 35. You both have index cards with words on them, so it goes something like this:

Dad: Son, I love you. I am happy to make your lunch to take to school. I am thankful for your life and that you are my son.

Kid: Dad, you are good to me. I am glad you’re my dad. Thank you for all you do for me.

Ok- so now imagine these two say the exact same words to each other, every morning, for ten years. By the time the ten years go by, that teenager is not going to be as enthused to say such things to his dad, because it has become rote. He has said the same thing, over and over and over, and the words lose their meaning. That once close relationship they had is now “by the numbers” and the kid is just mouthing words on a card.

Get this–and it’s mind-blowing–for those of you who have been sitting in a Catholic church on Sunday for years, you’ve been saying the same thing, over and over and over. To God, who is your “Father.” BUT, do those words you mouth at Mass really, truly matter to you anymore? Perhaps not. After all, you wouldn’t say the same thing to your earthly father over and over, because that makes no sense. So why would or should you be stuck with the same words over and over to God in the Mass? Honestly, it gets stale after a while.

Just because the “Lord’s Prayer,” aka the “Our Father,” is in the Bible doesn’t mean God intended people to say that exact prayer to Him over and over and over and over and over again. Nope, that prayer is a blueprint, giving us a highlight of what to pray about and how to pray to God the Father.

Here’s the deal: prayer is not designed to change God, but to change us. The words we speak to God reflect the presence or absence of intimacy. If you’re speaking to God from your heart, the way you’d speak to your earthly father whom you love, that shows you have an intimate relationship– not just lip service to a distant acquaintance.

I like to think of intimacy as “in to me you see.” When you have an intimate relationship, you’re letting someone see the real you, and vice versa. Intimacy–with God–isn’t about saying “the right words” of The Mass, but, rather, about being able to say anything or nothing at all.

I’m reminded of my friend Jim who didn’t know how or what to pray. I mentioned to him that a person could speak to God like you’d speak to a close friend or relative. The God of the universe is available to you like that, and He cares. You can “pour your heart” out to your Father. That intimate relationship with the Lord can and will change your life, as you desire to be more like Him and less like your old, selfish self. Will you ever be perfect in this life? No. But you can improve your overall well-being when you look to Jesus’ example on how to avoid bad things in life, and seek the good things for yourself and others.

By telling my friend Jim that prayer doesn’t have to be what’s written by someone else on a page in a book somewhere, I realized, at that moment, what freedom in Christ means. You can have a closer relationship with God through personal prayer. So try it. Imagine Jesus is sitting in the chair across from you, and talk to Him. Tell Him your troubles, your praises, your hopes, your “sins,” and whatever else is on your mind and your heart. THAT is the great big GOD we serve. God is not some cosmic slot machine to be called on for money or power. God is not a distant dictator who condemns you. And God is not who to turn to only in times of extreme trouble as your last resort.

God is always with us. Prayer is a connector in our relationship with God. Finally, I’ll leave you with this: You are as close to God as YOU want to be. Where are you with the Lord these days? Where do you want to be? Something to ponder. –Mark Weber