Thursday, November 3, 2011

Visiting with God

I have often wondered about prayer.  What is praying, really?  Sometimes I wonder what "counts" as praying.  If I am thinking about a friend with a need, am I praying?  Do I have to ask specific things for the person?  Do you have to pray out loud, or is it OK to pray silently?  What if I fall asleep...have I really been praying?  What about day dreaming?  Does that count as prayer?

Fil Anderson's book, Running on Empty, has really challenged my thinking about the spiritual life.  I recognized myself in his descriptions of his own prayer experiences.  Like Fil, I have spent countless hours bringing requests before God, telling him what was happening and what he needed to do about it.  I have been very careful to say just the right words.  I have prayed the scriptures, prayed while walking, prayed on my knees, prayed with cards and lists.  There is nothing wrong with any of those practices.  But the form of prayer is not really what prayer is about.

For many of us, prayer is just a monologue.  It is a formula of worshiping, praising, confessing, asking and thanking.  When we are through, we say amen and go about the day.

But prayer is not a monologue.  Maybe prayer is more like a conversation.  I have spent many hours talking to God and then listening for God's voice.  Usually after a long litany of needs and requests, I will pause for a minute, just in case God wants to get a word in edgewise.  "OK God, here's your chance to speak, if you want to say anything... How 'bout it?... Nothing?... OK.  Amen." 

If I don't rush the conversation, I will listen for God more patiently.  I might actually hear his voice.  Still, these conversations can feel like times of prayer that "count."

While talking with friends this morning about prayer, it occured to me that prayer is really more like a visit.  During a visit, there will be times of speaking, listening and silence.  You can do something while you visit, or not.  A visit is about being with someone, not going through a formula with just the right words, for just the right time.

I think that prayer is like visiting with God.  Sometimes it can be structured, sometimes free flowing.  But it's all about relationship.  I just need to make time to be with him.  I need to be in his presence so that I'm not too distracted to hear his voice and speak to him.  I can't let time with God always be something that I barely squeeze into my schedule.  On some days that may be necessary.  But there have to be some days every week when I can put away all my distractions and visit with the Creator.

I want to stop worrying about whether my time with God counts as prayer.  I want to begin enjoying his presence, opening my heart to him, hearing his voice and experiencing his embrace.  God doesn't need to be something else on my to-do list.  He is someone I like being around.  More profoundly, I am someone he likes to be around.  Wow.