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Struggling with concept of praying - would appreciate some help/thoughts, please.

(14 Posts)
icecoldinalex Tue 10-May-11 20:29:13

I hope it's ok to post here, I haven't before (and apologies in advance for interrupting, if it's not).

A little bit of background. I was raised as a Roman Catholic: RC schools, mass each week, was actually quite devout, but cripplingly shy and never got involved with church "youth" or groups at Uni etc. Grew lazy re attending church in 20s, and faith slipped into a back-of-mind thing, but started again with birth of DCs. Now (mostly) happily attending lovely local CofE church, which is an occasionally uneasy mix of Anglican old-school and more evangelical.

Before I say anything else, I should say that re-finding my faith, and coming back to Christianity as an adult, is something I feel as a real blessing, and for which I give thanks every day. I will try to word this post as sensitively as I can; I genuinely don't want to be combatative or offensive, and I apologise profoundly if anyone feels that I am.

So: prayer. When I first started attending my "new" church, I went on the Alpha course. I generally found it interesting and helpful, but one thing Nicky Gumbel said really sat uneasily with me; namely that he kept a "prayer diary", and marked off those of his prayers which he felt had been answered. I did try to raise some of my unease in the discussion afterwards, but felt that the course leaders thought I was attacking the notion of prayer itself, so I quickly piped down.

Our church has also recently introduced prayer sessions after Communion for those who want to pray with/be prayed for by members of the congregation. The vicar introduced these as the chance to pray with people who "know what they're doing", and again, I just find this uncomfortable.

I am really struggling with this. I pray regularly, but my prayers are usually more concerned with giving thanks, asking for help to live my life as God wills it, and asking for strength to be granted to those in difficulty. It's not that I doubt that God can or will answer prayers, more that I can't reconcile my concept of an infinitely loving God with this idea that - effectively - some prayers are better than others.

I suppose, too, if I'm very honest (and this is the bit which I hope doesn't offend), I find it hard to comprehend the notion of prayer as a kind of critical mass: that God might grant prayers to heal someone, if a large number of people have prayed for that, while another person in the same position but who had no-one to pray for them wouldn't recover.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can better understand these aspects of prayer? As my DCs get older and I try to help them learn to pray meaningfully, I can see this issue becoming more difficult, and I really don't want it to become a sticking point for me feeling comfortable about being a member of my church.

Any ideas or insights would be very gratefully received, thank you.

ilovemyhens Tue 10-May-11 20:36:54

I honestly don't think you should stress about your prayerlife. What you describe sounds good to me and I doubt very much whether some prayers are more effective than others. As long as they are sincere and come from the heart, that's all that matters. Just consider the prayers of a child - they're not going to be sophisticated are they, but I doubt very much that God would disregard them simply because they lack such sophistication.

I think you should teach your children to do exactly what you are doing ie, giving thanks, asking for help to be a good Christian and help for those who need it.

You can develop your own prayer life by buying a guidance book or two - I'm sorry, I can't recommend any because I'm no expert, but something that you can see yourself reading and following.

Remember that prayer can come in many forms and simply trying to live your life with virtue and obedience to God is a form of prayer in itself smile

purpleturtle Tue 10-May-11 20:42:22

'Prayer diary': these can be helpful to look back on at times when we are discouraged in our prayer life, because it gives a tangible reminder of times when God has answered prayers before. But it's not like there's anything in the Bible telling you to do it this way - although the Bible often encourages us to remember what God has done for us - so if it's not for you, that's fine. (I don't keep one because I don't have the discipline to do it)

Your prayers are every bit as good as anyone else's. I'm sure your vicar doesn't mean to imply that they're not. However, sometimes I find that I am feeling a bit distant from God, and then it can be helpful to have somebody pray with me, who can pray on my behalf, almost. Also, there's the aspect of prayer that is more dialogue than monologue, and I do think that practice makes it easier to hear God, so some people who practice listening to God more, hear him more reliably, and again can be helpful to pray with, because they might hear something from God for you. Perhaps it is this kind of 'prophetic prayer' that your vicar is talking about when he says people 'know what they're doing'.

