At its core, prayer is both communion and communication. In prayer, we spend time with God who loves us unconditionally. This is communion, and there is no agenda for this time other than presence–that is, focusing our full love and attention on God who is always focused on us. This is what author Elaine Heath means when she describes prayer as “gazing into the face of Jesus who gazes back with infinite love.” Yet communion can happen in many ways. For example, we can pray on our knees with our hands folded, or as we walk around our neighborhood; we can sit in silence with our eyes closed, or we can draw or paint while we spend time with God. The form we use and the posture we take can vary depending on our preferences, but they should enable us to find connection with God. Yet prayer also involves communication. We listen for God’s still, small voice and seek to hear what God might say to us through silence, scripture, hymns, or the words of liturgy. And it’s an opportunity to share with God our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, our confessions and the desires of our hearts. Of course, God already knows all of these things. Yet when we consciously bring them before God, we make an offering of our whole selves which draws us closer to the heart of God.
In the words of Elaine Heath, prayer “increasingly leads us to participate in God’s life in the world.” In other words, prayer inevitably calls us beyond ourselves and toward the concerns of the world. We can pray for others, interceding on their behalf. But prayer also empowers us to care for others and seek justice for all people. This is what John Wesley referred to as “social holiness,” or faith working by love; our action becomes an outgrowth of our prayers. In the end, what is most important is not necessarily how we pray but that we pray. Prayer allows us to turn our love and attention toward God in communion and communication, and it reminds us that we are fully known and loved completely. May our prayers reflect our love for God and the knowledge of God’s infinite love for us.
Questions for Discussion
Did you grow up saying or singing a prayer before dinner or bedtime? If so, what words were spoken or sung? What did those words teach you about prayer or about God?
In her book, “Five Means of Grace,” Elaine Heath describes a number of ways that Methodists pray, from formal liturgy, to hymns, to extemporaneous (unscripted) prayer. What is your preferred way (or ways) of praying now? How does that way of praying foster communion and communication with God for you?
Much like exercise, prayer becomes easier the more it is practiced. What are the things that prevent you from spending time with God? What might you do to make prayer more of a priority in your life?
Think about your current prayer life. Do you spend more time in communion or communication with God? Do you spend more time listening or speaking to God? If you were to try a new way of praying, what might you try? Why?
Have you ever had an experience of hearing God speak to you in prayer? If so, how did you “hear” God speaking? How did that experience make you feel?