Saturday, December 27, 2014

How and when to pray

If you believe in God you'd probably better pray.  If you don't believe in God, chances are you pray anyway when you're backed into a corner, so you might as well do it right.

When I was a child my mom would have me read, from time to time, a Biblical reading that showed me how to pray.  I remember it saying that one should ideally kneel and pray in silence, and it should be done at least every night, if not more frequently.

As a typical guy, I never could remember the passage she had me read. Sometimes I would ask mom, and she would tell me where to find it in the Bible. Yet even after asking her 20 times, I still don't remember it, even though the last time I asked was probably over 30 years ago.

I don't know if it was a passage that she learned from her mother or religious upbringing, or whether she learned it through a newspaper clipping.  I do, however, remember that the prayer was sometimes in the paper, and she'd cut it out and give it to me.

Today I do not know the passage. I could ask mom, but have not gotten around to it. With the gift of the Internet and Google I thought I could find it online, although, even if I read it, I'm not sure I'd know if I was reading the same passage. However, I have this feeling that I'd just know.

As of yet I have not found it.  However, there are many websites that quote scripture on how to pray, such as christianity.about.com and biblegateway.com:
  • (Matthew 6:6):  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you
  • (Matthew 6:7):  “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases (do not babble on and on) as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 
  • (Ecclesiastes 5:2):  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. 
  • (Luke 11: 1-4):  He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed by your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial... 
  • (Luke 11: 9-13):  “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."
There are many verses that explain how to pray, or why to pray, although these are the basic ones. When I was a kid I would try to pray on my knees as my mother instructed, although such a task was sometimes impossible due to exhaustion, laziness or even embarrassment.  

The issue of embarrassment didn't come into play until college when I had roommates.  It seemed silly to kneel before the bed and pray, so prayers were done under cover of blankets.   Sometimes I'd feel guilty for not kneeling, although there was no way I'd do it with people around.  

Then one day one of my roommates and I had a nice discussion about prayer.  He said he was taught that it didn't matter how or where you prayed so much as that you did it.  So it was on his advice that the guilt subsided. 

The Bible describes praying in every position imaginable, such as standing (1 Kings 8:22), bowing, (Exodus 4:31) sitting, kneeling (1 Kings 8:54), or lying down.  A prayer may also be cited in silence, or aloud, and at any point during the day.  

The general consensus, I believe, is that a person should find time to pray at least once per day.  Some say it should be in the morning to thank God for helping you make it through the night, and to ask for help through the new day.  Some say it's best to pray at night, in order to thank Him for helping guide you through the day, and for continued guidance.  Some recommend praying both in the morning and at night.  

I'm more of a nighttime prayer, and this is when I'm most likely to pray with my children.  Recently, however, I read Psalm 3, which is a prayer David said in the morning after he ran away from his son Absalom.  In it, he thanked the Lord for a safe night while fighting was ongoing around him.  So some believe a morning prayer is necessary when the Lord keeps us safe in the night.

What you say in the prayer is up to you, so long as, according to Matthew, you do not babble on and on.  A prayer should be short and sweet, or pithy.  Surely I like to ask, although almost always I start by thanking.

All that said, it is Matthew who gives the basic prayer, one that most Christians, or at least most Catholics, should know by heart.  There are various versions of it, yet they all mean the same (Matthew 6: 9-13).
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father (who art) in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts (trespasses),
as we also have forgiven our debtors (who trespass against us).
And do not bring us to the time of trial (lead us not into temptation),
but rescue us from the evil one (but deliver us from evil).
If you're one of those who pray in desperation, chances are you believe deep down.  For the rest of us, prayers should easily transition into our daily lives.