Each semester, my class opens up with creative ways to pray. We try not to dutifully offer up the normal perfunctory prayer, but instead, explore “modes” of prayer that exist beyond the norm. By the end of the semester we have prayed in a number of ways – some of them from me, others that are introduced by students. Here are some ways we have prayed,
Modes of Class Prayer:
1. In unison and out loud
2. Silent prayer
3. Share with a partner about the person we are most thankful in our family – the discussion is the prayer
4. Share with partner about the person (no names) most likely to be our enemy and offer a prayer of thanks for them.
5. Thank God for students with disabilities and mental illnesses on campus and ask him to help us find ways to make their education experience better
6. Lay hands on a sick or injured student in class and ask for healing
7. A need expressed in one word going through the entire class
8. Praying the words of Scripture
9. Liturgy from Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer
10. Presenting pressing global and national needs
11. Holding hands in a circle and asking for the miracle of unity from John 17
12. As the professor, I pray a priestly prayer that mimics Paul’s style in Ephesians 1 & 3.
13. Talking to God with our eyes open, etc.
But by far, my favorite prayer has been the one about finances. Every semester, at least one of my students is in a financial crisis. So, I will ask my class if there is anyone struggling financially. One semester, a young woman to my left raised her hand and shared about her ominous need to leave school due to her family’s business woes. In rapt frustration she relayed her circumstances and the overwhelming stress her and her family were experiencing. As she shared, I asked for a student’s hat in the front row and when she had finished, I let the class know that we were going to pass the had around to offer any help we could in that immediate moment. The class fell silent as the hat was passed slowly from row to row. Over the sound of change jingling and papers shuffling, we began to hear faint sobs that turned to weeping from her corner of the room. By the time the hat finished its circuit, her peers had given nearly $90. One student piped up, “now we should pray for her.” I responded, “we just did.”
Prayer is not merely talking or conversing, it is also acting and being in such a way that it exemplifies a reflective way of life that coincides with the purposes of God. If we really think about it, talking prayer can be more for us and our audience than it is for God. There is nothing wrong with praying like that but with Paul’s directive to pray without ceasing, we don’t have to merely practice talking prayer.
To pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) isn’t so much about the mode of prayer as it is about the compelling nature of prayer. The way you pray is meant to mature alongside your physiology, circumstances and life rhythms. So, if you don’t like the way you’ve been taught or told to pray, or if you’re tired of unanswered prayer like my 4 year old daughter who yelled out one day – “Why doesn’t God talk back to me?” Stop praying. Explore other ways. Some of us were born into traditions not our own. Too many people feel trapped by the world of prayer and practice they were introduced to and equate that world with the God that they pray to. That is simply not true. You may need to rediscover prayer in a different tradition that honors the way in which your were created rather than honoring the way of prayer your tradition created. You may need to stop “praying”.
For centuries, the church has prayed in multiple modes – many that have been lost and we are not the better for it. So, what is the purpose of this post? This post was written to implore you that you were created to enjoy a life of prayer and it is more than okay to discover prayer beyond what you have discovered up until now. It’s even okay to cease how you currently “pray”. Prayer can be a dance, a lifestyle, a conversation with a friend or a loving thought towards an enemy. It can be silence, acts of love or meditation. You may need to imprecate, lament, or just listen to the prayers of others. To explore the full dimensions of the human experience means that our reflective life with God is designed for so much more than mere “talking”. He wouldn’t have created us with so much complexity, creativity and potentiality if that were not true. So, if you are compelled by this conversation, please know that it is okay to “cease your praying” and instead embrace a compelling life of prayerfulness that both honors the way you were created as well as the One who created you.