I don't think there is any magic formula regarding the number of people who pray affecting the outcome of the prayer. Sometimes we see people healed, sometimes we don't. That's really hard to come to terms with - but I think it's all part of holding on in faith.

ohhappyday Tue 10-May-11 20:59:54

Hi Ice

So happy for you that you have returned to God. The above are two beautiful and heartfelt answers.

The way I learned to pray most effectively came from Nicky Gumble: Think of ACTS as in book of Acts. A: adoration for God
C: confession
T: thanks
S: Supplication i.e. requests

Do not worry that asking questions causes offence - it doesn't - we are told by Jesus not to take offence. Remember the only thing God sees is the heart.

Blessings - keep posting any questions/thoughts we all have them

madhairday Wed 11-May-11 10:01:21

Just to add my support and agree with pps. You are in no way being offensive suggesting that you don't feel God answers some prayers more than others because of numbers praying/'expertise' of prayers. You're right, I think. I believe God looks at the heart, not at the words, not at how experienced and knowledgeable someone is. The prayer of a tiny child with limited understanding is every bit as profound as that of an elderly person with 60 years of Christian experience behind them.

As for prayer journals, like purple said it can be very encouraging to look back and see how things have come together, not necessarily to 'tick off answers' (seems somewhat clinical) but to look at how the story is forming, how God is working in it when you sometimes forget. I keep a prayer journal (rather sporadically, it must be said) and love looking back over older entries, sometimes something jumps out at me and I think oh yes, I can see how God's hand has been in that situation, and sometimes there are obvious answered prayers, and often; not. I don't believe we can quantify our walk with God by the number of answered prayers. It just doesn't work that way, and I'm thankful for that, because God is bigger than we think, and more mysterious than we can know.

What you are doing sounds great - sounds like you're praying through daily life, bringing normal things before God - to me that is what a life of prayer is - not just praying for certain answers, but asking for guidance, telling God what we feel, yes more of a dialogue at times.

Like ohhappyday I've found the ACTS model helpful for when I have time to sit and pray, it focusses without making it 'all about me'.

ElBurroSinNombre Wed 11-May-11 12:31:06

Here is something that may help to answer some of the questions that you have raised about whether prayers are answered;
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19370557

acorntree Thu 12-May-11 14:36:29

I find prayer amazingly powerful, it is a wonderful gift, but personally I think it is not about asking for what we want and always getting it, not about ordering God around. I try to think of prayer not so much as asking God for things (telling him what to do) but more about listening to him tell me what to do. It is also about just sitting in the presence of God, being thankful, and praising him, but you seem to be feeling uncomfortable about the asking types of prayer.

Re. prayers for healing – I try to remember that being healed and being cured are not the same thing. People can be healed in the most unexpected ways, in this life or the next…not necessarily a medical cure. I believe all prayers are answered (no critical mass) but often it seems God answers in the least expected way at the least expected moments. It always seems as if He has a certain sense of humour – warm, loving, a little playful.

I do ask for things when I pray, but really it is more asking God to be there in a situation, and that His will be done, because who am I to tell God what the best outcome would be? Occasionally I’ll ask for something specific (the ‘please let it be sunny’ sort of prayer) – if it is sunny, it is like getting a little smile from God, a little ‘I was listening’ sort of wink.

I try to let go and trust God. He knows what he is doing. He always answers prayers, just not necessarily in the way we expect.

PandaG Thu 12-May-11 14:42:27

some excellent previous posts, just want to echo what they have said. YOur prayers are certainly good enough to God, as are mine, but sometimes I do find it helpful to pray with others, particularly when my own faith is wavering a bit.

