I don’t fully get prayer.
I’m not sure exactly what happens. Am I changing God’s “mind” (forgive me for the anthropomorphic description of God)? Is my mind changing through the power of the Holy Spirit to align with the will of God? Is it a kenosis, a self-emptying, of ego that happens when I pray? Forget timid prayers, I walk right up to the throne of God and tell God what’s on my mind. I don’t need to be timid, God is love, love welcomes us all to come and be present. I’ve always been influenced by Hebrew 4:16 “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The Heidelberg Catechism Q & A #116 asks us “Why do Christians need to pray?
A. Because prayer is the most important part
of the thankfulness God requires of us.
And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit
only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly,
asking God for these gifts
and thanking God for them.
I love how the Heidelberg expresses that prayer is a groan inwardly. Sometimes that groan comes out in tears of weeping and petitioning to God. Sometimes that groan comes out in the sound of silence.
This week, Humans of New York photographed someone who wanted to convey how important prayer is to him. The caption of the picture was a gentleman saying “I’m telling you. Prayer works.” “What’s a time that prayer didn’t work for you?”“The time I didn’t pray.”
So what really happens in prayer?
I’m not sure.
But I’m okay with that. I don’t need to know the mechanics of what happens in prayer to know that I believe in the power of prayer. Not only the power of prayer, but sometimes prayer is the only place I can turn to that makes sense. Prayer is a language that lifts us up out of our navel gazing. Prayer is the language by which I am united to people of faith around the world even when we are geographically distant. Prayer is the place I cry out to God and pray “Turn your steadfast mercy to 276 missing girls in Nigeria. Break the powers of evil. May the girls be reconciled to their families.” Prayer is powerful.
So when Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and people of other religious identities come together to pray in a house of worship in New York City, that is powerful. When we come together in the prayers of our traditions, looking to God to keep the Nigerian girls safe, that is powerful. When a Christian reaches her hand out to a Muslim and they pray together, that is powerful. When a Jew lifts up her guitar and leads the congregation in prayer of a Hebrew song, that is powerful.
Last night The Collegiate Churches of New York City, along with a plethora of other congregations from a variety of religious idenities, came together in prayer. We came together to pray for the Nigerian girls who were abducted a month ago today. From our various traditions we lifted up our Scripture, our songs, and our way of praying in unity. For an hour we prayed that God would intervene and release the Nigerian girls. The theologian Hans Kung said “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” For an hour we prayed together in peace. God was present. Our laments were heard by God. We each had a number to represent each girl that was abducted. We each stood in the place for that girl and prayed for her. Prayer is powerful.
So today, on the one month anniversary of the Nigerian girls being abducted, I am calling on you to continue the prayers. Pray for their release. Pray for their safety. Pray for a world where girls can receive an education just as freely as boys. Pray for the families who are missing their young girls. Pray for reconciliation. Pray for a miracle.
God, in your powerful mercy, hear the prayers of your people. Amen.