I also find it a real priviledge to be able to pray for other people, not because I think my prayers are any better than theirs (I certainly don't), but because I want to serve others in this way. I also find that when I hear God for other people when I pray, He often speaks to me too!

icecoldinalex Fri 13-May-11 14:07:01

Thank you all for taking the time to reply. There are some really helpful things in what you've said. I think it was the idea of prayer as a "transaction" rather than devotion which I found difficult, but I've been thinking about it a lot since posting, and I think some of my difficulty comes from the difference in approaches between the two denominations I've had experience of.

My vicar is a man of great faith, and I really did want some help in changing how I was seeing things so as to not find this an issue I struggle with, and your replies have done that.

acorntree - the difference between healing and being cured is really helpful, and makes perfect sense, thank you.

Ihavewelliesbuttheyrenotgreen Tue 17-May-11 14:58:06

Everyone has made really interesting and useful points here. Just wanted to reiterate that there are so many different ways of praying and I think that the important thing is to be spending time with God and lifting things up to him. Some things I've found helpful are

A prayer journal (writing as if in a diary to God)
A prayer diary (bullet points of things/people that I'm praying for)
A prayer walk, walking around an area and praying for the people in it or just praying while walking
Listening to songs, reading lyrics and praying
Praying whilst doing mundane tasks, showering, folding clothes etc

Bexamundo Sat 28-May-11 17:19:50

I write a journal like I'm writing to God, literally "Dear God"! Dh thinks its cute, I find it very helpful!

thejaffacakesareonme Sat 28-May-11 19:55:46

Like Bexamundo I used to write what looked like letters to God. I'd always written letters to friends and family and it was just a form of communication / prayer that I felt happy with.

mariamagdalena Sun 29-May-11 23:32:14

At school we were taught prayer is lifting up your heart and mind to God. And something about 'pray as you can, not as you can't'.

I guess that's the philosophy behind the joke of the monk who asks ,
Abbot can I smoke when I'm praying?
Oh no, that'd be blasphemy.
Well then, can I pray when I'm smoking?
Oh yes my child, God loves us to pray without ceasing.

As an adult, the verses about the Holy Spirit praying from within us have been helpful when I've been stuck.

springydaffs Sat 11-Jun-11 12:25:16

Wow, your prayer life sounds amazing! I am such a do-er that I can forget the worship side of my prayers/time with God - big, BIG mistake. We have to stay plugged into the source....

Imo we are all called to different aspects of a walk with God - sorry, bit jargony - what I mean is that we all have different aspects to God that make more sense to us and which we develop, with him. It sounds like yours is much more focused on worship, praise, giving thanks. I hope you realise that this is the first and foremost aspect of the christian life, what delights him the most. Your post, the accounts of your prayer life, have reminded me, because the focus of my prayer life can be combative re intercessory. I am tenacious about it, like a bulldog, and won't give up. I believe that I am 'called' to this but can become focused on this too much - hence the need for a balance of a more contemplative prayer life, eg worship etc. Which is what you are experiencing in abundance and it blesses me just to hear of it. We all need each other, need the inspiration and balance that others bring. I also think we go through stages in our prayers - we are in a living relationshp with him and all relatonships change and have different phases - so much more with him because he is so alive.

YOur vicar saying that the people who pray in your church 'know what they are doing' is an indication that these people are particularly called to eg a healing/deliverance ministry and, as with any area of expertise, there has to be an element of training. It is probable that the people who are called to pray in this way have experienced (and experience) training on an ongoing basis; from the Trainer and from experience. They are not better than you or I, their prayers are not better or worse, just that they are (being) trained in that particular field - to bring about God's kingdom (thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven..) in peoples' lives. God is quite organised in how he wants to work in the world imo, we all have a place.

I think that God leads each of us in the way he wants us to go. Sitting before him in adoration, soaked in his presence - well, wow. There couldn't be a better place to be, to be frank. Sometimes he has us sit still and just 'be', with him. Which can be frustrating if, like some of us, you want to crack on... blush

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